Hanging with Native Americans: A High Holy Days Adventure Part II
Continued from Hanging with Native Americans: A High Holy Days Adventure Part I. Public Facebook Gallery: Carrie Estey Meorial
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.( hotel tsurris behind cutCollapse )
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.( casino is chintzy and I get mad at themCollapse )
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.