Ojibwe Funeral Traditions

A feast is held on the fourth day of the afterlife journey.
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The Ojibwe people are deeply spiritual and communicate with the Creator for guidance and wisdom. They also believe in the power of ancestral spirits. This belief is carried out in ceremony and song to provide ongoing communication about their way of life. The death of a tribal member is significant and presents an opportunity to connect with the spirit world. Providing spiritual ceremony for the passing of a loved one in the proper way is important since it leads to a positive journey for the deceased and supports those left behind.

1 Preparation for the Afterlife

When a loved one dies, the Ojibwe people prepare the body by cleaning and dressing it in special clothing. The Ojibwe believe that birch bark is sacred and protects the body from harm. It is used to wrap the body of a loved one before being buried. Food and water are laid to rest with the body to help the soul travel to the afterlife. The Ojibwe believe that the soul embarks on a four-day journey to a special place after dying. The living pray and sing during the four-day time period.

2 Communication with Spirits

A spirit may not want to journey to the afterlife alone. Upon the death of a tribal member, the family creates a paper snake made of birch and hangs it by the front door. The Ojibwe believe that spirits are fearful of snakes and displaying this symbol will let them know they are to journey alone. A spirit may also communicate with family through dreams. If they ask for supplies, the request is to be honored. If they ask someone living to come with them, it is acceptable to say no.

3 Funeral Customs

An Ojibwe family grieves for a year following the death of a loved one. The tribe holds a special ceremony that is attended by everyone in the community. Ceremonial drums are used to make contact with the Creator and send the deceased to the spirit world. Tobacco is offered to the spirits to request special care for the community member traveling to the spirit world. Historically, the body was left for four days near the home because keeping it in the home could cause the spirit to be reluctant to leave. Today, the body is buried in a cemetery.

4 Children and Funerals

Since children are considered susceptible to the spirits' grasp, they are often prohibited from attending a funeral. If they do attend, they wear black on their foreheads to signal the spirits they will not go with them to the afterlife. They are told to avoid eye contact with people in case the spirit tries to speak to them through someone else. When an Ojibwe child dies, it is customary to make a doll from the hair of the deceased. This "doll of sorrow" is carried by the mother during her year of grieving.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.