UCCM officers work to reinstate traditional police drum group

The UCCM Police Drum including Max Abotossaway, James Panamick, Victor Pitawanakwat, Jordon Atchison, Brad Mack, Murray Still and Paul Baxter. photo by Beverly Abotossaway

M’CHIGEENG—The United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) Anishnaabe Police Service have reinstated the UCCM Police Drum group with seven officers stepping up to learn the traditional teachings and songs of the drum to be used in community ceremonies.

The officers, including Max Abotossaway, James Panamick, Victor Pitawanakwat, Jordon Atchison, Brad Mack, Murray Still and Paul Baxter, had the opportunity to play before Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Commissioner Vince Hawkes and a host of other dignitaries last week at their M’Chigeeng office.

“We did a welcoming song for them yesterday,” said UCCM Police Sgt. Brad Mack of the visit by the OPP Commissioner who was on Manitoulin for a meeting with First Nations chiefs of police.

The UCCM Police Drum is not new to the force. It was given as a gift in 2010 by Sheshegwaning’s Joe Laford and named Bear Heart, but it was decided to bring the drum back to life. The seven officers have been working diligently each week since November, meeting most Wednesday nights, to learn the songs and the art of traditional drumming led by teachers Craig and Eli Fox of M’Chigeeng.

“We’ve had pretty good interest (in the drum),” Sgt. Mack said. “It takes quite a bit of courage to do it.”

The UCCM Police Drum, consisting of Max Abotossaway, James Panamick, Victor Pitawanakwat, Jordon Atchison, Brad Mack, Murray Still and Paul Baxter, sing a welcoming song for OPP Commissioner Vice Hawkes, visiting First Nations police chiefs and other dignitaries.

Sgt. Mack explained that the drum has been reinstated thanks in part to the UCCM’s focus on community healing. “It’s something we need, to show our role in the community and our involvement. It’s an important part of what we do, living by the Seven Grandfather Teachings. The elders in the community are watching what we’re doing and see that we’re active.” Sgt. Mack said that as far as powwows are concerned, the UCCM Police Drum is not quite that advanced…yet.

“We have a lot of work to do yet—we’re just finding our voices,” Sgt. Mack admits, “but we hope to be nominated for a Grammy or JUNO someday,” he laughed.

The sergeant noted that the original vision for the UCCM drum dates to 1999 with Bear Heart coming to fruition in 2010.

“It’s quite an honour to be presented with a drum,” he said.

“Craig (Fox) is trying to teach us the old, traditional songs,” he added.

A large group assembled for the UCCM Police Drum’s most recent debut last week. “The OPP Commissioner was pretty impressed,” Sgt. Mack admitted. “We had a few other comments from some of the other First Nation police chiefs as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other police drums in the next few years.”

The OPP also has a police drum, Blue Wolf, comprised of officers from across the province, he added.

Sgt. Mack said he is proud of his fellow officers on the drum group, again noting the bravery involved in learning to sing and drum in a very public way.