Hand Drumming: Health-Promoting Experiences of Aboriginal Women from a Northern Ontario Urban Community

  • Ghislaine Goudreau Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, U University of Alberta
  • Cora Weber-Pillwax Department of Educational Policy Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta
  • Sheila Cote-Meek Academic Native Director, Laurentian University
  • Helen Madill Professor & Graduate Programs Coordinator, Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, University of Alberta
  • Stan Wilson Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
Keywords: Aboriginal health promotion, Indigenous research methodology, women, hand drumming, healing, Medicine Wheel, Circle of Life


Over the past 10 years, Aboriginal women from a northern Ontario urban community have been gathering to hand drum as a way to revive their culture and support one another. As a member of an Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming circle called the Waabishki Mkwaa (White Bear) Singers, I had a vision of exploring the connection between hand-drumming practices and health promotion, and was the primary researcher for the study described in this article. Adhering to Aboriginal protocols as part of an Indigenous research methodology, I offered traditional tobacco to members of the Waabishki Mkwaa Singers, as an invitation for them to be both co-researchers and participants in the study. In accepting the tobacco, the members agreed to help facilitate the research process, as well as to journal their experiences of the process and of their own hand-drumming practices. Using an Aboriginal Women’s Hand Drumming (AWHD) Circle of Life framework—a framework developed by the co-researchers of the study—we explored the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional benefits of Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming practices, and examined how culture and social support networks are key determinants of Aboriginal women’s health. Results of the qualitative analysis show that the Aboriginal women’s involvement in hand-drumming circles has many health promoting benefits and builds on strengths already existent within their community. Through their experiences with hand drumming, the women reported gaining a voice and a sense of holistic healing, empowerment, renewal, strength and Mino-Bimaadiziwin (“good life”). These findings are consistent with evolving Aboriginal perspectives on health promotion.