There is an old joke that you reach an age where you check newspaper obituaries to make sure you are not found in the headlines.
Then I am not yet quite that age. And newspapers? Right. The problem there is not really a place for me to check. There is not a great collection of Native obituaries from across the country.
I have always loved obituaries (called “eight points” back when I started in the news business because of the small type). I remember being the first to volunteer to write or edit several pieces early in my career. The stories stick with me: An heir to a rifle maker, church leaders, politicians, authors, and just people whose lives made a great story.
The best thing I have ever written was a tribute to my grandmother in The Seattle Times. She saved for me a stack of silver coins. But “the treasure my grandmother left us was a stack of stories. Each coin is a reminder of something that happened, an event or family adventure. She saved these for later, and gave them back now that we're ready to understand their value. I pick up the coins now and shuffle them from thumb to thumb. I hear shiing-shiing, shiing-shiing, a sound like a fancy dancer makes at a powwow. I hear stories.”
Those family stories are on my mind again. I have been thinking about all of this since my father’s recent death.
When my siblings and I met at the mortuary where we were handed a proscribed obituary for the local newspaper and a bill for $174. We didn’t even think about it, we said, “yes,” and added it to the list of everything else we had to do.
But now that I am back at work … I think we can do better.
Indian Country Today can do something that a local newspaper cannot. Our digital platform has a spacious channel. We can post obituaries from Seminole to Unga. From Penobscot to those from the aboriginal people of Hawaiʻi.
We also believe in service -- so there will not be a fee or a charge for passing along these stories.. It’s a part of our collective story that should be shared.
It seems to me that we live in an age where Indian Country is connected instantly. A death in one tribal community has a meaning in others. This has been true for a long time, perhaps forever, but now the speed of that communication means that people want to know about their friends and family as soon as possible.
So we have created a new tab: Obituaries. To publish information just send us a photograph (required for our content management system) and a short essay. Send an email to obituary@IndianCountryToday.com
What should be in that obituary?
Start with information about the death, such as the time and place. Then a short biography (my favorite part) of the person. A few words about family members, those who have died before, and those who remain. This part of the story connects us. If there is a special ceremony, or an upcoming service, please tell us about that. Finally, it’s just fine to add a special message. A poem. A note of appreciation. Or even a prayer.
And don’t forget to include a photo. (Or even two.)
When my father died I was fascinated by how the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes did what a community does best. There was a system in place: Tribal employees set up a teepee at his home, there were prayers and papers, and engagement. Every tribe it seems to me has a variation of that. That’s what makes Indian Country distinct. It adds to the richness of our lives and it’s a story that’s not often told.
Earlier this week I received a note asking for an obituary to be published about an attorney who worked in Indian Country a long time. “Great timing,” I thought. “Yes.”
Then I got this note: His “brother said he happens to know that every day when Karl opened up his computer he went to Indian Country Today.”
As if we needed another reason. Thank you.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports