Monday, April 6, 2009

what's in a name?

There are many reasons we Indians get our "Indian names" I won't discuss them here because I'm not free to but I DO wish to share the immense depth of this weekend's activities.

My brother took a new name. He's a tribal leader, a longhouse singer, a "big drum" singer, a horseman, a master weaver, beadworker, teacher and an avid stickgame player. His father was a very intelligent man and descneded from the gentleman for whom the small town in Washington was named "Kalama." My brother has many families, for he was raised from infancy by an amazing woman, his mother Laura - I never did meet her but not one day goes by that I don't give thanks that she was the one who nurtured him, disciplined him, loved him and gave him the sense of character he carries so well. I am also thankful for his grandmas, his cousin (and mine) Hinmahtoomseeloo, who further taught him and insructed him in weaving, beadwork and "the things we do and do not do." My brother was blessed with many strong people who poured their wisdom into his intuitive and receptive mind. Much laughter and many stories were told to him as he grew up. He also endured many losses and sadness which built in him a resilience beyond his years. Of course there's our birth mother to whom we owe our genes. Thanks mom.

This is how the story goes: last Fall we were preparing to name my oldest son and in the course of events, we at one point thought we might need to pick a different name than what we were planning on. Because my brother is the leader in our family, we looked to him for solutions. At one point he spoke with our elder and asked for the translation of a name he might use. When he came to my office that day to discuss this name. As he described it he struck out with his hand and the strength and animation in him was electric. I knew this name was not for my son, it was for my brother so I said to him then "that's YOU, YOU are that one, not Michael..." he laughed and said "I already HAVE a name" and I asked him "do we take other names though?" and he said "yes" and named several people who had carried multiple names. I asked him if he'd give this new name consideration and he said "yes" I then called our brother Darryl, also a leader in our family, and the one we look to for family decisions and Darryl agreed that this name was a good one for Michael Ray to take and that the timing was right.

Taking a name is no small endeavor. Gifts for Elders, drummers, hunters, cooks, family, friends, visitors - and our family places great importance that as much as possible these gifts be handmade rather than commercial. We started meeting each Tuesday for "craft night" in which many of these gifts were made; weaving, sewing, stringing necklaces; making moccasins...the projects seemed never ending and as soon as one got finished a new one was immediately cut or patterned or laid out...many nights of laughter and stories ensued and will continue - for after one naming another comes along...our "bundle" closet grew and grew and yet as the time drew near I worried endlessly that we just "didn't have ENOUGH."

Days before the naming ceremony I was sitting at home working on my brother's outfit that he would wear on his big fingers were sore from all the sewing, I was tired beyond belief and in the depth of my heart I was afraid I might do something wrong, I looked up at my cousin's picture hanging on our wall..."I wish you were here...I wish you could tell me how to do this" and he just remained there with his implacable my mind I could see Nellie, one of our beloved Aunties who is also gone; "LISTEN TO HER, she's asking you for help!" Nellie smacked my made me laugh to dream of such nonsense and with that laughter came a new burst of energy and resolve. This will be okay.

One by one the extra kids arrive from Portland, and with them two of the grand-daughters! Kyla and Nellie lit up our hearts with their baby smiles and working into the night was much easier all the sudden. Jilly and Taryn and Lee and Angela burst in with their youthful vigor bringing more stories - raucous banter rang from room to room in our home...The sun rose on Saturday, beautiful sparkly joy lighting up colorful spring wheat and shy tulip bulbs peeking quietly out into the prairie to the longhouse in our best dresses and moccasins...songs rang out and the smell of freshly fried bread and deer meat wafted throughout all the ceremonies. Our auntie's name came first, her grandma's name from long ago - words of history and stories about her doings were spokena and then it was our turn.

Strong stories and history were laid out by each speaker as our carefully woven and prepared gifts were given. Each piece told yet another facet of my brother's life and what was to be expected of him from this day forward. Laughter and more songs and then time to eat.

...and now my brother has his new name. It was an amazing day.

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