HONORING OUR ANCESTORS

Right now in this country there is something going on. Non-Indians are interested in Indian culture and medicine, but Indians are not unique in having this power. . . . Every nationality and race must find their own, trace their roots. . . . Ancestry is important. If they reached back to their ancestors, they would find out where they came from and a part of who they are.
Hoh Elder

“Honoring Our Ancestors” is a family ceremony adapted from an old Hispanic/Catholic celebration, The Day of the Dead, usually observed around the time of Halloween. The Day of the Dead is an Indo-Hispanic custom that demonstrates a strong sense of love and respect for one's ancestors and celebrates the continuance of life and family heritage. This is a ceremony our modern culture desperately needs-it helps us remember who we are and provides us a structure to pass the stories of our ancestors on to our children and grandchildren. Many young people today don't even know their grandparents, who can be separated from their grandchildren by distance, culture or both. Psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, and Native elders alike recognize this isolation and lack of connection to our roots as a cultural problem.

In Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, families welcome their ancestors back into their homes and visit their loved ones' graves. Families gather and remember their ancestors by telling stories about them and cooking their favorite foods. Gravesites and family altars are profusely decorated with flowers-especially large, bright flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums-and adorned with religious amulets and offerings of food. Family members enjoy picnics at the cemetery with other family and community members who are there to spruce up their loved ones' gravesites. For those who celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is both an important social ritual and a way of recognizing the universal cycle of life and death.

“Honoring our Ancestors” provides more structure by asking each participant to “sponsor” an ancestor. The sponsor's role is to choose an ancestor, and prepare for the ceremony by learning as much about him or her as possible..  Then, at the ceremony, the sponsor

  • Cooks their ancestor's favorite food to bring and share with everyone
  • Brings at least one picture of the ancestor
  • Shares one of his/her favorite recordings, piece of music, or songs with the assembled group
  • Brings a bouquet of the ancestor's favorite flowers, if possible
  • Shares favorite stories about the ancestor

This ceremony can bring deep healing to families fractured by historical and psychological trauma. When we honor our ancestors in ceremony, we discover more about who we really are.  

For more information, contact Linda Neale.

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