First Nations drummer honoured

Sunrise Ceremony - Bill Stewart shakes hands with RAdm Bill Truelove

Bill Stewart shakes hands with RAdm Bill Truelove, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific, after receiving the Minister of National Defence/Chief of Defence Staff 2014 Management of Human Resources Employment Equity Award.

“Eagles tend to appear when I perform the Travelling Song,” says Bill Stewart, Technical Data Specialist at Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton and member of the Ahousaht First Nation at a May 15 Sunrise Drumming event.

“They embody the spirits of our ancestors, the “Old Ones”, who are keeping an eye on their people and watching over us,” he says. “I take it as a good sign.”

During his early morning ceremony last Thursday, six eagles flew overhead, two coming within a few metres of the attendees.

“They are always watching, showing us they care and are protecting us,” says Stewart, who was awarded the Minister of National Defence/Chief of Defence Staff 2014 Management of Human Resources Employment Equity Award.

The award recognizes significant achievements by people who represent under-recognized groups in the Department of National Defence (DND) such as women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, and visible minorities. Stewart received the award due to his work as co-chair of the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) and his efforts to promote cooperation and friendship between the First Nations and Defence communities.

With a 90 per cent hearing impairment, Stewart has also worked with the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Group.

“I was shocked when I found out I’d won the award. I don’t think it’s really even sunk in yet,” says Stewart. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and think we are all closer to understanding the values of one another. The work will continue for future generations.”

Stewart’s advocacy work include a “Travelling Song” written and first performed by Stewart in 2008 in the traditional Nuu-Chah-Nulth style on a drum made by Stewart’s own hands.

Dedicated to DND, the song is performed to ensure safe travels to DND personnel deploying across the globe.

“Before I performed the song I was having vivid dreams of being visited by family, friends, ancestors, and warriors. Many of the warriors were Aboriginal people in uniform, but many were also of non-Aboriginal heritage. I took this to mean the song would be for all people who serve in uniform and dedicated it to DND,” says Stewart. “We are all as one people. I believe this song brings a message of hope for the future.”

Stewart was first introduced to drumming at age seven, while growing up near Hot Springs Cove on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Although his parents discouraged their children from learning their culture, Stewart still went for secret cultural instruction from the Elders of Hesquiat First Nation.

“It was a time of much discrimination for First Nations people, so it was tricky and dangerous to do it secretly,” says Stewart. “Still, I was very interested in my culture so I couldn’t help it. After my parents split I was taken away from it, but in my later years I continued the struggle to carry on the culture of my people.”

With Aboriginal Awareness Week (AAW), Stewart says it’s the perfect time to remember his upbringing and teachings, and to encourage others to do the same.

“The purpouse of AAW is to give the population information on the Aboriginal ways of life, a message that we are diverse in culture and have various traditional practices” says Stewart. “We’re doing what we can, but the work will continue, bringing our cultures and traditions to the people, ensuring they’re carried on for future


Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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