I Rejected the Native Grieving Ceremonies My Mother Taught Me When She Died. But Losing Friends During the Pandemic Changed That
I cut a fistful of hair over the bathroom sink in tears. This is how our people have mourned for generations. Nlaka’pamux women, my mother taught me, would cut their hair. They swallowed a spoonful of oil. They prayed and stopped harvesting for a year when a loved one died. There are stories about a woman who tried to pick berries after the death of a child, and the bush dried up, never grew back.
We grieve with ceremony—we have practices and traditions that go back thousands of years, before borders were created, before colonization, before smallpox brought more stories about devastation that made our healthy children skeletal and wiped out whole communities. Grief is honor work, and if you don’t follow instructions, it could hurt your family, hurt the dead trying to pass over into the next life.