HARBOR SPRINGS, MICHIGAN - The following two glimpses into
the Odawa tradition and culture of commemorating the ancestors who
have walked on during annual Ghost Suppers, held annually during
the first week of November, were written in 1943 and 1992, respectively.
first glimpse was written by Chief Fred Ettawageshik, who passed
in 1969 at the age of 73. He served as an ogema, leader, to the
Odawa during a time before the Little Traverse Bay Bands of the
Odawa Indians Tribe, based in Harbor Springs, Michigan, was yet
reaffirmed by the federal government.
His son, Frank, was instrumental in leading the Tribe during
the reaffirmation process. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of the
Odawa Indians was reaffirmed by the federal government in September
1994. He served two terms as tribal chairman. Currently, he is the
executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan.
Ghost suppers are held each year during the first week of November
by the Ottawa in the northern regions of the Lower Peninsula of
Michigan. To mention a few places, there is Cross Village, Middle
Village (the oldest Indian settlement in the region), Five Mile
Creek, Harbor Springs, Petoskey and Burt Lake.
At this time one or two families in the community will cook
a large supper, to which is generally understood all the Indians
are invited. The word just gets around that some family is getting
up a supper commemorating the spirits of their departed, hence,
the name Ghost Suppers. To especially honor the memory of those
who have gone to the "Happy Hunting Ground," the family
will invite a few people approximately of the same age of the deceased.
Tobacco will be given to them if the person they are supposed to
represent was a tobacco user; if not, some gift will be presented.
Children are given candies or some little gift. Custom requires
that these few especially invited guests come early enough, if possible,
so that they will be among the first served.
The Indians go from one supper to the other, until they have
made the rounds. Etiquette requires that they eat at least a little
of each kind of food offered. After the last guest has been served,
the remaining food is left on the table until midnight, or in some
cases until morning so that the spirits may come and eat.
Years ago, it was not uncommon for as many as six or eight households
in a community to have these suppers during an evening. Today with
the smaller Indian population, fewer suppers are held, and an effort
is being made to spread them more evenly throughout the week. From
fifty to seventy-five and as many as a hundred guests are served
in some homes. Because of the limited space in the average home,
the guests are served in relays. The first table is set and ready
around six o'clock, seating from twelve to sixteen people; when
these have finished, a second table is set, and so on until the
last have been served.
These feasts were not always held during the first week in November.
They were held during the late spring and early summer and were
accompanied with much dancing and singing and peace offerings. Groups
of grown people and children would go from place to place saluting
each other, saying, "We are going around in spirits."
At each place they would feast, dance and sing, and throw food into
the fire, believing that the spirits would come and eat the food
as it was consumed by the fire.
The change in the time for these feasts from the early part
of the year to the first week of November was brought through the
influence of missionaries, who saw the feasibility of aligning this
custom with the feast days of their church, All Souls Day and All
Chief Fred Ettawageshik - 1943
In the time since my father wrote about ghost suppers much has changed
in the world: we fly faster than sound, men walk on the moon, and
we look deep into space with orbiting telescopes seeking to look
back into the very beginnings of our universe. Our Odawa world has
changed as well: the council fires once again are burning and the
beat of the drums again echoes from the powwows where people are
dancing for themselves, for their communities, and for Mother Earth.
Those who have been keeping and guarding our ways have been reawakening
the honor and respect for creation that is the central gift of our
Ghost suppers are still held all over northern Lower Michigan.
In parish halls and in private homes, from Cross Village to East
Jordan, from Peshawbestown to Petoskey, in Charlevoix, Harbor Springs,
and Burt Lake, families are honoring their ancestors and keeping
sacred fires burning. The people come by the hundreds to visit each
other, tell stories, and honor the ancestors, teaching our children
the old ways while preparing to walk with pride into the future.
Frank Ettawageshik - 1992
portion of this material appears in "Star, Songs and Water
Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader." Used by permission of
See the Native News Network Book Review of "Star
Songs and Water Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader."