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Sharing Our Stories – March 6, 2024

Story told by: Leonard Atonnion Bordeau
Edited by: Kassidy Jacobs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Translated by: Sahawisó:ko’ Arquette 

Death Feast

I never attended a death feast until my younger brother, Irvin, passed away in December of 2009. A few days later, his wife, Dale, called me to tell me that she was hosting a 10-day death feast and she was inviting me. 

When I arrived at my sister-in-law’s house, I parked in the driveway but didn’t want to go in the house right away so I waited for my good friend Joe McGregor to show up. When he arrived, we walked in together.


Irvin at work at the Kanawaki golf club PHOTO Courtesy Leonard Atonnion Bordeau


My sister-in-law greeted us at the door. It was wintertime, so the first thing Joe asked her was where my brother usually left his boots. When she pointed to a specific spot on the floor, he told us not to leave any shoes there.

Dale had to cook my brother’s favourite meal, which was roast beef and mashed potatoes. Oh, that was a good meal. The seat where my brother would usually sit, was left empty for him because he was sitting there with us in spirit. Dale made a plate and placed it in front of his seat, and then we went on as usual, eating, laughing and talking.


Other First Nations of Turtle Island have rituals surrounding death including the Huron people with the Feast of the Dead This engraving by J F Lafitau in 1724 depicts this traditional ceremony in which bodies would be disinterned from their initial grave and buried in a communal grave PHOTO Credit J F Lafitau

I guess I have a habit of wanting to be helpful, so when we were done eating, I offered to help my sister-in-law clean up and put some things away. Joe stepped up and said, “No, everything must stay as is.” It’s only the morning after that everything can be rounded up and thrown out.


From left to right Irvin Leonard Herby and Nias Bordeau sit at De La Place restaurant in Chateauguay PHOTO Courtesy Leonard Atonnion Bordeau


To end the night, we sat in the living room having coffee and chatting. Joe stood up and said, “Niawenhkó:wa tsi wa’titewatskà:hon’, tánonostón:ha wetewakaratónnion’. Ó:nen ki’ ia’káhewe’, ó:nen’k tsi entsitewahtén:ti’,” which basically means, “Thank you for having us over, feeding us, and giving us company, the time has come, and we have to leave now.” We all rounded up our things and left.

It was an absolutely awesome learning experience because I had heard of death feasts before, but never attended one. It was explained by an elder to me one time, that despite the presence of tears and sorrows, you must let go of the person who passed. Of course, it’s not easy for everyone, but you have to eventually let go and move forward with life.

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