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Feast of the Dead ceremony honours son

Wednesday January 16, 2013
Submitted photo
Jacob Ostaman of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug built a scaffold for the Feast of the Dead ceremony he had for his deceased son, Lyle, who was murdered on Jan. 1, 2009. It was fourth and last ceremony he held annually, sending off Lyle’s spirit and providing closure for Ostaman.

Today started with a rather saddened heart to face my late son’s anniversary day of his murder which falls on Jan. 1.

It’s Dec. 30, 2012, three days before my late son Lyle’s fourth and final year of memorial. It’s also the ninth day of winter solstice here in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI).

Today, we brought in poles to make a scaffold for our memorial ceremony. The scaffold consists of four upright poles with cross poles extended between and poles across the upright poles with a platform designed to put the feast’s gifts and some of Lyle’s earthly possessions and accomplishments.

We arranged that the scaffold would meet the four directions. We visualized that the head and feet would go from north to south direction so that the body of it would lay towards the west direction in a fetal position. The visualization of what we had in mind would match the way our ancestors did when they laid their dead to make way towards the western doorway leading to the Spirit World.

On the east side of the scaffold, we placed a fire for all night lighting, visitation and gift bringing. I arranged to have two people look after the fire and to keep it going until the Feast of the Dead Ceremony had been completed.

We arranged four poles with eagle feathers and colored ribbons — blue, purple, black and yellow. These are the colors he wore at his burial on Jan. 7, 2009. Blue representing a clear blue sky of the day he left us; purple representing the deep purple bruise from the cold sharp steel stab; black representing the night he lived for the last time; and yellow representing his love for the sun, hence the color of such high solar intensity that distinguished his life.

I remembered the words of my grandparents about how our people would assemble themselves for the final feast of the dead ceremony. In the ceremony, there would be friends and relatives coming from all over the directions to come and mourn for the deceased and honour the family of the deceased. The speeches were made by the leaders of the day praising the departed ones for the good life they showed to their kin. They also brought comfort by way of counsel to the living. Along with the feast, a birch bark plate was placed for the memory of the deceased, the giving of the gifts and sometimes games. This is pretty much the Feast of the Dead Ceremony process done in KI area before Christianity came, according to the Elders.

The Feast of the Dead Ceremony was observed for four years in memoriam usually on or around the anniversary date of people who passed on. The feast consisted of fish, moose or caribou; corn or manomin; and various berries.

It’s Dec. 31, about 6:05 a.m., the 10th day of KI Winter Solstice. I woke up from my mother’s humble abode where I have been sleeping for the past couple of nights. I went outside and stood in the quietness of cold KI morning. I breathed in a surgical cold air into my lungs and it made me cough unceasingly.

Occasionally, I heard a crack of icicles falling down from the roof of the building and made me aware that the blustery winter has come upon me. Then, the coldness of the air entered me and pierced my heart and, along with my teary eyes, it turned into icicles. I thought to myself this is the same feeling I had on the day when my son got murdered.

Without comprehension, I picked up myself just a few feet away from where I was originally standing and then I realized I fell down seconds earlier. I went back inside for warmth and comfort without being hurt.

My entire morning brought me to my knees with phenomenal plea to my Creator as I struggled to go through the pain of my murdered son. I tried to get away from it all but it kept coming to me, flashbacks of my son’s bloody body laying on the road. I cried and cried until I was all dried of tears.

I sang and chanted:
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii wii chii wiin,
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii wii chii wiin,
Kii wii chii wiin sah
Kii wii chii win sah:
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii saa kii hiin sah,
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii saa kii hiin sah,
Kii wii chii wiin sah
Kii wii chii win sah.

My chant along with the words brought me comfort and solace despite the emotional pain that I just went through.

As the morning went, my mother and I sat together talking some things that mattered to us. I asked my mom if she heard of the Feast of the Dead Ceremony. Knowingly and with regret, she replied with soft words that her understanding was limited to that kind of ceremony. Knowing also that she’s a devoted Anglican, she didn’t say much about it. I then asked her what she thought of me what I’m about to do for the ceremony. Her reply was that whatever we do we must do according to the Creator’s way and that we must have a meaning within our hearts.

I went to the radio station and explained what I was going to do today and tomorrow. The Feast of the Dead Ceremony was essentially a mark of the day to release Lyle’s spirit after we eat with him so that he will move on to the Spirit World.

At 5 p.m. today, my lead ceremony conductor Chris Anderson came to the site for a pipe ceremony. He explained the importance of pipe ceremony and the benefits of having it when it is followed accordingly. My participation in the pipe ceremony was in fact awesome and I had somewhat regained my strength from this morning’s emotional pain and tumble!

Throughout the remaining evening, thoughts of Lyle came to me especially how he died of a stab wound right through the heart. Thoughts of anger continued and ensued around me to think something else to do. But, I was also eager to participate in the upcoming events such as drumming and talking circle.

It is Jan. 1, the 11th day of Winter Solstice, Lyle’s day of death. A cold chill followed me around and I was not sure if I was coming down with a flu or something. At 2 a.m., the drumming started and I was glad to hear the beat of the drum and it reminded me of my own heartbeat full of gladness.

I heard other participants talk about Lyle and how he was portrayed as a leader and warrior. I was thinking for a moment where he would be by now in terms of his leadership role in the community and to help out his fellow KI citizens.

We honored his life as a warrior and fighter for Indigenous rights to the lands and resources. Lyle was at a forefront when the KI-Platinex battle erupted over the fight against platinum mining in the KI territory. He never complained about going to the platinum site even if he was charged with trespassing. His land mattered to him because it is the Creator’s land and that it must be respected. Lyle surely wanted to protect the land from being harmed and poisoned.

It’s 7 a.m., we held a feast with him for the last time. I brought in a plate to him that consisted of meat, rice and corn. My last time to eat with him was breathtaking. I couldn’t stop shaking outside and inside of me — truly it was awe-inspiring! The burning sensation within me was so exuberant that I wanted to laugh or cried out.

Instead, I chanted once again, this time in my spirit:
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii wii chii wiin,
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii wii chii wiin,
Kii wii chii wiin sah
Kii wii chii win sah:
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii saa kii hiin sah,
Nii Koosiis Lyle
Kii saa kii hiin sah,
Kii wii chii wiin sah
Kii wii chii wiin sah.

I felt better after the ceremony was over and it’s as if the heavy load was lifted from all my entire being.

How grateful I am today. From the construction of Lyle’s scaffold to my mother’s conversation, and to the highest ceremony ever, comes my consolation and ending of my four-year grief for Lyle. The Feast of the Dead Ceremony is a final closure for me and I have to release Lyle’s spirit for the good of all including Lyle’s mother, siblings and his two children, Lada and Nathaniel. We will miss you Lyle … good bye and farewell!

I know he will journey on to the Spirit World and to live with his Creator with eternal happiness. The happiness that we all aspire will be there and waiting for us also. Meegwetch!

Niin Wabanwaanagoosh (Jacob Ostaman)


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