Part II: "We Live So We Know How to Die :" Death Through An Indigenous Healer

Updated: May 9, 2020

Oklahoma Cherokee Elder, Coyote Marie Hunter-Ripper embodies the knowing of our connection with the spirit world through her life’s purpose. A Social Justice and Human Rights Activist and Cherokee Traditional Practitioner, Coyote Marie is often called to assist with mental breaks or impending deaths at hospitals in Southern Oregon. Since the age of five, when she was spotted as a Healer, Coyote Marie was taught the healing ways of her Oklahoma Cherokee lineage (she is also Choctaw, matrilineal, and Scottish). She uses her knowing and practices, to clear energy, support the dying and dead and connect with ancestors. Even though Coyote Marie has worked with the dying for a life-time she notes she has personal fear around knowing if her kids will be okay and mentions that fear around death is not normal for indigenous practicing peoples, it “is a part of the American acculturation.”[1] This sentiment could come from the fact that Indians experienced horrifically large death rates when colonizers came to Turtle Island. The intense and devastating increase of death forced Indians to become more intimate with death and to frequently and communally shepherd and honor the dead. Additionally, in modern times, American Indians and Alaska Natives still experience the second highest death by suicide rate in the United States, making death a very close reality. [2]

When working with the transitioning and loved ones, Coyote often hears people express fears such as: what’s going to happen to my family, what about my friends; are they going to be okay? Will I/are they in pain? And so on. Through years of experience, Coyote recognizes there is no pain once the transition begins. Coyote emphasized:

“Once people begin the transition and into the ascension; it is a blissful, beautiful, honorable place to be with someone who is going through that stage. All the people that I have worked with in that aspect, I have seen that they are leaving with no pain. They are really in a state of inner wisdom, whatever their connection to that might be. Their consciousness, as well as their nine energy fields are going to a place that they want to go to.”

This reflection from Coyote Marie addresses head on a fear that many people have around death – will it hurt. Walking with the dying person, feeling what death truly means and talking about death with the same normalcy as birth are things some indigenous people do regularly. Moreover, indigenous clans

have healers, shamans or elders who have generations of death experience within them to guide others during the transition. For example, funerals and mourning are a communal activity in Aboriginal culture. Families, friends and community members come together to grieve and support each other over an extended period. Ceremonies can last for days and even weeks with dances and songs with meanings dictated by specific clan traditions. Modern Western beliefs, in comparison, sweep the dead person away to sanitize and embalm. This constant removal from the active transitioning period does not allow loved ones time to communally grieve and celebrate. It leaves a hole, individually and collectively.


[1] Hunter-Ripper, Coyote Marie, Phone Interview. Ashland, OR: 2020 [2] American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Statistics. 2020 #Indigenoustraditions #CollectiveGrief #Death #Dying #SpiritualSupport #CoyoteMarie #HumanRights #DeathDoula #EndofLifeSupport #TraditionalDeath

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