At the sunrise ceremony at Mission Creek Cemetery, I experienced the pipe ceremony and the water ceremony for the first time. Each one felt like a gift of sharing and community building, with the pipe offered to everyone present, and the water first blessed and then poured for everybody to drink. Each ritual was accompanied by traditional teachings, in which I heard both wisdom and a challenge to do the right thing.
The second experience I had was similar to the first, although it was held at the main event center, a large tent on the grounds of the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. Here a group of elders were taking turns sharing about their experiences creating and using sacred pipes. I was hearing their words—about culture, about being called to spiritual leadership—as I stood in a light rain in the field next to the tent. Next to me were a group of young men by a wood fire; families moved about with babies in strollers. And I had the distinct sense of being in “church.” I was hearing words of tradition and teaching and advice spoken by spiritual leaders—like we do in traditions I’m familiar with, where a preacher delivers a sermon. The difference was being outside and the blending of the formal and the informal, the religious and the natural. I had felt the same thing at the sunrise ceremony earlier in the day. It was the experience of being in a church without walls, and of the natural surroundings enhancing the spiritual experience.
Finally, I want to share the profound experience of commemorating the 227 young people who died at the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. For the commemoration, the names of each of these children was printed on a card with a piece of yarn tied to it. Attendees at the event, including myself, were asked to wear one of these cards around our neck as we danced in a great circle to the beating of drums and the singing of a sacred song. Then every one of the 227 names were read aloud, with a single beat of the drum following each name. I was moved by sadness as the drumbeat repeatedly sounded and vibrated in my body.
The tribe hosts this event every year. It includes free breakfast and lunch, free shuttles from the parking lot, and the expertise and leadership of native leaders from local and far-away tribes. I think that anyone who attends will learn from the experience and be changed by it. I have a deeper appreciation of the culture of the Anishinabek, and a greater sense of the scope of the injustice represented by the Indian boarding school system. I’m grateful to everyone who organized and attended this commemoration.
Great Spirit, may there be a fruitful blending of traditions. May my religion learn from the culture and lifeways, the spiritual traditions of the Anishinabek. May my religion offer its gifts to the world. May people of diverse backgrounds seek and find wisdom and the guidance of spiritual teachers. May the blending of traditions pave the way for a world of greater harmony.
In the name of all that is holy,
Amen. Aho. Blessed be.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
June 9, 2022