When a loved one passes away in the Lakota culture, I have found that it is quite different than any other service or process that I have been a part of or witnessed. It is not just a time to mourn and bury the dead but it means more than that. This is a beautiful time to celebrate that our loved one is going on to a new life in the spirit world and leaving behind their journey for us to follow and learn from.
Recently, my uncle, Pat Spears passed away after a short but painful battle with cancer. He knew that this terrible disease was going to take his life but never once did this slow down his determination and drive to make a difference. Even after realizing modern medicine was not going to cure him, he continued to share his knowledge while fighting for his life as he was surrounded by the comfort of his family and friends.
Since my uncle was a traditional Lakota man, the week before his passing, a sweat was held for four days in a row as his loved ones prayed and sacrificed through the intense heat. This was a time for purification, prayer, and healing. My uncle’s children and loved ones came back every night after the sweat to the hospital to pray for him, sing, and be with him, never leaving his side for a second. It is a traditional belief in the Native American culture to never leave the loved one alone until they have completely left us onto the spirit world. It is important to comfort and reassure them that it’s okay to leave us all here and go on to a better place so that they can find peace.
My uncle was very active in his Native American culture and on his reservation in Lower Brule, SD. One passion that he was truly known for was being the co-founder and President of a company called, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP). This focused on energy improvements and advancements on Native American Reservations in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska and Wyoming. He worked diligently in the planning and educating others to put wind turbines on the Reservations among other energy renewing projects. He also gained support and honorable recognition from the Clinton Global Initiative and received the World Clean Energy Award for Courage presented to him in Switzerland. Knowing that my uncle was sick and there was no cure, it was very scary for him in having to face the fact that someone who have to keep his message and hard work alive and productive after he left for the spirit world.
So what exactly do I mean by, ”leaving behind his journey for us to follow and learn from?” I was always taught that when a Lakota leader or elder comes in our path, and paves the way before us that we should do everything in our efforts to make sure that their hard work never goes unrecognized. We should also make sure that it doesn’t cease just because the physical person has left us. My uncle worked hard for our environment and especially the Native American people no matter how many bullets to the chest or arrows at his back he had to take along the way. Even up to the last hours of his life on earth, he was still spreading the word and knowledge to loved ones around him about his mission and calling in life to better the life for our Native American people.
After my uncle left for the spirit world, he didn’t want any recognition, no elaborate send off, but to leave this world in a traditional way and have his hard work carried on. He didn’t want his body for the world to stare at and talk about but instead to be in the comfort of his own home surrounded by loved ones for his funeral services. He didn’t want anyone cutting flowers for his funeral but rather wanted those who found it important to be there present. He said, “If they can make it all the way out here, that’s good enough.”
We can all learn from the humbleness of my uncle who worked hard for every one of us, never worried about any recognition or a prize; just a change in our environment.
Here is an article featured on the Indian Country Today Media Network Website that shows how much one man accomplished while on Earth for such a short time.
Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relatives), Pilaymaya ye, (thank you)!