Prince George marked another significant milestone of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it wasn’t a negative remembrance.
This week was the one-year anniversary of a group of Indigenous drummers that played their hearts out towards healthcare workers, as well as the patients, at University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) going 24/7 in ensuring the community stayed safe and healthy in unprecedented times.
For 47 consecutive days, the UHNBC Drum Group, as it’s called, sang loudly traditional songs of prayer and healing for those that were suffering from the virus and other illnesses, even the ones that passed on.
It changed to Monday night’s only as the pandemic went on, but the group hasn’t stopped, even through tough weather conditions like heavy rain, intense snowfall, -40 C temperatures and humid summer days.
To recognize their efforts, Wesley Mitchell, who took leadership of the drumming group, organized another convoy drive-by Friday night (March 26) of local first responders and local businesses to honk in support once more.
“The outpour of people appreciating the support we give is amazing itself,” said Mitchell in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters, noting the year has gone by quickly, but was a slow start due to the pandemic’s uncertainty.
“It’s very honourable to be here, we follow protocols; things are starting to go back in stages on life's terms. I’m still going to enjoy these gatherings in a safe manner, but with more COVID cases and other variants, it’s very scary. I’ll still continue to be here every Monday night to bring the spirit, we’re going to support the healthcare community and the elders that are fighting for their lives.”
Mitchell, who is of both Wet’suwet’en nation and Dutch heritage, welcomed, thanked and gifted several people who’ve supported the drum group possible, including Lheidli T’enneh Dayi Clay Pountney, Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, RCMP, BC Ambulance and the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North.
He says until there’s significant improvements, such as a positive vaccine rate with Northern Health’s COVID-19 immunization plan now in play, the drummers will continue to congregate at a safe distance every Monday to keep the heartbeat alive.
“I know it’s been hard and trial-and-error stories, but we’re doing pretty good,” Mitchell said, who’s also grateful to hear stories of how the 7 p.m. cheers have improved the journey of those inside UHNBC.
“We’re going to continue until the numbers start going back down. When these vaccines are showing that they’re successful and we can start gathering again, that’s when we’ll stop. We’re going to continue drumming well after this; I’m not going to deny people of that comfort we give them.”
So what kept this group going all this time in spite of some weather challenges and COVID-19 case numbers rising?
Mitchell said you need consistency, dedication and unity.
“When you look up and you see the nurses up there, the patients, you feel that heartbeat, you feel that drum. For me, that’s the same thing; my heart beats just as much as theirs. No matter rain, snow or weather that it is, I stand up and show my dedication to the people that are suffering everyday.”
Included in Friday night’s parade were RCMP, local firefighters, Yellowhead Road and Bridge, and school buses, totalling about 60 vehicles in one trip as they also visited long-term care facilities to honk and wave as well.
The first parade of the same concept took place April 15, 2020, with about 30 vehicles.