In the Ojibwe tradition, as I understand it through cavandal, the spirit takes four days to leave the dead body, so funerals last four days. For a year afterwards, people do not speak the name of the dead (as much as possible), and mourn to themselves, so as not to disturb their journey to the next life. After the year, memorial services may be held to honor and remember those gone.
On Friday (9/30/11), Carole, Ida and I made the 243 mile journey to Mahnomen, MN. We stayed at the Shooting Star Casino and Hotel, the closest and cheapest place to stay anywhere close to the actual ceremony in Naytahwaush, MN on the White Earth reservation. Nearly thirty miles away. Northern Minnesota is where the Western prairie starts, where the waters may flow south, east or north, a beautiful bountiful rural land that reminded me of my home in Middletown NY more than once.
The trip up was uneventful, and pretty. I'd brought along come of my car CDs, mixes made in the pre-iPod days full of interesting (to me) bouncy driving songs. Carole and Ida mostly liked the selection, though they skipped over a few. Carole had a few other CDs, and the occasional conversation filled out the journey. In Minneapolis, if autumn doesn't happen on a weekend you might miss it. On the road up north, the trees were beginning to change color, and the farther north we got the more colorful the flora.
We arrived at the casino/hotel more or less on time at about 8:30pm and checked in. Carole and Ida had been there before, and their tribal identification gave us some sort of discount. After stashing stuff in our respective rooms, we went into the casino to eat. I had checked online about restaurants, and their Friday Dinner Buffet of steak and shrimp looked good.
I haven't been to a lot casinos in my day, but I've been to Monaco, the floating casinos offshore at pre-Katrina Gulfport MS, and Mystic Lake near Mpls, among others. Shooting Star was easily the chintziest. Smokey and poorly laid out: There was a reasonably large non-smoking area with it's own bar, but the majority of the place was smoking, and made breathing hard. One couldn't get to any of the three restaurants without walking through the smoking areas of the casino. Thank heaven for government regulations that stop this killer in most places here in Mpls.
Both Ida and Carole talked up the casino's "Player's Card", which they (having been to the casino before) wanted to get but (having been to the casino before) were ineligible for the promotions. The casino's Customer Service Desk (or something like that) is where they give out the cards (checking you against their database), including the best neck lanyard I've ever used, and proffers rewards and such. A Player's Card looks fairly handy: You put it in the slot machines, which keeps track of your winnings and losings. You can add money to it, and electronically transfer money to your game, so you don't have to feed the slot all the time.
As a first time visitor, they gave me $5 credit! Whee! That will play a lot of nickel slots! (Actually, all the low-roller games were in penny increments, but you could play up to a dollar at a time.) More on this later.
Wearing our Player's Cards around our neck, we finally made it to the buffet. What I expect from a casino buffet is either cheap and plentiful (for players) or expensive but high-quality (for families). Their buffet was medium expensive with a limited selection of mediocre food. This shot, of the steak chef posing for me, shows about 2/3 of the serving area, with only the steam tray dishes (with breaded seafood and such) behind me. A reasonable drink station is inside the restaurant, but still: Maybe half the size of Old Country Buffet. Not bad, but disappointing after a long drive and walk through the smoke.
Ida's room wasn't too far, but our room was a very long walk. The walls were paper thin, and the ventilation allowed smoke to waft through. Carole was so concerned about lack of security that we didn't leave the windows open (for fear of someone breaking the screen and crawling in) and used the AC. The next day, we talked to people across the hall: They requested handicap-accessible rooms, but were so far away from the casino that they had to get wheelchairs.
The next morning, we ate at the buffet for breakfast. We had made vague plans to meet others for breakfast, we just winged it. An okay breakfast buffet, but walking through the smoke was starting to get to Carole.
I tend to be on time, if not outright early, for events. The Carrie Estey and Lyle Fairbanks memorial was called for "10am-2pm". I kept asking what the schedule was, and what was going to happen when, and got different answers. We got there at 10... and were one of the first people. Not really well organized, but people gathered and talked and eventually we had a good potluck meal. At least four generations were in attendance, ranging from a 91-year-old great-great-grandmother to a newborn.
Carrie was a "sister" to Carole in the spiritual, not biological, sense. Family is important, and attachments made from shared time together are as strong (or stronger) than family. Many people at the memorial had such ties. Video with Carrie: Woodland Pottery Experience
The memorial itself was heartfelt and respectful. Most attendees were local or, like Carole, Ida and I, comparatively local, but some were from far afield. Speakers sat in a half-circle in the middle of the gym while the rest of us sat at tables. People, in the best oral tradition, sang songs for the passed on, remembered them and told of their inspiration. At one point, the eldest elder spoke, and she quietly turned to her family next to her. No one more than a few feet away could hear her, but all remained silent while she had the floor.
After the memorial, we dissolved into various conversations, and I had a chance to talk with many. The day was beautiful, and people gathered outside as well. I took a lot of autumn pictures all throughout the trip.
Back at the casino/hotel, Carole wanted to nap and answer some e-mail on her phone. I decided to venture into the casino with the Player's Card's $5 burning a hole in my pocket. I'm hardly a big gambler, but don't mind spending a few bucks to mindlessly veg out on nickel slots. I spent a half-hour in the non-smoking section (which only had slots) trying to decide on a game. The one with The Monkees was in use, and the Village People themed machine was amusing. I picked one near a corner, put in the Player's Card... and it showed no money.
Going to the Customer Service Desk, I was told that the seed money ran out at midnight on the previous day. In other words, I had less than three hours to use it. Less than 24 hours later, it wasn't valid. I'm not as mad at the casino as I am at Verizon (who just steals your money if you time out), but I was pretty incensed. If you're going to have a promotion, it helps to actually promote your product. I vowed not to spend any more money at the hotel or casino. We eventually had the breakfast buffet the next day before leaving, but for dinner Carole and I went out to a nearby Subway, got some beer, and ate in the room. I certainly didn't put a penny in any slot.
Walking back, still steamed, I get accosted by a guard. He's concerned that I'm taking pictures (I was, of course, wearing my camera). I didn't take any in the casino, the only place marked as such. I had walked through the pool area, in a vain attempt to get past the smoking section, and had to turn back. Asking a hotel staffer if I could use that door to leave the pool, and apparently was reported. Sheesh. Meanwhile, I was headed back to our room. The casino is on the second floor, and our room is on the first. Just as I got there (to be accosted by the guard), the elevator had closed.
After a conversation with the guard (no, I wasn't going to violate anyone's privacy), I asked, "I don't want to take the elevator. Can I walk down these stairs?" His response: "Oh, you can take the elevator." I had to ask three times before getting an answer (yes). And when I walked downstairs, the guard followed. "Am I in trouble?" I asked. "No." "Okay, I can find my way. Thank you." Sheesh.
A chintzy, stupid organization.
The drive back was very pretty and uneventful. The fall colors hadn't changed much in three days. Back in Mpls, fall arrived a day or so later and was soon gone. The weather's warm, but the leaves have fallen. I'm glad I had a chance to explore Minnesota during some of the prettiest times. And I'm glad I had a chance to meet a number of wonderful people from a culture I didn't know well.
Not the way Jews traditionally spend the High Holy Days, but a healing event and a learning experience. The spirit of the law, if not the letter. is, I hope, followed: An oral tradition can help us be inscribed in the Book of Life.