Sturgeon Lake drum group carrying on Cree culture at pow wows across North America

Ironswing is a family-based drum group in Sturgeon Lake First Nation, north of Prince Albert, but they also have members from southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. -- Micah Daniels/Facebook

A family drum group from Sturgeon Lake First Nation is rooted in stories from their Cree culture.

The group’s name, Ironswing, comes from the Cree name of Micah Daniels’ late grandfather.

“My grandfather was an orphan when he was very young and he was very sick when he was small,” Daniels explained.

“An old lady kind of took him in and put him in an old-style baby swing, a wall to wall hanging. She wrapped him in there and she used the wires, like the wires for clothes lines, and his health came back from that swing. That’s how he got his name, and that’s how we carry on the name.”

Micah Daniels is one of 25 members of Ironswing. The group’s name carries on his late grandfather’s Cree name. — Photo courtesy of Micah Daniels/Facebook.

The group travels to pow wows across North America, and even overseas to Finland, for drumming competitions. Pow wows typically start in April and run throughout the summer until September or October.

Daniels said they’re “on a heater” so far this year, winning first place in Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in northern Saskatchewan and at the Four Bears Casino pow wow in North Dakota. Both wins came with a prize of $10,000.

He said Ironswing is set to perform at a few events in Prince Albert, including Indigenous Day celebrations in June.

“We tell stories in our songs. We talk about how we used to ride horses when we were young. Those are good memories, we sing about things like that. We sing about how the drum can sound or how the dancers move,” he said.

They sing in Cree. It’s another way to carry on their culture, said Daniels, given the loss of Indigenous languages through residential schools.

“It changed our younger singers to be more fluent in the language,” he said. “It’s coming back, and we’re doing our part to try to keep the language alive with our singing.”

Daniels said focusing on their culture has promoted healthy lifestyles within the group, such as steering clear of drugs and alcohol.

Although the group has been performing since 1993, Daniels said their recent travels are making Iron Swing more well-known. It also sheds a positive light on Sturgeon Lake First Nation.

“It’s just all over Canada, everyone knows who Ironswing is now,” said Daniels. “It just feels good. We have sons ourselves who are going to basically take over the group one day, so hopefully we can continue on that tradition of passing down the drum name.”

Daniels said there are 25 people in the group. Most are from Sturgeon Lake, but some are from Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. They take about 12 people to each pow wow competition.