This unique animation follows the story of Naamowin’s drum, a drum revered for it’s healing powers by the Anishinabek of the upper Berens River. Upon the death of his grandson, Naamowin builds a healing drum given to him in a dream that can restore life. However, Christianity and government have other plans that disrupt the delicate balance between the sky-world and the underworld.
Before I was even born, the drum played a critical role in my life. My great-grandfather was a healer, much like the ‘character’ in the story being presented. He was gifted with a Grandfather Drum to help others. Similar to many indigenous people across Turtle Island, major changes were imposed upon our people. One of the most catastrophic was the residential schools. My great-grandfather, unable to do anything to stop the rapid change that was sweeping the land, lost his own children (my grandfather) to the residential schools. This put in motion the beginning of a new way of life for our family. As with many Anishinaabek, the disruption and devastation was too much and many of my family members lost their lives to suicide and tragedy. Today, we are continuing to find new ways to repair, reclaim and renew what has been lost. Every project I’ve completed to date is in some way connected to my history, my family and culture and is another small step towards reclamation. This story is no different.
The inspiration and first seed that was planted for this film was sparked by a conversation I had with my mother. As a child, she remembers the drum and shared stories of my great-grandfather with me about how his drum was very much a part of the social fabric of life back then.
At the time I was also working as part of a trauma team as a social worker, and this took me to Pikangikum First Nation. There I had many conversations with a man named James Morris, who was very interested in Naamawin’s story, because he is very committed and invested in saving the lives of our people. He wanted me to do a documentary on the subject. That hasn’t happened yet, but I believe that stories can sometimes dictate how and when they are told. I thank him for the inspiration. Through my engagement with James, this led me to the Red Lake Museum, Naamiwin’s Drum and Fred Suggashie. Fred is a key inspiration, whom I had known for years. He is the great-grandson of Naamiwin and has shared many stories with me and this has greatly influenced my writing, the process and has shaped this entire project.
We wanted to tell this story as an animated fairytale as a way of treating a difficult story in a creative way that could be universal. Since this is sometimes a dark story, we felt that our approach needed to be thoughtful and ‘just right’. We decided the best way to achieve this was in a creative, light-hearted way and settled on the stylistic images of a traditional pop-up children’s storybook with subtle “paper-like” movements in the characters and surrounding imagery. The dramatic colour scheme also helped to set a mood. The sound design was a critical component to the success of this story. Zoe and Elizabeth both work from a very spiritual and connected place. Most of the sounds were recorded naturally and Elizabeth’s original compositions highlight her deep understanding of culture and place. Over a four-year period, our team collaborated to ensure the integrity; accuracy and over-all vision of the story was fully realized.