of Anderee -Ann- Cooper
T'Sou-ke Nation, British Columbia
We're told that aboriginal people have a culturally-driven acceptance of death. It's a fact of life. It happens to all of us. Simple philosophy, right?
That doesn't make it any easier to think about or write about. At times like this it's tempting to embrace denial and avoidance rather than awareness and acceptance.
Do we really have a choice? These days, these challenging days in Indian country---there are many things that bring the people and our communities together. Death is an all too familiar one.
A necessary one of course. But it's never simple---the passing of loved ones, community leaders, and elders.
It is something we live with more often than others, it seems. One reason is because of our belief in, and respect for extended families. Definitely we see more of it than in mainstream society!
Here on Vancouver Island, for the T'Sou-ke nation it has brought grief and sadness. It also has brought family, friends and community together and that's necessary, and that's good.
Earlier this week the T'Sou-ke people lost a mother, grandmother, elder, educator and one-time chief --- Anderee Cooper (they call her Ann). Her obituary in the local Sooke News Mirror reminds us, "She was the former chief and band manager and many children knew her through her work in the Sooke School District."
On the eve of Canada Day as others geared up for holiday festivities to celebrate a different kind of nationhood, these Indian people were inside the T'Sou-ke band hall reminding each other of how things must unfold over the coming days. Who does what, how and exactly when. Tradition dictates there's a right way and a wrong way. Unlike in the big cities where the funeral parlour operator, minister or parish priest sets the guideposts.
Last night a tremor shook the ground here from a quake that was centered in Washington state. However, the dozens of people who gathered at the band hall were not talking about it. But they were sharing words of what they feel with the loss of Ann Cooper, " a woman without a single mean bone in her body", they said. She will be missed! So will her knowledge and never ending positive personality.
As Ann Cooper lay in the casket behind them, speaker after speaker echoed the powerful loss to this community, but also the great gifts she left them. The way she treated people will never be forgotten. Nor will her wonderful ways with the children. She excelled as a teacher's assistant.
Then there's the story how she always baked bread so that it came out of the oven just in time for her children's arrival home.But her legacy is especially illustrated by her daughters Ardyth and Sandy whose own personalities bear witness to the kind of mother she was.
With her passing comes the lesson of gratitude for this community where her smiles, big heart, her life and now her death have touched many.
No matter how often I sit with the people, no matter what community, I am in awe of the depth of respect and protocols of aboriginal culture. When they are evident. They're not always obvious, of course.
Perhaps day to day they submerge themselves beneath the basics of survival, pettyness, politics, and the general results of colonization and assimilation. But at times of need like this, they surface and erupt from deep within the Indian spirit. It's there in the free flow of respect for everyone, from the sacred mask dancers to the cooks, to the gravediggers.
It's a powerful, effective reminder of what's really important to us as individuals and nations. In her passing she leaves us all a gift. Gratitude for family, friends, community, culture, ritual, spirituality and survival.
One more lesson is clear from Ann Cooper---mother, elder, aboriginal teaching assistant. Death is for the living!
In honour of Anderee Ann Cooper, her family and