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Posted on Fri. May. 02, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Sacred drumming opens Miami Heritage Days

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If you go

What: “Medicine Woman Drum”

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Chief Richardville House, 5705 Bluffton Road

Admission: $7 adults, $5 seniors 59 and older and students 3 to 19, free for History Center members; call 426-2882 or go to

Drum keeper Gerry Anders says that when listeners have the chance to hear the local Painted Turtle drum circle perform, they take more than the music with them.

“A drum is a sacred thing,” he says. “People can get different things from the drum; we’ve performed for people with special needs, and you could tell how touched they were by the drum. When the drum gets going and you have the dancers moving, you just get that feeling.”

Kicking off the History Center’s Miami Indian Heritage Days on Saturday at the Chief Richardville House, the Painted Turtle drum circle will share “Medicine Woman Drum.”

The drumming performance allows participants to experience the sacred music derived from Native American heritage while touring the 1827 home of Miami Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville, the son of a French fur trader and Miami Indian mother Tacamwa, sister to war chief Little Turtle.

The title “Medicine Woman Drum” is the name of one of the drums the members use at a variety of functions, from powwows to funerals.

Anders says the name was inspired after a particular powwow.

“The drum had no name at that time, and as the day wore on, we had people come up to us and tell us how the drum made them feel better. I was talking to my wife on the way home and I said, ‘Here’s the drum name,’ ” Anders says.

Drumming for nine years, Anders says he first got involved with Ohio’s Skyhawk drum circle before he joined the local drumming group. When Painted Turtle’s first drum keeper moved away, he saw an opportunity to lead the group.

“You need to be ready to perform wherever you go, you have to make sure the drum is taken care of, and you have to take care of it properly. You have to know how to sing the songs, and you have to know how to drum them because (there) are right and wrong ways,” Anders says. “In the Miami world, we call the drum ‘grandmother,’ and you need to respect that drum as if it was your grandmother – you watch what you say and how you act.”

For the upcoming performance, Anders says it’s about sharing the music, which he hopes will engage listeners to participate.

“Drumming is a small portion of the native culture, but it’s an important part of the culture,” he says. “It’s so different than your normal way of life, and we just want to be able to inform people about the drum and the purpose of the drum.”

“I’m hoping that a lot of local Miami folk show up for this and dress in their native regalia and exhibit some of the dancing for the public. They are big part of what we do,” he says.

History Center Executive Director Todd Maxwell Palfrey says “Medicine Woman Drum” is a strong way to start the series.

“It’s a really engaging program, and since there is a definite religious aspect to the tradition of Miami drumming and singing, it’s fitting to kick off this series with such a sacred aspect of their culture,” he says.

“The most important part for us is to interpret our community’s Native American history and heritage, and our hope is that the guests will gain appreciation for the community’s first inhabitants and their ongoing contributions to our community today.”

In the early 1800s, Richardville was a trader and entrepreneur who controlled more than 20 square miles of property along the St. Joseph, St. Marys, Mississinewa, Salamonie and Wabash rivers. He was able to keep the Miami tribe in Indiana when many tribes were forced to leave the area.

Following Richardville’s death in 1841, the home was owned by several of his descendents before the Spy Run Gravel Co. took ownership in the 1940s. The Allen County Historical Society took over the property in 1991 and restored the exterior of the home. The History Center now maintains the property and began opening the home in 2007 for Miami Indian Heritage Days.

“It’s been really amazing. Once we developed the Miami Indian Heritage Days series, our attendance just skyrocketed,” Palfrey says.

“Throughout the series, we also include a tour of Chief Richardville House, an interpreter from the History Center shares the structural and architectural history of the home, and then a direct descendent of Chief Richardville interprets the family of the site.”

Events in the series will highlight Miami traditions, such as planting and harvesting, and its culture, including clothing and dance.

Palfrey says this year’s programs will include cattail matting. The mats were used traditionally to cover a longhouse, known as a wikiami.

The popular Traders Day is scheduled for the end of the year. “That’s always the most exciting part of this series to me,” Palfrey says.

“Each program has a unique and engaging aspect of Miami Indian culture.”

For Anders, the excitement comes when participants not only listen, but feel his music.

“When they come and listen to us, and when they leave, I want them to feel good,” Anders says. “Maybe that drum will give them a little bit of inner peace.”

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