Mi’kmaw Youth Overcomes Challenges to Join Drumming Circle with Help from Students

by Madonna

Lennox Island Mawi’omi, Prince Edward Island – A new rhythm is poised to resonate within the drumming circle at Lennox Island Mawi’omi, thanks to an inspiring collaboration set to unfold this weekend.

Gerry Lewis, a remarkable nine-year-old of Mi’kmaw descent, has long harbored a fervent passion for music, with drums holding a profound significance within his cultural tapestry. However, Gerry grapples with a rare genetic metabolic disorder that limits his mobility, posing obstacles to his engagement with the beats he cherishes.

Despite his non-verbal nature, Gerry’s elation was palpable as he received a tailor-made drum for his birthday earlier this week. The bespoke percussion was meticulously crafted by the adept hands of engineering students from the University of Prince Edward Island, marking a pivotal stride in Gerry’s journey.

Recognizing the unmet yearnings of a young heart, Jennifer Neill, Gerry’s occupational therapist, reached out to the university’s engineering department in pursuit of an innovative solution. Enthusiastically embracing the challenge, the students embarked on an immersive exploration of Mi’kmaw culture, collaborating with local groups and participating in drum circles to discern the instrument’s profound cultural resonance.

Gerry’s mother, Madlene Sark, encapsulated the significance of this endeavor, expressing, “He doesn’t get to play with a lot of things. It’s extra special because it’s the drum. For him to be able to participate in his culture, I think that’s what hit me.”

Christian d’Entremont and Andrew Williamson, the student engineers who masterminded the drum’s design, stood witness on Lennox Island as Gerry seized the reins of this custom-made instrument. Williamson shared his sentiment on the remarkable venture, saying, “Gerry’s mom was emotional thanking us, and that almost brought a tear to my eye. It’s really good to see that we’re so happy with the work we’ve done.”

Underscoring the intersection of mechanics and inclusivity, the students ensured the drum could be operated from Gerry’s wheelchair. The ingeniously devised percussion piece incorporates three buttons: initiation, cessation, and a distinct Mi’kmaw Honour Song beat. Christian d’Entremont elucidated the mechanics, stating, “All he has to do is press a button on his tray and it will spin a motor that will hit the drum stick that will hit the drum. Then, he can stop it afterward or keep it going.”

Witnessing Gerry’s instinctive response to the harmonious creation, Jennifer Neill remains hopeful that his rhythmic journey will persist indefinitely. “He is a kid who’s really beating the odds,” she expressed, reflecting on Gerry’s resilient spirit. “He has a condition where… not a lot of kids even make it to his age. So the fact that we’re celebrating his ninth birthday is pretty amazing.”

As the drumming circle awaits Gerry’s empowered entry, the collaboration between the Mi’kmaw culture and the prowess of student engineering stands as a testament to the capacity of human ingenuity to bridge profound connections.

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