Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

'Where is our humanity?': A Minnesota man is on a mission to keep Native burial customs alive during the pandemic

Tribes beset by loss have few morticians in tune with traditions


February 1, 2021


Robert Gill, seen with his mother Patricia Gill-Eagle on the Lake Traverse Reservation, has made it his mission to "decolonize" Native burials.

Long Hollow, S.D. – Braving bitter cold and gusting winds, nearly a dozen people said prayers in their native Dakota language as they watched a bonfire blaze through a deceased man's clothing, sending a thin trail of smoke drifting over the snow-covered hills on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The traditional burning of garments represented a final rite of passage for the spirit of Francis Jay Country Jr., a 66-year-old tribal elder and musician whose life was cut short this month by the coronavirus. The bonfire also culminated two days of elaborate ceremonies in which a tribal chief, dressed in an eagle feather headdress, led family members in songs, drumming and prayers facing the four directions.

For Mary White-Country, now a widow, the rituals brought much-needed comfort that her husband's spirit was no longer suffering and had begun its journey. "Today, I have cried all my tears," she said after the ceremony. "There is closure because my husband was sent off in a respectful manner, in a way that honored his traditions."


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