Actually, my niece who is now 42 years old, was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has never visited our reservation. Her mother, my older sister, left the reservation in the mid-sixties, and very seldom came home to visit. When she did, she came home alone, therefore, my niece had never met all her aunts, uncles, and cousins. This year, she decided Fort Totten Days would be a good time to meet some of them.
When my sister fell ill several years ago, another sister, her son, her daughter, my son, and I drove down to visit our sick sibling (aunt). We took two cars. It was a long drive, and we made it "longer" by driving straight through, a distance of several hundred miles. When my sister was going to depart to the Spirit World, my older brother and I went to say good-by to her. Again, we drove straight through (down and back). When she did go to the Spirit World, I could not make it to her funeral, but my brother and a couple of other family members went. Although I had only seen her a couple of times since the sixties, when I was a teenager; her death deeply saddened me.
A few years after my sister went to the Spirit World my niece was married. I drove to Michigan, by myself, to attend her wedding ceremony. At the party afterwards, when I was talking to one of the new in-laws, I inquired if there was another route back to North Dakota, one that didn't go through Chicago. As we traced an alternate route on the map, he asked me, "what do you do for sleep?" Apparently, he heard we drove straight through without stopping to rent a motel room.
It was a good question. We certainly had the money to rent a motel room, but we did not. Why? The answer brings me to my point of this blog.
My brothers, sisters, and I are all middle age. We were raised in a time when family came first. It did not matter what the circumstances were, you stuck by your family, or you helped them out no matter what. In addition, when relatives came to visit, it did not matter if you had not seen them in many years or if you were distantly related to them, you still made every effort to visit them and/or feed them.
It was this upbringing that prompted us family members to drive straight though to Grand Rapids, Michigan, when our sister was ill. It did not matter if we had not seen her for many years. It did not matter if we had not talked to her for many years. She was family, and we went to be with her when she needed us most. And it was this upbringing that brought some family members to the reunion. We laughed and joked and a couple took pictures.
A couple of weeks prior to my niece coming to visit, I passed out a poster to as many relatives as I could locate. The poster announced a family reunion with the main purpose of meeting my niece. Not as many relatives showed up at the "family reunion" as I thought would. I realized this was partly due to the short notice, or the fact that Fort Totten Days was going on at the same time. However, I think the majority of them did not show up simply because family connections are not as strong as they once were.
I wish now that I had taken some pictures of the family members who showed up. I do not think there will be another reunion like the one we had on Sunday. I would have liked to have a picture of this "last reunion" for a keepsake. I realize times change... I know that values in a society change all the time, and I accept that, although in this case, it deeply saddens me.
Maybe I am wrong. Who knows, in a few years maybe some family members might want to hold another reunion. I surely hope so.