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News, Reviews, & Articles

"...The Good Hearted Women Singers celebrated community and our connection to the natural world with a passion and sincerity that reached out to us all. The energy that they and the Fish Quill Poetry Boat generated at Beaver House will remain in the memories of those in attendance for a very long time."


- Elora Poetry Centre

Benefit Concert for Attawapiskat -

Funds raised:



Gchi Miigwetch (big thank you) to all our attendees and donors for helping us to achieve this for the community of Attawapiskat!

Reconciliation – Racism perpetuated by some begets solidarity with others

In light of the reconciliation process that is happening in various ways across Canada, I am prompted to write this article because of a recent act of racism against the Indigenous drum circle I facilitate. This was experienced at the hands of a local church. It is not just the incident that I find so hurtful and incredulous. It is significant especially because of the efforts of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission for the past six years to document, publicize and educate Canadians about the history of Indigenous peoples, the dispossession from their traditional lands, implementation of policies to assimilate them into the dominant society and the devastating impacts of the Indian Residential Schools. Aboriginal Justice Murray Sinclair of this commission advocates that it is the responsibility of every Canadian and every societal institution to look at and take action to create change so that the atrocities that have happened to Indigenous peoples never happen again. Indigenous peoples continue to experience colonization, racism and oppression and these effects impact their spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well-being. In addition, these impacts have social and financial repercussions for everyone.

I choose to not stay in the hurt and anger from acts of racism against me and our Indigenous drum circle. I choose to find people, Indigenous and Settler peoples, who have hopes for a better future. It turned out that I did not need to look far to find this. Our drum circle, Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak (Good Hearted Women Singers) has been preparing for our 4th Annual concert of Bridging Communities through Song – A reconciliation effort of Bringing Indigenous and Settler peoples together. One of our partnerships is with the Waterloo Regional Police Male Chorus. Some have questioned why we would partner with a police chorus when there have been historical and present travesties involving the police and Indigenous peoples. My answer is – that is precisely why we are partnering together. In the beginning, I held hope that maybe our singing together might create some kind of dialogue with one another. Maybe we would learn more about the police. Maybe the police would learn more about us. An outcome from the recent racist incident is that I now have Hope. In fact, I feel solidarity. The forces that rallied in support of the Indigenous women’s drum circle is astounding! The Police Chorus found a safe space - Erb Street Mennonite Church for our rehearsal together. When our drum circle came to the doors of the Mennonite Church, we were greeted by Pastor Gary Knarr. His first words were, “Welcome, please come in.” I cried then and it brings tears to my eyes now as I write this. Those words were exactly what we needed to hear. I am reminded of a song I have heard the Inshallah Choir sing, “God Welcomes All, strangers and friends.” I want to believe that God/Creator indeed welcomes all and that the actions of one church are an anomaly to the bridging that I see happening with other churches in our community. Our drum circle has shared in building better relationships with the Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian and Catholic churches.

I must add that not only did the Police Chorus change church venues for our joint rehearsal, they advised us that they could not stay (for their own weekly rehearsals) in a church that continues to hurt Indigenous peoples. I am still reeling from the incredible impact their decision has had on me and our drum circle. To stand alongside (not in front, and not over us) shows that they meant their words as actions have come from them. As the women were packing up after our recent rehearsal together, the police chorus began to sing a song, You’ll Never Walk Alone (by Gerry & The Pacemakers). This song was for US!! In that moment, Song became a bridge to connect their hearts to ours. I know that there will be those who choose not to learn; who will remain ignorant of the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the racism and oppression that continue to impact Indigenous peoples’ lives. Perhaps one day they will join the many Settler peoples, Christian peoples and churches who are already seriously taking action to learn and to build better relationships with all peoples, including Indigenous peoples. In the meantime, our Indigenous drum circle is moving forward and revelling in the friendships and support we have found in our partnership with the Waterloo Regional Police Chorus; our Allies. We still have more work to do and more talks to engage in regarding police relationships with Indigenous peoples but our ground is little firmer to start those difficult dialogues.

All my relations, Kelly Laurila.

Mar 06, 2015

Good Hearted Women Singers drum for reconciliation


Waterloo Region Record

By Valerie Hill


WATERLOO — It was a bitterly cold Tuesday evening, the sky an overcast grey and the halls of St. Paul's College gritty from winter boot debris. But in the warm and welcoming Aboriginal Education Centre located in the university's new addition, women gathered in silence, the brilliant blues, purples and green of their dresses in stark contrast to what was going on outdoors.


The Good Hearted Women Singers is a collection of mostly First Nations women and a few non-natives who have been coming together since 2003 to drum and sing and support each other through the power of music and tradition.


On Saturday, the group will perform at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo with Inuk singer/songwriter, Susan Aglukark, the Waterloo Regional Police Male Chorus, Cambridge Girls' Choir, Little Creek Singers and The Laurier Singers' Chamber Choir.


"Everybody does their songs then we come together to sing "Amazing Grace" in four languages," said the group's facilitator, Kelly Laurila. "You don't feel different at that time, you just all come together."

Laurila took over the group's leadership from founder Jean Becker, now senior adviser of Wilfrid Laurier University's Aboriginal Initiatives.


"She passed it on to me nine years ago and we keep following her teachings," said Laurila, whose background is the Sami people of northern Finland.


The group, though informal, was formed with a well defined purpose.


"I had done some drumming and thought it was so beautiful," said Becker. "But there wasn't anything at that time in our area."


Becker teamed up with Barbara Waterfall, and together they started the singers with a handful of members.


"She started teaching us songs," said Becker, who admits "I didn't know any."


Good Hearted Women opened the circle to all women and as Becker points out, "Our teachings are about including people, not excluding.


"It's about women coming together singing and drumming, creating really positive relationships."

On Tuesday evenings, when the group meets, they gather in a quiet, contemplative circle and in the centre are a number of candles each representing a desire such as humility, wisdom, truth and respect. The singers and their beautiful hand crafted drums and rattles are all blessed with the smoke from a smouldering sweet grass bundle. They hold hands in prayer, thanking the Creator and then the drumming begins.


The group brings retired social worker Sandi Wey back to the roots she only discovered as an adult.

"I feel so empowered," she said. "This is a church service for me and it has made me more solid in my beliefs and in my traditions."


She talked about how each drum must be made by the owner followed by a birthing ceremony, where the umbilical cord is cut and the drum is ready to be played.


Becker said all the ceremonies performed by the Good Hearted Women are based on Anishinabe beliefs which are meant to be passed to others.


"The Anishinabe have been so generous with their teachings," said Becker. "We feel we have an obligation to share these beautiful teachings."


Saturday's concert is a perfect example of this sharing. Promoted as "Bridging Communities Through Song" the event is meant to bring together people of many backgrounds and it all started when Laurila made the first move.


Now working on her PhD in social work, Laurila is all about making connections so when she saw the police choir at an event, she steeled herself to chat with the representative.


"We do not have a good history with police," said Laurila, who nevertheless felt a tug to talk to the man. She was nervous, at a loss for words and blurted out "so you sing?" she recalled. "I didn't know how to open up the conversation."


Now she laughs at the memory but that single gesture changed everything. The two choirs performed together and it was so successful, they did it again last year.


"That first year, we were a little skittish but it was wonderful," she said. "It has since flourished. We've gotten to know them and their families. Through song, this was the way to bring people together."

Susan Aglukark, an Inuk singer and Juno Award winner who has lived in Oakville for several years, has also become part of this package of sharing, often coming out to sing with the group.


"She's so down to earth," said Laurila.


For Wey, the concert is about both healing and recognition for the many abuses to native people throughout history.


"It's time to build a bridge," said Wey. "Yes it's good to remember that it happened but we can now accept each other, we really are all one."



Andrea Misquadis

(aka Auntie Angie)

A much loved and respected source of kindness, strength, inspiration and laughter in the Indigenous community

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