Northwest Raven Cultural and Humanitarian

"We are the Northwest Raven Sisters"

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Northwest Ravens

Friday night my friend Gigi took me to the Northwest Ravens' drum circle practice, held at Bremerton High School. If you have not heard of this wonderful group, I strongly urge you to check them out at http:/
Sharon Byerly, an Alaskan Aleut and leader of the troupe, welcomed me so warmly, as did all the women in this delightful and diverse circle. Their goal is to open doors between world cultures through entertainment and education. They drum, sing and dance, knowing this weaves throughout generations and the world, knowing their repertoire of songs, legends and drumming are a vital part of the Native American Culture. In February of this year, they went to Taiwan to perform, were well-received and hope to go again next year. The Raven Sisters each handcrafted their drums in the traditional NW style, through drum-making workshops led by Sharon and her father, Larry Gifford. If you've ever wanted to build your own drum, contact Sharon at

Ooh-la...there's a reason we've been bangin' out rhythms since the first noise was made. My hand-drum was made for me by a young man years ago, with animals silhouetted around the edge in blue, and a coyote paw-print in red. It has a deeper tone than a lot of the smaller hand drums. I like that...the chest rhythm instead of cerebral higher tones. You begin to beat the basic time...and a vibration begins, first in the hand that holds the drum....then up the arm, through the shoulder and into the heart...which begins to match the rhythm....then it fills your head and body, as if you truly become the vibrating, pulsing drum itself. This is prayer for petitioning...just entering the space between the atoms...connecting us and creation with an acceptance of the dance, of the One-ness of All.

Have you ever danced as if the earth was a drum? Have you circled and pounded your heels...said to hell with your knees and bent low with the rhythm...rushing other dancers for a primal encounter, recognizing wide-eyed each other's separate sameness as you danced through one another's heartbeat? Woven within is the entire story of our rise from the earth, though our feet pound to be let back in. For nearly three hours we drummed, danced, sang and shared with each other.

One absolutely breath-taking surprise was an impromptu performance of a ribbon dance by Natacha Sesko. Natacha is a petite Chinese grandmother of boundless energy and connection. As she began, with her long pink ribbon bunched-up into a bouquet of fabric flowers, the grandmother left and she suddenly became this enchanting, coquettish and fluid young maiden. Next thing I knew, ribbons were dancing around her like light beings and I was in tears watching her beauty and grace.

I was honoured to teach the circle a new song...taught to me by a wonderful Creek man, Jim Pepper, who fused his childhood tribal songs with his love for jazz and his mistress, the saxophone. In turn, I began to learn new songs...always like chocolate in my mouth. So many times in the evening, I looked over and connected with Gigi, my dear friend, hoping my face was as shining a beacon as hers.

There is no more complete a tiredness than when you have beaten, sung, danced, sweated and shed the toxins and trials of everyday living. I slept soundly that night, with sweet dreams of the Grey Wolf and the lodge of women. I am deeply grateful to the Northwest Ravens, now my sisters too.