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NMSU Tribal Extension Task Force director demonstrates traditional drum-making

ALBUQUERQUE Traditional drum-making will never be a lost art if Sam Suina can help it.



Acoma drum maker Faron Tortalita chisels out the inside of a drum while Sam Suina, NMSU's Tribal Extension Task Force Initiative project director, sang a traditional song and played one of his drums during a drum-making demonstration at the National Johnson O'Malley Association's conference held in Albuquerque in November. (Photo by Jane Moorman)

He recently demonstrated the ancient art to members of the National Johnson O'Malley Association, a group dedicated to meeting the special needs of American Indians and Alaskan native students. The demonstration was part of a national conference in Albuquerque and many tribal youth joined in working on the drums.

Faron Tortalita chisels out the inside of a drum while Sam Suina, NMSU's Tribal Extension Task Force Initiative project director, sang a traditional song and played one of his drums"Drum-making is becoming a lost craft," Suina said of the skills he learned from his cousin, Arnold Herrera. Suina is now teaching those skills to tribal members as part of the New Mexico State University Tribal Extension Task Force's statewide youth leadership initiative.

While presenting the drum-making program at Acoma Pueblo, Suina said the youth asked their elders to tell them about the last drum-maker in Acoma.

"The elders were unable to remember the name of the last person who made drums in their pueblo," Suina said.

Many agricultural practices and traditional tribal crafts are not being passed on to the younger generations, said Suina, a member of the Cochiti Pueblo and the task force project director.

"That is why we are working to establish Extension Service offices in the pueblos and tribal nations," Suina said. "Our goal is to develop and deliver community-based education programs that will revitalize indigenous agriculture, provide economic opportunities, implement culturally appropriate youth leadership projects and improve the health and nutrition of individuals, families and communities."

"We need to connect our people back to the land. Without an effort to preserve and strengthen our native cultures and languages, Native American youth are more likely to experience disillusionment and cultural abandonment."

Since Suina's training at Acoma, 12 to 15 people now know how to make drums. Developing skills is not the only goal of the sessions. Suina also shared wisdom he learned from his father and grandfather.

While demonstrating the steps of turning a log into a drum, Suina told those attending the Johnson O'Malley conference, "As part of the language immersion program, I teach in the native language. We talk about our traditional ways and how they help us each day. But most of all, I like to make it fun."

As Faron Tortalita, one of the new Acoma drum-makers whom Suina calls his protégé, chiseled the inside of the log, Suina sang a traditional song and played one of his completed drums. "The song is a prayer thanking the corn maidens for all that they have brought our people," Suina said.

When all that is remaining of the log is an inch-thick shell of wood, the drum makers cover the ends with wet cowhide that is stretched and laced with strips of rawhide.

"The different tones of the drum are created by making one cowhide thicker than the other. As the cowhide dries, it shrinks to fit tightly over the log," Suina said. "The final step of the process is to paint the drum with symbolic colors and patterns."

Other Tribal Extension Task Force projects include establishing community gardens and farmers markets in tribal communities. The task force also plans to request $1.2 million from the New Mexico Legislature during the 2007 session for the start-up costs of eight Cooperative Extension Service centers in tribal communities. The total cost of developing the centers is estimated at $3 million.

"To adequately address the needs of the 22 Indian pueblo and tribal nations, the task force members and supporting agencies are working together to develop and implement eight permanent Cooperative Extension Service centers," Suina said. "The centers will be housed in existing tribal schools and cultural centers."

These centers will partner with public schools and tribal colleges to establish sustainable school and community-based programs designed to develop and implement innovative traditional programs, health-based programs and natural resource and agriculture information services that are currently not provided in these communities, he added.