A multitude of people gathered in Zoar, WI, in early March to pay their last respects to Ingrid Washinawatok. Besides the sheer number of attendees – the crowd was estimated at over 1,500 over several days of ceremonies and meetings – what was remarkable was the overwhelming inter-tribal and multi-cultural flavor of those assembled.
Wearing the colorfully embroidered traditional dress of her people, Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemalan Native activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, lent her vibrant persona to the proceedings.
"This is not the time, in our grief, to forget what Ingrid was working for peace and justice for the Indigenous peoples of the Americas – all of them, North, South and Central," said Rigoberta, speaking through an interpreter.
A long-time friend of Ingrid's, Rigoberta worked with her on several Indigenous issues.
While many a Menominee and Ojibwa filled a seat, several chairs were taken by people from over 140 nations worldwide at the traditional funeral services held at the Zoar Ceremonial Hall.
Among the attendees were a Mayan in traditional clothing, a union organizer originally from the Dominican Republic, an African woman in a brightly patterned turban and robe, a Cree language and culture teacher, an Ojibwa president of a private Native college and an vast assortment of traditional and religious leaders, politicians and activists of every persuasion.
Ingrid led a joyful, multifaceted life and she made many friends in her journeys across the world. As they gathered in meetings, ceremonies, and social occasions, several of those who knew Ingrid took time to share stories and they all agreed she had an impact on their lives.
Debra Harry, a Northern Paiute and coordinator for the Indigenous People's Coalition Against Biopiracy, said Ingrid was both a friend and a role model who definitely had an effect on her.
"She looked for the good in everybody. She embraced everyone's involvement in whatever she was working on and found ways to bring in support," said Harry, who met Ingrid in the early '80s when they and others became co-founders of the Indigenous Women's Network at a meeting at Janet McCloud's home in Washington state.
As a result of Ingrid's networking skills and invitations to Harry, they worked together on the Seventh Generation Fund in women's and children's issues and on a number of other projects.
Ingrid's whole emphasis in what she did was getting funding out into the Indian communities to support their issues, Harry said.
"She was getting to the point of moving in very high-powered circles with very influential people," she said, "We couldn't have had a better advocate."
Apesanahkwat, chairman of the Menominee Nation, agreed. Speaking on a radio interview on the March 6 edition of Morning Fire for WOJB FM 88.9, broadcast from the Lac Courtes Oreilles Reservation, Apesanahkwat said Ingrid fought for Indigenous rights throughout the world, achieving proficiency in Spanish because of her interests in common issues between all the Native people of the Western Hemisphere.
"She devoted virtually all her adult life to these causes and I don't want her to be forgotten," said Apesanahkwat, who thanked all the people who had prayed for Ingrid.
He urged those wishing to pay their respects contribute to the Ingrid Washinawatok Memorial Fund, Attn: Gina Washina-watok at P.O. Box 67, Keshena, WI 54135.
Apesanahkwat said Ingrid and her companions were very brave and there was a lesson to be learned from their lives.
"We should make sure these people didn't live their lives in vain – they're there to be examples for us."
Lisa Bellanger, Ojibwa and another co-founder of the Indigenous Women's Network, said Ingrid made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for the attainment of human rights – she gave her life and she would not be forgotten.
James Main, Sr., a Gros Ventre from Fort Belknap Reservation in northern Montana, said about 20 years ago he met Ingrid at an International Treaty Council conference. Ingrid ended up staying at his home and he got to know her and to appreciate her smiling face and the laughter that seemed to be an essential part of her.
"I ain't ever going to forget her, her work," he said, "She set a good example and I don’t think she'd want anyone to quit supporting what she stood for. She knew that all the sacred places have riches under them and it's our duty, our responsibility, to keep those sacred places safe."
Estela Vazquez, a union organizer, met Ingrid when she was an intern at the International Treaty Council working with the United Nations and their project "Women's Workshops in the Americas." They developed a relationship after working together on Native American and other issues, she said.
The one thing that made Ingrid so memorable, said Vazquez, was "that she made every person that she met feel that they were special, feel as if they were a part of her family and how so easily and with so much joy she went through life. She was so natural."
Vazquez said she attended a conference with Ingrid in 1976 in the Dominican Republic. They stayed in a poor neighbor-hood and it was the first time many of the Native American women there met. After two days, it was like they'd known each other all their lives, she said.
Her fondest memory of Ingrid was traveling to a meeting in Guatemala when Maki, Ingrid's son, was a little over a month old. "All of us, the women there, collectively became his surrogate mom, changing his diaper, carrying him around, rocking him and taking him to his mom so she could breastfeed him. That's what I admired about her – she’d do her duties as a mother and still do her organizing, her political work."
In 1982, Ed Burnstick, Sr., Treaty Six chairman for the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, attended a meeting with a delegation from the International Treaty Council, which included Ingrid, in Geneva, Switzerland. They spent six weeks there and maintained a working relationship on United Nation's issues and others since then, Burnstick said.
"Ingrid was one of the most remarkable women I ever met," he said. "She worked hard lobbying for the rights of Indian people. I spent many hours talking with Ingrid and I had a lot of respect for her. She dedicated her life to making it better for the present day Indigenous people and those of the future – to make a better life for them."
Charlie Hill, comedian and television writer, said he met Ingrid as a teenager, when he used to date her sister Gina, who he met on the bus from Madison to Keshena, Wisconsin in the early '80s.
"We (he and Gina) used to sneak her to all the places she couldn't go to because she was too young," he said. "Later she was traveling to Cuba – married Ali – and little Ingrid grew up. Over the years, I've heard about her from people all over the world; she was well-known and everyone loved her, she was good people."
A few of the others from the Native world paying their respects were: Oren Lyons, Winona LaDuke, Dennis Banks, Nilak and Dino Butler, Jake Swamp, Mary Jane Wilson, Mike Haney, Gail Small, Tom Cook, Lorelei De Cora, Mitch Walking Elk, Michelle Greendeer, Henrietta Mann, Artley Skenandore, Faith Smith, Jose Barreiro, Margo Thunderbird, giaishkobos, Monique Mojica, Bill "Kills" Means, Sherry Blakey-Smith, Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Aurora Perez, Bill "Jimbo" Simmons, Andrea Carmen, Robert Cruz, Nancy Lorence, Melvin Lee Houston, Herb Powless, Billy Daniels, Bertha Blackdeer, Ed Benton-Banai, Kenny Funmaker, Niganigaabo, Wilma Mankiller, Dagmar Thorpe and many, many more.