Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Message from Grand Chief, Eddie Benton Benai, on Passing of Midewiwin Leader Tommy J. Stillday...

I received this message via email from the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge listserv and am posting to my blog today in honor of Tommy Stillday.

Mide Anishinabe doog,,Nin duh way maw gunni doog,,maydaywi yeag. Me i ewe noon goom uhshoo mawjaud bayjig ay chi inung i zood Mide wi inini. Mide brother/uncle Tom Stillday, Ponemah Nayausheeng, lodge has been called home. His beautiful midewiwin work and life has been completed. All midewiwins of the three fires lodge are being asked to put a bit of food and tobacco out on Sat.evening ,just before dark. This will be our respect and honoring of a great Mide man who served the Anishinabe people for many years, decades, tirelessly. He has always respected the three fires lodge and our work. Personally Tommy J. always had good words and encouragement for my own efforts and will always remember and honor that. I will find out to whom we can send $ donations in absence of being present for the funeral. Me i ewe it is a dark day for all of us,,wayway ni,, - Bawdwaywidun (Eddie Benton Benai)

I also found this posted on th
e RLNN (Red Lake Net News):

Remembering Tommy J...

This is a story Michael Meuers wrote back in 1997 under the Whitefeathe
r administration about Tommy J. being the first Indian Senate Chaplain in the state of Minnesota. The story appeared in the Red Lake Nation newspaper back then. Tom called Mr. Meueres "Makakii ."


By Michael Meuers
Red Lake Public Relations

Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. was the first non-Judeo/ Christian Spiritual Leader to serve as Senate Chaplin in the history of Minnesota. He was elected unanimously by the Minnesota Senate 67-0 on the first day it convened on January 7th, 1997 for a two-year term. (The biannual session) Tommy J. had been going through a slow recovery from a recent surgery and was unable to be sworn in at that time. He was expected to give the invocation at the beginning and end of the Senate session for those two years...which he did. Other religious leaders filled in for Tom at other times during the session.

Because of his slow recovery, it was decided to have Tom sworn in during Red Lake Day at the Capitol. So at 9 AM on Thursday February 13, 1997, Red Lake members and employees were joined by urban Red Lakers in the Senate Gallery. On the Senate floor near the front, Chairman Whitefeather place a headdress on Tom, while Aloyisius Thunder prepared the pipe. Red Lake Government Re
lations person Michael Meuers was in the door of the retiring room, talking with the press, and arranging for photographs with senators and the press. Senate President, Alan Spear, asked the press to shut off their cameras and swore in Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. as the first Indian, and the first member of a non-Judeo/Christian belief to serve in that capacity in the 139 year history of Minnesota statehood. You could feel the pride in the gallery as history was witnessed, and on the floor, 67 senators stood at attention for ten minutes as Chaplin Stillday prayed in Ojibwe to the four directions, mother earth and the Creator. He asked that the Senators be guided by the Creator as they make decisions that will affect all people. You could have heard a pin drop. A proud moment indeed.

After the ceremony, in the Senate retiring room, senators and staff jockeyed for position to shake the new Chaplin’s hand and have their picture take with him. Out in the hall, reporters and photographers all wanted exclusive interviews. Famous television reporters were overheard saying “this is so cool”. The interest from the press was so great that Senator Moe arranged for a press conference across the hall from the Senate Chamber. Microphones were place in front of Tom sitting at the head of a table by reporters from television, newspaper and radio. Reporters from the Minneapolis Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press stood ready with note books...photographers flashed pictures. Tom’s wisdom (along with a little BS for the Chimooks) came through as he answered questions. Whitefeather and Moe stood proudly behind Stillday. After the press conference, Tom continued to be asked for interviews until noon by some who had missed the press conference including public television, Minnesota News Network radio, and WCCO’s Pat Kessler. Radio and TV would report on the event throughout the day And in the morning, Chaplin Stillday’s photo and story were on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and on the front page of the “B” section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

That evening’s event took place at the Minnesota History Center where Young Dreams Dance Troupe performed for nearly 300 legislators and other guests. First was a reception by invitation for a dinner of walleye fingers, wild rice, veggies and fry bread. When Moe took the stage in the 3M Auditorium, he announced that he would advocate a joint session to hear a State of the Tribes message from Tribal Governments, an idea of Chairman Whitefeather’s. (This also came to fruition) Young Dreams with the Eyabay Drum appeared the night before on Public TV’s Newsnight Minnesota. At the performance, the finale, the friendship dance, saw many of the audience come down to the stage, senators, Red Lake members and those who had never danced before. Smiles were broad enjoying the good feeling that young Dreams delivers.

Part historic, part educational, part interesting conversation, but most of all this day was a sharing of good feelings between different cultures of good people. This was Red Lake Day at the Capitol ‘97.

Post Script: This was a big event and another first for Red Lake. (Only to be rivaled, press wise, by Red Lake High School’s trip to St. Paul for the State Basketball tournament) Tom was featured on the front page of the Pioneer Press with a long story. He was featured in the Star-Tribune front page with a full color photo and long story. Tom was featured in an editorial for the Trib on 2/19 with the title; “Indian Chaplin, Enlarging all Minnesotans’ heritage. Tom was featured in “Inside Talk” in the Trib with “You Gotta break a few rules” talking about the rules of the Senate requiring no smoking and ties in the Senate Chamber, both rules broken by the swearing in of Thomas Stillday. Tom was also featured in the political newsletter, Politics in Minnesota. There is also a full-color photo of Chairman Whitefeather placing the headdress on Chaplin Stillday from the Pioneer Press as well as a smaller photo of Tom and Wishy sharing a laugh. And the News from Minnesota in the national newspaper, USA Today, featured the swearing in of Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. Finally, Tom remains in the history of Minnesota by being featured in the reference book published by the Secretary of State entitled Minnesota Legislative Manual (The Blue Book). For the edition “97-’98, he is listed with the Senate Officers with photo. On page 149, Chapter Two it lists Officers of the Senate and Leadership Staff. With a photo of Stillday it reads, “Chaplain: Thomas Stillday, Ponemah, Minnesota. Spiritual elder for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians; attended University of Minnesota-Morris, majoring in elementary education; obtained other education from spiritual leaders of the Ponemah community that passed on; worked in Ponemah public schools; Korean War veteran; served 12 years on the tribal council; wife, Marylou, six children; eight grandchildren. Elected 1997-98 sessions”.