Why do we grieve the death of John T. Williams? As First Nations, Alaskan Natives, Northwest Coast Tribal Members, Native Americans and American Indians this death touches us, whether we knew him and his family or not. We regret all loss of life; but in this life and death we see ourselves. There are few among us, who when we hear “homeless alcoholic” cannot summon the image of a close family member. When we see pictures of his face, we see the marks of a hard life, and we see a brother, uncle and father.
In the Indian way we do not look down on the homeless, because that homeless man is someone’s son, perhaps someone’s father. Someone loves that man; wishes he would come home, misses him. When that homeless man is a Native American or Alaska Native, we can’t help but feel responsible. That’s the sort of people we are; tribal people.
I myself have family members who have died on the streets. Alcohol touches the Native American’s life in too many places. And as tribal people, when this sort of tragedy strikes our own family, it is we who feel responsible. Where was I? Why didn’t my family, clan and tribe take care of my brother? Why did he die in the streets? Perhaps John T. Williams’ family and tribe are asking themselves this question right now. I want them to know that the rest of us are asking ourselves that question, too. Not just for John, but for our brothers and sisters out there right now, still alive; and even those who have passed.
In our way we are all brothers and sisters. An elderly woman from my tribe I call “grandmother,” A clan cousin is my sister. I have been to Anchorage, Juneau and Seattle and seen street people who look like they could be from my clan, kwaan and tribe. There is something in me that accepts that there will be homelessness, but not among my people. Yet there they are. Then I begin to think of my own family; my own cousins, brothers and sisters who are slipping away. Am I helping them? Or am I too caught up in my own, modern American life? And then John T. Williams, a carver, a First Nations and Pacific Coast Native is gunned down in the streets of Seattle, and my heart breaks.
Why do we feel this way? Why do we grieve? Because it is our daughters, sons, uncles, and grandparents out there and as tribal people, we are responsible for them. We can’t help but feel this way, even if its not always true. That’s just who we are. Tribal people.
Great Spirit, accept John T. Williams among his people. Creator, be with his family and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people in their time of grief. The Lingit join you in your sorrow. Gunalcheesh.