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GALLERY: Okotoks students get lesson in Blackfoot craft

Siksika-based educator Clinton Turningrobe visited Holy Trinity Academy to demonstrate the craft of Blackfoot drum making

Okotoks students got a hands-on lesson in an Indigenous craft.

Siksika-based Blackfoot educator Clinton Turningrobe paid a visit to Holy Trinity Academy’s construction shop classroom March 3 to teach students about Blackfoot drums and their construction.

The group of a dozen students, along with three teachers, were quick studies over the three-hour session.

“I was very intrigued by how fast they were to learn how to do it on their own,” Turningrobe said.

“My drum, my good friend, I didn’t let my friend down by showing them how he’s here with us today.

“Drum makers have the power to bring an animal back; when he’s drumming, he’s rumbling, when singers are singing, he’s speaking, when you’re doing ceremonial, he’s praying.”

Turningrobe is the owner and operator of Blackfoot Traditional Outdoor Guides, an Aboriginal Interpretive Guide, and the founder of pow wow drum group Blackfoot Horse Thieves.

With strong family roots in Indigenous and contemporary music, he’s been singing most of his life, with over 36 years performing in pow wow.

“I come from a pow wow family, my grandfather raised us as drummers,” Turningrobe said. “We’re pretty renowned in our area as powwow singers and drum makers.

Sharing the tradition with the Okotoks students is an important part of coexistence, he continued.

“It’s rewarding for me, because now cultures, not just First Nations, meet together and share understanding that is so minimal to all communities that surround First Nations here,” Turningrobe said.

While Turningrobe said such drums (including his) were historically constructed from deer or elk hide, the school was able to source a cow hide from a Calgary meat processor.

The frames had been constructed by HTA shop students the semester prior.

Student Katherine Pennel was one of the students who attended the class.

“It was an amazing experience – I don’t think if it wasn't at this school, I would have thought of going out and doing it on my own,” said Pennel, who holds Indigenous status from the Star Blanket Cree Nation around Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask.

“I love drumming, it’s part of my own heritage, but it’s neat to hear more about the actual Blackfoot and the people in the area, instead of just what I know.

"It’s really important for the stories of all different Indigenous peoples to be spread, because not all people have the same story or background or experience to share.”

Teacher Jason Krueger had been put in touch with Turningrobe by a mutual acquaintance and was immediately supported by school administration to hold the session.

“It dawned on me, I wonder if there could be something there that we could do to increase connections between different cultures,” Krueger said. “He was really excited at the opportunity, I was really excited.”

Originally slated to visit in December, poor weather and road conditions meant the class was pushed back to March 3 as an optional Friday afternoon session for interested students.

“The more that we have connections with each other, it helps to bring people together and to realize that by and large, we have more in common with each other than we have differences," Krueger said.

“Sharing these opportunities, they give people that chance of making a connection that might not be so easy on their own.”

More information about Turningrobe’s programming can be found at


Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and the Foothills region.
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