White Snake Woman leaves her mark

Something is different about this November.

It began with cold north breezes, followed by shifting political winds from the mid-term election results. But that’s not the change I feel in the air. Even the tumultuous unrest in Ferguson, Mo., as heartbreaking as it has been to watch, is not what’s different for me this November.

This is the month that my family lost the last and closest link to our late mother’s immediate family. Our beloved aunt, Violet, entered the Spirit World just two weeks ago at age 83, and took with her our connection to a bygone era. In my Ho-Chunk tradition, she was my mother, or nani, as were my mother’s other sisters, Marie and Christiane.

I used to hear Ho-Chunk elders talk about having to face this time in our lives, when we lay to rest a generation and prepare to step into a new age. You would think I would have taken those sage words to heart and tried to seek more of her wisdom and her secrets to longevity. But here I am, sensing the significance of the moment and reaching into the storehouse of faith left for me by my mothers and grandmothers. In that storehouse I can find comfort knowing that my Nani Violet left something there for me.


My mother’s sister, Violet Sam, at her home in Augusta, Wis., in 2012.


It’s no coincidence that I awoke from a dream this morning, thinking of her. Her Ho-Chunk name was Wakaskaiga, which means White Snake Woman. In my dream it was late spring, and my husband and I were seated outside, under a canopy of pine boughs. I noticed a deep hole underneath the wooden bench I was sitting on, and in it was a white rattlesnake. It slithered out and made its way into the sunlight. I think it was the Creator’s way of telling me that my aunt is well, and that life goes on.

As my family, and my siblings’ and cousins’ families celebrate this Thanksgiving, I’m sure we will share our memories of our Nani Violet. The taste of her delicious biscuits, her warm smile, quiet ways and gentle laughter.

I guess it is fitting to remember my aunt and the lessons she taught us, given that it is Native American Heritage Month.

November is Čaikíruxewira to my Ho-Chunk people, who recognize it as the month when deer mate. At least for the next few years, I will think of it as the month that my Nani Violet earned her eternal rest.

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.


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