Kathleen Martens
APTN National News

There weren’t any fans cheering on Canadian athletes at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but you could hear the beat of a custom-made drum from the Squamish Nation of British Columbia.

Squamish artist Tsawaysia Spukus created the drum for Team Canada’s Chef de Mission Marnie McBean, who wanted a loud way to support athletes after cheering, clapping and whistling were banned by Olympic officials because of COVID-19.

“That’s my first Olympic drum,” said Spukus, whose English name is Alice Guss, in a recent interview .

“I’ve made one for the Vancouver Canucks (hockey team) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (soccer team).”

Squamish Nation artist and drum maker Tswaysia Spukus. (Photo  handout via APTN National News)

Spukus, who teaches drum making across North America, said she was honoured to fulfill the request from Tsewtsáwḵen (Squamish Elder Tewanee Joseph).

The drum was blessed at a special Coast Salish witness ceremony in Vancouver in July.

“I had wanted a drum so that Team Canada could hear that someone was there for them,” explained McBean on her website.

“When I asked Tewanee if this was an appropriate use – he said that it would be and that a drum represents the heartbeat of a community. I knew then this was for friends and family so that their heartbeat could resonate across stadiums.”

Spukus made the drum by stretching elk hide over a round, wooden frame.

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She decorated it with a Kwakwaka’wakw copper shield in the centre, which represents wealth, honour and respect, and trimmed it with the eyes of the creator, so the ancestors would watch over McBean, the athletes and Team Canada.

“The maple leaf represents the athletes and the rings of the Tokyo Games. The drumstick includes the colour orange to stand together in strength, respect, solidarity and family,” added Joseph in a release.

Joseph, who was CEO of the Four Host First Nations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, presented the drum, messages from the Squamish Nation community, as well as orange lapel ribbons to Canadian Olympic Committee President Tricia Smith at the ceremony in July.

He said Olympian Clara Hughes, whom he befriended at the Vancouver Games, initially reached out on McBean’s behalf to see if using a drum would be appropriate.

“Marnie, she did it the right way,” said Spukus. “She asked permission and followed proper cultural protocol.”

Spukus noted anyone can make and use a drum “if they do it in a good, happy, healthy way.”

Its sacrifice

The elk was also credited for its sacrifice.

“We thank the Creator for giving us the power to transform Mother Nature’s gift into another gift, which we call a drum,” Spukus said.

“So every time we beat the drum, we’re keeping the heartbeat alive of the spirit of that deer or elk. And the spirit of that (maple or cedar) tree (used to make the frame).”

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Spukus is trying to get another one of her drums in the hands of Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for the Paralympics, Stephanie Dickson, which begin in Tokyo Aug. 24.

“They say it’s an honour they have one of our drums, but, on my end, I say it’s an honour to be part of the Olympics,” said Spukus.

“It can work both ways; it’s a two-way street, we’re crossing that bridge towards reconciliation.”

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This story was originally published at APTN National News. It was republished with permission.