Moving to the beat of his own drum

Garry Wells has beat drums with his village for more than 30 years

Garry Wells has been a drummer in Lax Kw’alaams for more than 30 years. He helped lead the village as it hosted the 60th All Native Tournament’s opening ceremonies. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Garry Wells has been a drummer in Lax Kw’alaams for more than 30 years. He helped lead the village as it hosted the 60th All Native Tournament’s opening ceremonies. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

The first time Garry Wells picked up and hit a drum, he knew he’d found something he would be doing for life.

“Just listening to the drums and hearing them gets my heartbeat going and my feet starting to move,” the 57-year-old said.

Wells, who hails from Lax Kw’alaams, said he was in his mid-’20s and was invited to drumming practice in the village and went to see what was going on.

“Someone handed me a drum and asked me if I wanted to do it,” Wells said.

READ MORE: Lax Kw’alaams prepare to lead All Native opening ceremonies

Wells participated, but was shy at first because he didn’t know any of the songs being played or how to beat his drum properly.

“I only hit the drum softly in the first few practices because wanted to gain more confidence,” he said. “I learned by watching other people play and imitating them to get the hang of it.

“After a while I was one of the loudest ones.”

In the years since that day, drumming as a part of his village band has been a central part of Wells’s life and has helped to reconnect him with his own family and culture.

Wells was raised in Lax Kw’alaams by his mother — a fishplant worker — and his step father — who worked in the logging industry.

In his early years, Wells said he wasn’t very involved with either the dance or drummer groups in the village, focussing instead on life in the fishing industry that supported Prince Rupert and the surrounding villages at the time.

Like his mother, Wells found work at one of the city’s fish plants where he developed a reputation as being one of the quickest at cutting off fish heads.

Once, Wells said he was challenged by one of the Chinese workers at the plant to see who was the fastest as cutting fish heads.

“Of course I accepted the challenge, so they lined up 15 fish to see who could get through it the fastest,” Wells said. “Eventually I left him behind. I was finished and he had at least five left.”

Wells continued to work, and after joining the villages drumming group, travelled across the province to perform in ceremonies and special events.

One of the most memorable of these trips was a performance in Terrace at a pow wow where they brought approximately 175 people to host the event’s opening ceremonies.

“A lot of people thought we weren’t going to be very good because they didn’t know who we were, but after our performance, a lot of people came up to us and shook our hands,” he said. “People who had left the village came up to us and told us they were proud to be from Lax Kw’alaams and proud to by Ts’msyen.”

Wells would eventually take over leadership of the group in early 2000s and they have continued to perform ever since.

This past year, the village hosted the opening ceremonies for the 60th annual All Native Basketball Tournament.

“My adrenaline just started pumping after they announced it,” Wells said. “Then I knew we had to get ready.”

After the announcement was made, drumming practices were held with village members across the province who would be coming to perform. In Prince Rupert, practices took place every Sunday to practice the songs so they would perform harmoniously together.

On Feb. 10 more than 100 people — with at least 50 drums — participated in what was a gripping performance.

Looking ahead to the future, Wells said he is optimistic about the future of the group as their seems to be a strong interest in drumming with the next generation.

“I have little kids come up to me and they want me to show them how to do it, and they want to drum and dance,” he said.

When asked how long he see himself continuing, Wells said his mother and sister always tell him that he can’t quit because they know he loves it too much.

“They’re the ones who tell me to keep doing it,” he said. “I love it and I don’t see a reason to stop now.”

READ MORE: A counselor and a competitor

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Matthew Allen | Reporter
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Moving to the beat of his own drum