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Dropping the beat: Weekly drum circles bring community members together

Three members of the Crazy Elk drum group perform Wednesday evening at the Northwest Indian OIC. (Shown left) are Frank Gurno, Allen Harty holding 18-month-old Kelicia Gurno and Antonio Roy play music outside the facility.

BEMIDJI -- The steady beat of a drum reverberated Wednesday night throughout the streets of Bemidji.

The Northwest Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) hosted a drum circle and a meal as part of a continuing program to bring community members together. The OIC is a center that serves area Native Americans by promoting cultural activities such as drum circles and by providing services such as career development and economic sustainability.

Tuleah Palmer, the executive director of the OIC, said a drum circle and meal are hosted at the OIC every Wednesday night. According to Palmer, the drum is important in bringing members of the native community together to meet each other and to form networks.

"It's really the heartbeat of the community," Palmer said.

Allen Hardy, one of the drum players, said there are many types of drums that are used in various activities and ceremonies. The drum used in the gathering Wednesday evening is considered a contemporary drum and is used for casual community get togethers.

Hardy said a drum is important to native culture and the playing of one is a spiritual experience as much as it is a communal one. Before a drum circle plays on a drum, the instrument is blessed with tobacco and a prayer, he said.

"The importance of the drums is they give us life. They help us in a good way," Hardy said. "They call it the heartbeat of the Earth. When we hit the drum that's mother Earth's heartbeat."

Antonio Roy, the owner of the drum used in the gathering, said the drum was first given to him as a gift after it sat unused for more than five years. The drum is handmade from a hollowed out stump of a tree with deer hide stretched tightly over the top and the drumsticks for it are made from leather wrapped around fiberglass rods.

Roy said drums are usually given names, and after thinking about it for awhile, he came up with the name Crazy Elk for his drum. He was raised around drums and ceremonies his entire life, he said.

"I try to be here every Wednesday when they have it," Roy said. "I just come because I like singing and it's fun."

Weekly drum circles and meals take place from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday and are free and open to the public. For more information on services offered by the Northwest Indian OIC, call (218) 759-2022 or visit For event information and updates like the NWIOIC on Facebook at