2023 Feature, Large Newsroom finalist

Healing through drums

About the Project

Norman Restasket is a survivor of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia and a drum maker.

When news broke of hundreds of unmarked graves found near the old school site, Norman felt he could finally tell the whole story of his experience as a young child at a residential school – including things he had kept hidden from his family.

It had been 60 years since Mr. Retasket left the school as a teenager. For years, Mr. Retasket, 78, has been well known in the B.C. Interior as a maker of hand drums with unique, vibrant designs. In the aftermath of the Kamloops discovery, Mr. Retasket decided to dye some of his drums orange – the colour used for the Every Child Matters movement to honour residential-school survivors – and added the number 215, for the number of graves found at the Kamloops school. In the year that followed, the demand for his hand drums grew so intense that he had to turn down orders. As he made drum after drum at his home, more possible unmarked graves were found at former residential schools in other provinces. He felt the weight of each discovery – and sensed a shift in the meaning behind his drums.

The announcement of the unmarked graves reverberated across Canada, and over the course of a year as Norman came to terms with his own memories, the news also became a catalyst for renewed understanding among Canadians who did not comprehend the full extent of the government and Church-run Residential School system.

As an elder and artist, Mr. Retasket is a natural storyteller so The Globe wanted to allow his voice to drive the narrative of this multimedia story. The Globe used photos, text and video with Mr. Retasket’s voice verbatim to try to give him as much agency as possible in telling his own story to Canadians. Photojournalist Melissa Tait gathered the material for this story through extensive interviews when the Kamloops news story first broke, and upon a second visit one year later. She spent many hours with Mr. Retasket to understand his story, his history, and the important message he hoped to convey through his drum work.

After returning from her second visit with Mr. Retasket, Ms. Tait worked in collaboration with interactive editor Jeremy Agius to weave visuals, audio and text into one elegant presentation published on September 30, Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.