Thursday, January 17, 2008


Video camera at my grandfather's funeral.

Give-away items at my grandfather's funeral.

The other day I found an article about my grandfather's funeral tucked away in the Northwest Room at the Spokane Public Library. The Northwest Room holds "special collections," not otherwise available for circulation. In this case, I found the article in a bundle of old tribal newspapers, now yellow and brittle with age.

My grandfather's passing in 1980 was reported in several local newspapers, including the Spokesman-Review and the Rawhide Press. They referred to him as the "last medicine man of the Spokane Tribe," and as such, they gave him special notice.

Ironically, I didn't know my grandfather very well. I was nine years old when he died, but I had only met him once, that I can recall. Imagine my surprise when I attended his funeral and hundreds of people arrived to pay respects from tribes all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The article states only 300 or 400 people attended, but I think more were actually present. As I recall, some people had to stand outside. And then a television crew arrived to complete a documentary on his life. The whole experience was somewhat bewildering to me. Everyone seemed to know something about this man except me, and I was his grandson!

Seeing these photographs brought back a vivid memory of that day. Yes, I remember seeing my grandfather's belongings stacked on the tables (as shown above), and I also remember when they gave his things away to all the people in attendance. My father received a rifle, and my brother and I each received a choker-style necklace. I still have them.

The article mentioned several other facts not pictured here, but which I remember clearly. A man held up the clothes worn by my grandfather at the moment he passed away. A family member wearing a ribbon shirt blessed the memorial feast by singing one of my grandfather's songs. Scores of people lined up at a microphone to recount their memories of the "last medicine man" Gib Eli.

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