My intentions with this post are not to be a depressing, crazy Native American lady, but instead rather to take an opportunity to share my input on how my “modern” Lakota culture deals with losing a loved one. I hope you enjoy and ask as many questions as possible.
Dealing with a loved one dying or going on to the spirit world is one of the hardest realities we have to face time and time again. While for some, it is looked at as a “celebration of life;” for others like myself, it is sincerely a time to mourn and remember the love and memories your loved one provided while on this beautiful earth.
Recently, my great-grandma Helen left our earth and went on to the spirit world after a long, hard battle with an ugly -spawn of the devil disease- called Alzheimer’s. While for some it may be easier to say goodbye and smile, as she lived a long 92 years of life, I find myself saddened at losing the lady who always kept everything together with her kind spirit and loving heart. I will admit, it brings me great comfort to know that in the Native American culture, we don’t have a word for “good bye” but rather “see you later.” I was taught that our bodies have a shell and a spirit, and the shell stays on earth while the spirit lives on in the spirit world, which is the reassurance that we will be reunited again someday together in spirit.
My Great-Grandma Helen was not by blood Native American, but my Great-Grandpa Jiggs was. She absolutely loved the culture and always respected every part of it no matter the color of her skin. She stood by my Grandpa while he was on the council and served as the Tribal Chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and always helped on the reservation as much as she could. I believe that through my grandma’s life and spirit, she lived a very traditional Lakota life as she always kept her Takojas (Grandchildren) close to her heart and protected them with all she had. She truly knew what it was like to be a so-called “white” woman but yet appreciate Native Americans and display sensitivity for the culture.
Today’s reality is… more and more relationships develop inside and outside of the culture. Whether these relationships are informal or committed through marriage, cultures end up crossing. Regardless, I think that a person can be of any culture and appreciate the beauty of the Native American culture if they do not forget the sacredness and meaning behind the people.
I know many people in this world can become very ignorant jerks and aim hatefulness towards the Native American culture by thinking it’s a culture filled with handouts, government programs, and a lack of success. I do think that the government has a lot to do with this harsh point of view that many Americans share, but I also believe, as Native American activist, Russell Means once said, “we’re all on one big reservation,” not just the Native Americans. He said, “This land is now filled with ‘Indians’ that are absolutely dependent on the government, for everything. For everything. At any rate, you depend on the government, and what you’ll end up with is poverty and a lot of paper.”
What I am getting to is this— No matter how thick or thin your heritage runs through your veins, what’s important is how you conduct yourself and honor where you or others come from. I believe that one does not have to be a full blood or of any blood for that matter to be a part of the Native American culture, but they should darn well appreciate the culture and the ancestry that makes it sacred. My Great-Grandma had this quality regardless of her “un-Native-ness” that many may categorize her as. I believe people like her are the gatekeepers and example for the ones who do not take the time to understand the culture but set an example for others. Being born in the 1920s and living into the year 2013, my beautiful grandma saw many events and heartache throughout history and I truly believe she had a sincere passion for the culture, as many others do who are not Native American by blood, but by heart.