Carol Powder is the powerhouse behind Chubby Cree, an Indigenous drumming and singing group named after her late brother who raised her after her mother passed away.
The president of Alberta Avenue Community League, Ali Hammington, asked Chubby Cree to play every Tuesday at the league. Organizers erected a teepee for a gathering space.
Powder lives with her husband and has nine of her own children. She is also raising nine grandchildren and her youngest son who is eight years old. She laughed, “I feel like the old woman in the shoe.”
“I got to know my kids better. At least through this pandemic, we get to know our kids better, get the love back, and have a good time with our kids. Everyone had to feel that to get back to their kids. Work, daycare, supper is not good enough. It was something we all needed.”
She explained, “All my grandkids know how to drum and sing, but need to [be weaned] into being in crowds. They all have their own drums.”
She primarily plays with her grandson, Noah Green. They have been drumming and singing on the powwow circuit for several years. Their fame grew after they performed when Greta Thunberg spoke in Edmonton in 2019.
When you see Green on stage, you see this somewhat shy 11-year-old boy with brown hair that drops into his brown eyes. As he is about to sing, he lifts his head, shaking his hair off his face, and what can only be described as a roar of music erupts from his mouth. It is completely arresting.
At the rally for the environment (attended by 10 to 20,000 Albertans) where Thunberg spoke, “Me and Noah’s singing was asking Mother Earth, grandfathers, and grandmothers to bring us good health and healing. In the second verse, you could hear a high spirit. My hair stood up on end when I heard that. I felt a blow on my shoulder, I looked at Noah. Wind blowing healing and good health. The atmosphere was so strong. Chubby Cree is healing.”
It is unusual for a woman to drum. “I started drumming when I was five. My great-grandfather taught me. My grandparents raised us, but we grew up with a community of elders.”
“All I knew was Cree,” she continued. “I had the opportunity to listen to them and their stories. Grandfather predicted the future. He said, ‘Carol will drum.’”
Some Indigenous men don’t like that Powder drums. They consider it a man’s traditional role. But Powder said, “Cree men were raised in residential schools like in the U.K.” She believes they have taken on the patriarchal view of women. She continued, “Grandfather said, ‘When women and children sing, women are the true traditional singers. Women invented the drum.’ We sing from the heart and soul.” Powder was emphatic. “Me? I’m going to sing.”
Powder encourages her grandchildren to sing and said that her two-year-old grandchild sings.
“She is called White Buffalo Calf Woman—I gave her that name. White Buffalo Calf Woman is the woman who invented the drum.”
She shared more about her family.
“Great-grandfather and grandfather and [my] uncles were Cree men. They ran away from the reserve [close to Alexander]. Great-grandfather and great-grandmother, and grandfather and grandmother all left residential school and left the reserve.” They left the reserve so they would not be bound by the unfair laws and strictures imposed upon Indigenous people.
“It took a long time to heal.” She continued, “If we saw a Black person, we were surprised. Grandfather explained that Black people were from Africa and told stories about what white people had done to them. It was too hard to say, ‘I forgive you,’ but ‘forgiveness is the best thing.’ Today, a lot of our Native people have had a hard time to forgive.”
Powder said her family found activities to do to occupy their time during the pandemic. “We would find games and practice drumming, singing, and dancing. We would tell stories—we did it day in and day out. We would sit in the garage and let them [the children] play in the gazebo.”
“I got to know my kids better. I got to cook more. Before, I was out until 7 p.m. and home after they got to bed. At least through this pandemic, we get to know our kids better, get the love back, and have a good time with our kids. Everyone had to feel that to get back to their kids. Work, daycare, supper is not good enough. It was something we all needed.”
Powder continued, “We are keeping them safe. We attached so much. I still won’t let them go to the park or walk down the street by themselves. We all had to reconnect with our kids.”
Times were hard financially, but they had enough to eat. If the family needed something, inevitably someone would send money, buy food, or fill their gas tank.
“Before the pandemic, if I got paid $100, I put it into food. We know people who live off the land. They bring us wild meat or potatoes or cream from the Hutterites. Our singing is their pay. Life didn’t really change. Used to being broke. Not hard. That’s the Native way.”
Powder pondered the future. “I would like to live in the country with a smokehouse and cook stews on a crockpot on a fire and make bannock. I wish I could live in the country. Maskwacis [her husband’s reserve] is too negative. Chief and council are negative. They leave people who vote for them to be poor and starve. Samson Cree received $1.3 million for on reserve [residents] and $1.2 million for off-reserve [people] and they gave us all a $100 gift card.”
She is emphatic about taking care of her grandchildren. “I don’t want them in the system.”