Our Doig River Drummers and Dreamers are very important to our community and to other Dane-zaa bands. They perform at memorial Dreamers’ Dances, and at community events.
Naache (Dreamers) are Dane-zaa people who travel to heaven in their dreams and bring back songs. The songs provide teachings, visions and prophecies from the creator. The dreamers share these songs with our people to guide us through life on earth. Most of our Dreamers gained their abilities only after dying and coming back to life; like the swans, Dreamers can fly to heaven and return to earth.
Our Dreamers are sometimes referred to in English as prophets, because of their ability to see into the future and predict events. In their dreams, our prophets see the ways in which our people should behave among one another as well as towards the game animals upon which we depend.
Our stories and traditions prepare us to face the many challenges brought on by the coming of other people and more recently by the rapid industrialization of our land. We remember the songs of our Dreamers and sing them today as we defend our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.
All these stories just hold this earth. That’s how Native people use it, live by it.
Tommy Attachie, 2005
The Dreamers often drew maps of their visions on tanned moose hides and the skins of their drums. Thus the drums are also a good medium for recording and teaching about Dane-zaa history and traditions.
The first Dane-zaa dreamer was Makénúúnatane, whose dreams predicted the arrival of Europeans in the Dane-zaa territory. His songs are still passed on through generations. Eighteen Dreamers followed Makénúúnatane. The most recent was Charlie Yahey, who died in 1976. The Nááchę often illustrated their dreams through the drawing of maps on moose hides and drum skins, some of these dream maps still exist today.
All members of our community may sing our Dreamers’ songs whenever they like; but it is our tradition that only men accompany the songs by playing hand drums at Dreamers’ Dances and other events.
The Drummers have lead singers such as Tommy Attachie (deceased 2017) and Sam Acko. These men follow in a long line of song keepers, extending back over 200 years, who remember the songs and the people who dreamed them. During performances they pass on their knowledge of the Dreamers and their songs.
Any member of our drumming group can become a songkeeper with time. The newer members of the group learn the songs by listening and practicing with the group; and if they become skilled, they will take on the roles of lead singer, teacher, and keeper of our Dreamers’ song tradition.
Tommy describes the way Dreamers find their songs. He also explains the central role of drummers and singers in helping our Dreamers maintain their songs here on earth:
” All these Prophets when they sleep they get the song.
They said just like a small ball from Heaven…..
As soon as they wake up, they sing that song over and over…
And all these song leaders, like us [the Doig River Drummers]…
As soon as he sing different song they all go in there, they sit in there, play drum…
And over and over, pretty soon just the one he hear exactly the way it is.
And he told them that’s good right there. Keep going.
And they sing it.
All the people gather some food. They dance.
That’s how these songs, they pick it up…
That’s how we come in here we sing it today. ”
Any member of our drumming group can become a songkeeper with time. The newer members of the group learn the songs by listening and practicing with the group and if they become skilled, they will eventually take on the roles of lead singer, teacher, and keeper of our Dreamers’ song tradition.
Our song tradition was almost lost during the hard years for us following the construction of the Alaska Highway in the 1940s. With the settlement of our lands, and our forced settlement on reserves, we lost access to many of our hunting and trapping areas and their plant and animal resources – this hurt our culture. Despite struggles with alcoholism and other effects of colonialism, we maintain the songs of our Dreamers and they continue to be a source of strength.
Trail Acko – Doig River Drummers newest drummer in training
Trail Acko is DRFN’s newest and youngest drummers in training with the DRFN Drummers. In an interview with him, we learn about how his training has evolved since a very young age, a bit about his family involvement and his appreciation for the work and commitment involved in becoming a Doig River Drummer.
Trail’s first drum was made by his Uncle Sammy and given to him when he was about 6 years old. Trail was very shy as a child and said he didn’t take it very seriously at first. He wouldn’t sing, he would just keep rhythm with Sammy. But then, one of DRFN’s renowned drummers passed away in 2017 (Tommy Attachie) and Trail realized just how important it was for young people to pick up the drumming tradition and ensure its continuation to maintain his culture. So, from that point forward, he got serious about drumming.
He realized that there were many, many drumming songs and that each song was connected to a story. Tommy and Sammy would always tell stories about where the songs came from and point to the young people, letting them know that they had to learn them and carry on the tradition.
Trail started listening to the drumming songs performed by his grandfather, Ray Acko. (Trail is the youngest grandchild of Ray.) These songs were recorded in the 1960’s by Robin Ridington. Trail continues to listen to these drumming songs to this day.
Trail says there are hundreds of songs. With each song, he has to learn which story goes with it as well as which dreamer each story came from and overall, what it means. There’s a lot of learning to do!
As of this time, 2022, Trail is 23 years old. He has begun work on mentoring young ones to pick up the drumming tradition already. He recently made a drum for his young nephew, Hudson.
You can see trail drumming with the DRFN Drummers on YouTube here. He is on the far right. There are many photos of him drumming below.
In addition to drumming, this past summer Trail joined DRFN’s language training team. He did workshops with young ones in DRFN’s summer program each week. He and Sammy taught the boys about drumming tradition and stories. He did the same with Doig’s youth group over the summer months as well. He has a basic grasp of Beaver language, and shared that with the kids as well.
Wishing Trail all the best as he continues with this important learning and continues to maintain his culture and traditions.