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Mi'kmaw boy who's 'beating the odds' can join drumming circle thanks to engineering students

Gerry Lewis plays his custom-made drum Tuesday with the help of his occupational therapist Jennifer Neill and UPEI engineering student Christian d'Entremont. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Gerry Lewis plays his custom-made drum Tuesday with the help of his occupational therapist Jennifer Neill and UPEI engineering student Christian d'Entremont. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

There could be a new percussionist joining the drumming circle at the Lennox Island Mawi'omi on P.E.I. this weekend.

Nine-year-old Gerry Lewis has always loved music. He's especially fond of drums, which are integral to his Mi'kmaw culture. But a rare genetic metabolic disorder makes it difficult for him to move.

Though Gerry is non-verbal, there was little doubt how thrilled he was when he was presented with a custom-made drum for his birthday Tuesday.

It was specifically designed by students at the University of Prince Edward Island so Gerry could play.

"He doesn't get to play with a lot of things. It's extra special because it's the drum," said Madlene Sark, Gerry's mother.

"For him to be able to participate in his culture, I think that's what hit me."

The drum was designed to play with the press of a button.
The drum was designed to play with the press of a button.

The drum was designed to play with the press of a button. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Last fall, Jennifer Neill, Gerry's occupational therapist, reached out to the university's engineering department to see if they could build a drum for the child.

Students rose to the challenge. They met with Mi'kmaw groups and attended drum circles to learn more about the instrument's cultural importance.

'We're so happy'

Neill as well as Christian d'Entremont and Andrew Williamson — the engineering students who helped build the drum — were on Lennox Island to see Gerry play.

"It's such a unique opportunity that we were provided with," Williamson said. "Gerry's mom was emotional thanking us and that almost brought a tear to my eye.

"It's really good to see that we're so happy with the work we've done."

The students focused on mechanics, and how the drum could be played from Gerry's wheelchair.

The custom-made instrument has three buttons: one to start, one to stop and one to play the unique beat of the Mi'kmaw Honour Song.

Nine-year-old Gerry Lewis is surrounded by his sister Aaliyah, father  Martin Gerry Lewis Sr., and mother Madlene Sark.
Nine-year-old Gerry Lewis is surrounded by his sister Aaliyah, father Martin Gerry Lewis Sr., and mother Madlene Sark.

Gerry surrounded by his sister Aaliyah and his parents, Martin Gerry Lewis Sr. and Madlene Sark. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"All he has to do is press a button on his tray and it will spin a motor that will hit the drum stick that will hit the drum," d'Entremont said. "Then, he can stop it afterwards or keep it going."

Neill was impressed with how Gerry responded, and hopes he will continue to enjoy playing the drum for as long as he can.

"He is a kid who's really like beating the odds," she said. "He has a condition where ... not a lot of kids even make it to his age. So the fact that we're celebrating his ninth birthday is pretty amazing."