In the last two weeks I have had 3 funerals. All of them were Indian. I take the liberty now of repeating an early post from 2006.

Last fall I helped bury a Ft. Sill Apache. He was 97 and had been born while the Apaches were held as prisoners of war. The tribe was released in 1913. It is thought that he was the last such in Oklahoma; there may be one other surviving Apache POW in New Mexico. He had been living with his daughter in Norman, OK, the last several years following the death of his wife. For years he was Headman of the Ft. Sill Band of the Apache Nation. I saw him in the hospital in Norman several times in the last week, though he was lucid only at my first visit when I took him communion. The past is not so very far away: I have had contact with a living link to the Indian Wars.

The funeral was my first one for a Native American. The family did not have the customary wake the night before. As we were gathering in the church building for the funeral, I heard drumming and singing being done by a man sitting on the front row. The casket was open and people were going to the front to view the body before sitting down. When the singer stopped, I went over to him and introduced myself. He was a nephew of the deceased from New Mexico. We visited a bit--he was a practicing Roman Catholic who also practiced some of the traditional Apache religion. He said he had been singing a traditional ceremonial song for the occasion. He asked if that was OK. I told him it was fine, and to sing as he wished. (I trusted that as a practicing Catholic, he would use good judgment in his singing.) When the funeral started, I began with the usual sentences of Scripture, statement of purpose, and prayer. Then I asked for someone who could lead Ft. Sill Apache "Church Songs" (Christian hymns in the Apache language), two people led a couple of hymns that some in the congregation joined in. Then I read the obituary and invited others who wished to speak. (I have been told that at Native American wakes there is a lot of sharing of memories, and I knew that had not yet been done in a formal setting.) Probably five people came forward and spoke, both men and women, including the current Apache tribal chairman. One of the themes of the speakers was the need to preserve tribal memories and traditions. We then had two congregational hymns in English, requested by the family. I gave a short homily from Psalm 90, then that part of the service was over. The casket had remained open during the service and the congregation now filed past for a final viewing of the body and good-by. (I think the open casket more reflected Oklahoma practice than Apache.) The nephew from New Mexico then took out a small leather pouch and did some sort of a blessing involving pollen with the body and then each of the older family members, and a few of the younger. When the casket was closed a blanket was placed over it. Then the pallbearers carried the casket to the hearse.

At the cemetery the nephew who had sung earlier (and spoken of his uncle during the funeral) asked me if he could sing something appropriate. I said he could. After I called for the attention of the crowd I turned things over to him. He then explained that he was going to sing a traditional song of respect for a Headman, provided a translation, asked the current Headman to come over, then he and one or two others sang. Sometime in this period I was asked by a local Comanche whom I know, another nephew of the deceased on his mother's side, if he and a friend could sing a Comanche song. After the traditional song I had prayer, then turned it over him and he and a friend led two Comanche Church Songs. Many in the crowd joined in. (We have more Comanches than any other tribe, I think, in this immediate area.) Then I read some Scripture, led in the Apostles' Creed, and closed with prayer. The casket was lowered into a vault. Then the men of the family took turns with shovels burying the dead. Some of the oldest just did a ceremonial handful of dirt. When the burial was complete we returned to the church fellowship hall for dinner.

A mix, Christianity with some traditional practices. I have no objection to such mixing, we all do the same. In white funerals I have done we viewed an embalmed body--not exactly specified in Scripture, but capable of being "Christianized." The difficulty, for me, will be in recognizing what can, and what cannot, come into the church from traditional cultures. Not a unique situation, and I think I would rather be dealing with Native traditions than with practices coming into the church from MTV and Better Homes and Gardens.