'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
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."