We had a young man die late last week. His sister also died young and his mother and surviving sister were obviously deep in grief. I had the opportunity to attend the funeral on Monday, before AWANA. The funeral was conducted by the Episcopal deaconess and was designed to comfort the family.
After AWANA, the entire family was able to attend the potlatch. I was deeply touched, as the family asked my to bless the food before it was distributed. You may not have had the opportunity to attend a potlatch, but if you do – you should go.
Several friends assured us that our presence as a pastoral family was a blessing. These are times when the community is hurting and they need to know that God’s servants care. When our friends found out this was our first potlatch, they took time to help us understand what was going on and how to take full part in the proceedings.
We had some new experiences. Among those was muktuk – or whale blubber. It was chewy, but had little taste. One friend also pointed out that I had received elder portions out of respect for my position as a pastor in the community. I was deeply touched.
After the meal, we pitched in to clean up the native hall for the music and dancing. After that was done, we all took part in the dancing. One dance is the beaver dance – the dancers are on their knees and pretend to chew a “tree” – a wooden pole held in place for the dance. We also danced as a large group in a circle, holding long pieces of fabric that ended in a tug of war. The drumming was exceptional and the dancing was fun – but tiring for someone who does not dance much.
After the dancing, a lady in the community was asked to bless the dessert – which was served just prior to the passing out of gifts. The family gives gifts to the participants as mementoes of the service and a memorial to the life that was lost. I was asked by the chief to pray a blessing over the gifts.
During the gift giving, the family gave me a pair of gloves, a bandana, and a jar of smoked salmon. Rebecca received beautiful pieces of cloth and the kids each received a bandana. We were touched by the gifts as well as the hugs from the family.
Our friends assured us that we had done well as we took part in the event. One close friend showed me photos he had taken while I danced. He has promised to email them to me – when I get them, I will post them here.
We also received news of a potlatch this Saturday. Another young man died this last weekend. He was on a snow machine and had an accident. It seems that we are losing so many people this winter. Please pray for the families and for us as we try to serve our Lord by ministering to the people of Nenana.