A Spirit Journey

In March of 2001, Noel Starblanket gave the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Association of Death Education and Counseling which was held in Toronto, Ontario that year. The Association of Death Education and Counseling is one of the most highly regarded organizations for those who work in the field of death and dying/ bereavement and the audience to whom Chief Starblanket spoke was comprised of approximately 500 psychologists, social workers, chaplains and bereavement counselors, the majority of these people coming from the United States and Canada. Chief Starblanket was given a standing ovation for his speech and almost four years later, people still remember it as one of the most inspiring and meaningful presentations they ever experienced

In June of 2001, I traveled to Saskatchewan to interview Noel Starblanket for a multimedia project on loss, grief and transcendence called "Between Now & Forever". Having heard him speak in Toronto, I was interested in learning more about the Indian way of approaching death and about the Indian way in general. With Noel, I visited the offices of the Indian government, the cemetery on the Starblanket Reserve, and I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony on the reserve. As part of the sweat lodge ceremony, I was able to request prayers for my father who was dying and these prayers were spoken during that ceremony, a powerful and beautiful experience that I will never forget.

During that trip, I also collected photos of Noel's ancestors, some dating back to the very early 1900s, and when I returned home, I combined Noel's words with the photos to create an exhibit piece which is now one of 20 pieces included in the "Between Now & Forever" exhibit. This exhibit, which is currently traveling to hospitals, hospices, conferences, universities and churches throughout the U.S. is experienced by many hundreds of people. Always I notice that there is particular attention paid to Noel's piece which is entitled "Spirit Journey": requests for a copy of his words, comments on their mystery and beauty, a desire to learn more.

Having observed the response to Noel¹s keynote speech at the ADEC conference, the response to his story in the BNF exhibit and for other reasons relating to the current challenges of our world and the planet, I understand that there is currently tremendous interest in the return of the Indian Way and that this is being expressed by people of all races and cultures. There is a desire to learn more about it and an interest in incorporating at least some aspects of it into our lives, into the non indigenous cultures, into the white man¹s world. And I feel everywhere the renewed appreciation that so many have for the Circle, for the Elders, for the concept of community and for the music and the ceremony.

This has encouraged us to produce a documentary video on Noel Starblanket. As one of the youngest chiefs in North America in his twenties, as a powerful and inspired leader who has truly helped his people, as a man who has experienced success, setbacks and significant personal loss, and now found peace and balance through spiritual practice and as a representative of the First Nations People who can eloquently communicate his insights and understanding to both native and non native people alike, we believe that Noel Starblanket can serve as a spokesman and that through his words combined with music and strong visual images, we can bring to life in a powerful documentary, the Indian Way and its tremendous significance in these current times.

Cindy Pickard