Former Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William seen here, has been drumming and singing each evening in Nemiah Valley during his community’s second COVID-19 lockdown. ( Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Former Xeni Gwet’in chief drums traditional songs during pandemic lockdown

Xeni Gwet’in First Nation entered its second 14-day lockdown on April 24

Nestled within the breathtaking landscape of the Nemiah Valley, a former Xeni Gwet’in chief is finding solace during the community’s 14-day lockdown by performing drum songs.

“I’ve been drumming for a long time,” Roger William said in a telephone interview. “I’ve been making my own drum songs as well.”

William has recorded and uploaded videos of himself performing drum songs, most of which are Tsilhqot’in, each evening since the second lockdown due to COVID-19 went into effect at 9 p.m. on April 24.

In his first video William performed the Tsilhqot’in River Song which he said has been passed down for generations and he had learned from former long-time Yunesit’in Chief Ivor Myers Xinli.

“A lot of these songs I sing are also sung and drummed by other Chilcotin people and it’s good to put it back out there,” he said. “We got young people that want to learn and now they will be hearing those songs on Facebook each day.”

The drum that William uses in the videos is one of several he owns. It was made by president of the Friends of Nemiah Valley, David Williams, who was involved with the Xeni-Gwet’in Land Title case and helped raise funds for a wild horse reserve. The artwork on the drum was completed by William’s cousin Nelson William.

William said his other main drum made by Xeni Gwe’tin members and had its frame, hide, and artwork including the drumstick completed by Nelson is currently at his home in Williams Lake where his wife, who works at Denisiqi Services Society and son and daughter are currently at.

As William continues to work out of his home at Nemiah Valley and perform drum songs each evening, he said he and Xeni Gwet’in leaders are worried about their elders.

“I might get it (coronavirus) and I might be OK,” he said. “ The young ones might be OK but the elders and the vulnerable are the ones with underlying health issues that this COVID-19 could do serious damages to, if not could be fatal. We are all trying to home stay in our homes and we don’t visit very often but we still go out and hunt, we still go out and fish, we still go out and ride horses or do hikes, so that’s still happening. We’re making sure that our elders, our vulnerable, and our babies are safe.”

Read More: Xeni Gwet’in First Nation head into second 14-day lockdown to protect from COVID-19

William said despite COVID-19 resulting in increased stress and anxiety and money problems for many, he sees the pandemic as a reset for Mother Earth providing her with some much needed time to heal from the scars left by human activity such as pollution, mining and logging.

“I pray for everyone, am concerned for everyone, and am hoping the best for everyone but Mother Earth, we’ve been picking on her for so many years,” he said.

As the sightings of wildlife increase and air quality starts to show signs of improvement with the decrease in human activity across the globe, Roger said these are examples that Mother Earth is starting to heal.

“Mother Earth is powerful and because of her that is why we are all here,” he said, suggesting there should be one month per year in which people are required to stay home.

“Maybe this is the reset button for more of us to think about what this virus has done and to really look at our Mother Earth.”

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