I didn’t anticipate writing a blog post about Standing Rock so soon. And yes, this blog is supposed to be about art, but art is about life. And sometimes I just need to write it out. You may remember me mentioning Terry Star. This is for him.
Early in the morning on Wednesday, I woke up to a conference call from my dear friends. Terry passed away in his sleep from a heart attack at age 40 while studying at Nashotah House (seminary). This news took me by surprise. I laid my head on Travis’ chest and sobbed. My whole body shook with each breath. Terry was an amazing friend, mentor, spiritual leader to many. He loved freely, forgave readily, and laughed often. I can picture the way his eyes twinkled when he laughed… that laughter was soft, full bodied, and contagious.
I worked with Terry for four summers, first meeting him when I was 16. There is a group of us who became tight knit throughout the years. I call them my rez family. He told us stories about the history of his tribe, gave us tours of the Native American History museum filled with items from his family and friends. He took his nieces and nephews out to dance at pow wows, and lived a life for others. He taught me about tiospaye, extended family. A week before his passing, we had been facebook messaging about an article on blood quotient for tribal enrollment. He was always welcoming of dialogue, and I wanted to glean as much knowledge as I could from him. The last thing he told me was that I am always part of the family, and that Travis is equally accepted. I told him that I carry them in my heart wherever I go. I needed to hear that, and I am thankful that God gave me that opportunity before his passing to say what I needed to say (though at the time, I didn’t know it would be my last chance).
Terry, my big brother, I miss you. This world needs more of you. I don’t know where I would be in this life if I had not been welcomed in to this family. Seven years later, many miles, and my heart will always call your community home. You were selfless, honest, and compassionate and the best kind of mischievous.
My first summer visiting, he gathered us around the bonfire to tell us a spooky story. The staff hid in the long grass just beyond the property with waterballoons and a chainsaw. I think he laughed so hard he started crying at all of us running around screaming. We shaved balloons filled with shaving cream over his head. We had minnow spitting contests, and one time he let us make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches with our feet and feed them to our favorite staffers as a game. It was this marriage in his soul between the light hearted and the serious… I think it came from seeing so much that was hard. Accidents, youth committing suicide, substance and physical abuse in the community… too much oppression and modern racism. But by facing these terrible things head on, he gained this wisdom and insight into the beauty of the world that I don’t fully comprehend. He was wise beyond his years. Silly pranks came from a man who could also clearly speak truth and light into this world. I remember organizing a prayer walk before camp the summer before I was on staff. I watched as he prayed with current and past staffers on the patio of their cabin. This beautiful rain started to fall on them – just on that area – as he prayed over them. It was incredible. God was so real and present and tangible in that moment.
I faced a really hard decision to this week. My rez family is now gathered on Standing Rock to celebrate Terry’s life, and see him off to heaven to say goodbye. My heart aches to be there. Travis and I felt God calling us to give financially to Terry’s family. There are many children in the Star family, and a long distance to travel from their home in Oregon to Standing Rock, then on to Nashotah House to gather his belongings. Because of the amount of lives Terry touched, there became the issue of the growing financial burden of the funeral plus the cost of travel. We found a way to both make it out there for just 36 hours to attend the funeral… and I looked at Travis and said I can’t do this. We can’t pay this money when Charlotte and Woodrow need help. And so on Thursday night, we gave that money to Terry’s parents. It has been too long since I have been home to this family, but this is the best way I can serve them.
It has been a very up and down week, and I know that Terry’s physical absence will be difficult. But I know that he is singing, dancing, and laughing up in heaven with his friends and family who have gone before him. I find peace in knowing that one day, all of the rez family and friends will be together again. Until then, Terry, I pray that my heart will be marked with your legacy. I pray that I can bring others to Christ through relationships. I pray that my actions and words would be free from judgment. I pray that my heart would continue to desire to serve the Lord and to be in communion with Standing Rock. Thank you for showing me family, for showing me beauty, and for showing me God’s presence on this Earth.