burial and funeral customs of the confederated tribes of the colville reservation
The Confederated Colville Tribe is an alliance of what were once twelve separate tribes of the Plateau Region. It includes the Colville indians, the Wenatchee (Wenatchi) indians, Nespelem indians, Moses-Columbia (Sinkiuse-Columbia) indians, Methow indians, Okanogan indians, Palus (Palouse) indians, San Poil indians, Entiat indians, Chelan indians, Lake (Sinixt) tribes, and Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce Indians.
The dead of these tribes were usually buried, although some groups practiced cremation. The deceased was usually dressed in their finest clothes and wrapped in a blanket before burial. People of high status were often buried in a canoe, to help assist them on their journey to the spirit world.
People of all classes were buried with their medicine bundle and many of their most valuable possessions, again, to help them in the spirit world. Sometimes a favorite horse was also killed and left nearby. In some tribes, a plate of food was also left near the grave.
Funerals usually lasted 5 days and 5 nights. During the funeral people would circle the body and sing accompanied by a drumbeat. They believed this would send the spirit to it's final resting place.
Spouses of the deceased cut their hair short, wore ragged clothing, and were barred from remarriage for a year. During this year they were not allowed to smile in public.
In some Plateau Tribes, women relatives would begin a wailing cry as the death was announced to the village. Some would cut slashes in their arms and legs to further demonstrate their grief.
In some Plateau tribes, most of a person's belongings that weren't buried were burned along with his/her lodge after the funereal, so relatives wouldn't have to suffer the grief of seeing them. However, in most tribes, the rest of the dead person's posessions that were not buried with them were given away in a ceremony called a Giveaway. This ceremony was usually held at the end of the year of mourning.
Items were dispersed according to the tribal members who needed them the most. The heirs of the deceased did not keep anything for themselves, except perhaps a small memento that that had sentimental value, but little or no material value.
The relatives of the deceased were expected to provide the food for a great feast for all the people attending the Giveaway Ceremony. They served the best foods they had to offer, even if this used up their entire store of food. The year of mourning gave them time to gather enough to feed everyone at this great feast.
If the deceased was poor and didn't have many posessions to disperse, the relatives would often purchase additional items to give away or give away everything in their household, even their beds and pots and pans. The more they gave away, the more they honored the dead person and demonstrated to the rest of the tribe how much they had been loved. Poorer members of the tribe would often receive donations from family and friends or various benefits would be organized during the year, so they could have a respectful Giveaway.
After the Giveaway, other tribal members would help the family replace essentials if they had given away everything.
When the year of mourning was up, widowed women usually married one of their husband's brothers if there were no children, in order to continue the line of the dead husband. Men would often marry a wife's sister if she died or proved infertile. The new marriage plans would usually be announced by the Chief or an older male relative at the Giveaway.
Burial and Funeral Customs of the Nez Perce Tribe
If a Nez Perce person thought he was about to die he normally made known among the village whom he wished to inherit his property and his tutelary spirits. He also might recommend that certain sons succeed him in the various offices he held.
As soon as death occurred, it was announced by a herald or crier.
The corpse was ritually bathed, combed, and decorated with red face paint and elaborate new clothes. The grave was dug by volunteers on a talus slope or high geological eminence overlooking the village, and was marked by a wooden stake.
After the funeral, the name of the dead person was never spoken again, for fear that would bind his/her spirit nearby to haunt his relatives or the village and it would prevent the dead person from going on to the spirit world.
Talking about the deceased was discouraged, but if it came up and you had to talk about them, you would use a descriptive phrase, rather than the actual name. For example, after Chief Joseph's brother Ollecot was killed in battle, if he was questioned about him, Joseph would refer to him as He Who Led the Young Warriors.