Dancing with Arvel Bird & One Nation, Stone Mountain Indian Festival 2006
Keith Little Badger
Keith is a common man. He learned to build drums sitting at his grandfather's feet in a dusty shop. He did not take a drum-making work shop and become an instant expert. He does not teach classes on drum making or call himself a "guru," "medicine man," or shaman. He is a drum maker, plain and simple.
With all the plywood hoops and precut rawhide circles available today, anyone can make a drum. And if you want to make your own drum, that's great. But only a few are called to live the LIFE of a Native American Drum Maker. The drum maker's life is not a prosperous one, because the needs of the People are great - needs for sundance drums, sweat lodge drums, healing drums.
Keith is no counselor, no learned scholar. He is just an Indian who builds drums. He knows his people, their traditions and customs. He will not build you a drum if it violates any other Nation's traditions.
Keith prays over every drum he builds. I had to fight with him to build this web site. One of the rules is that we do not run a "shopping cart." We talk to every person who needs a drum. That is important to Keith. Drums are his legacy and he needs to know in whose hands they rest. He needs to know that his craft will be honored and respected.
Keith learned his craft the old way. His grandfather used pegs and bisquits to hold his drum hulls together. Keith has employed these old ways to build drums that go into prisons to help Native Americans worhip in a traditional manner. But he is also a modern Indian. He uses power tools and the best glues on the market. He shops his rawhide, and has schooled his tannery in the old ways: no bleach, no chemicals, nail hides to the board and allow them to air dry. We drive several hundred miles to examine and hand pick our hides.
Keith could use plywood hoops. It would be a lot easier. Certainly it would be cheaper. But he travels throughout the southeast to find river-recovered cedar for his sacred drums. If local sawmills get a lightening struck cedar, they know who to call: Keith Little Badger. Keith will not cut a new tree. This is his commitment to Mother Earth.
He planes every board of cedar. He cuts each stave to angle, length and height (6 cuts per piece). Then he constructs the drum hull, one piece at a time. He allows it to dry. He sands it and sands it until the hull is smooth. Then he finishes the hull to seal in the blood red color, the cedar wood color of the People. It would be so much easier to pull a prefinished plywood circle out of a box and tie on a head.
But the art of drum making would cease. And along with the lost art of drum making would flee the mystery, the prayers, and the sacredness. So Keith builds drums the old way, the traditional way of his Grandfather.
Little Badger Powwow Drums Played all over the United States
Back in the day, Shoe just called it Respect of Tula Geh. "Green"
Old "Shoe" Desrosiers would be proud of his grandson (the Little Badger) for carrying on his tradition. Many elders in Oklahoma remember the drum-maker who recycled worn leather belts from woolen mills in New England. He traveled to Oklahoma, around the little towns and, using that leather, he fashioned new soles and heels for the worn-out shoes of his Native brothers and sisters. Way back when . . . Not many of those elders are left. They were kids then. But they remember Shoe.
Shoe is the spiritual inspiration behind our partnerships with animal rescue centers and sponsoring hand drum competitions and donating drums to worthy causes. Shoe is the reason we are the original recycled wood Native American drum company. We know that Shoe would be proud of us.
Keith is a member of the Cherokees of Northeast Alabama, a State Recognized tribe.