For Native people, the drum represents the universal heartbeat of Noo Halidzoks (Mother Earth) - the universal goddess and mother to us all. Her heartbeat on the drum can be done in a variety of ways, here are two suggestions:
Tsimshian: Four steady beats, followed for two quick beats - one, two three, four, one/two, two three four, one/two, two, three, four.....)
Anishinabe - two rhythmic beats - one/two - one/two - one/two.....
The first sound that was heard in the world was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Native people manifest this heart beat through playing a special rhythm on the drum. This rhythm facilitates healing and realignment of the four realms of human existence (Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical) because the Creator revolves around the rhythm. The drum when combined with the voice, creates a hum that rests between the voice and the drum and is thought to be the spirits of the Ancestors.
Therefore, Native hand drums are not percussion instruments per se or a toy, they are considered female and human because of their direct tie to the earth.
When playing a drum, it should never be hammered in an aggressive way, this suggests giving it a 'beating' and one must never 'hit' a woman in this manner! The teaching goes even further by stating that the drum mallet should not be referred to as a 'beater' because of the suggestion of aggression contained in the word. Ms Thunderbird refers to all her drum mallets as 'Feather Joe'.
The Big Drum was a gift from the women to the men a very long time ago, so that men could experience a resonant connection to the Earth Mother that naturally occurs with women. Therefore, it has been tribal custom for the most part, that women not sit at the big drum or play it. As Native history has evolved, this practice has changed from tribe to tribe, and there are more and more instances where women are taking back the big drum, and raising their voices in joy. Also, this in some part has been borne out of the fact that many families who had only girl children, continued to pass down the important teachings.