There is an old joke that you reach an age where you check newspaper obituaries to make sure you are not found in the headlines.

Then I am not yet quite that age. And newspapers? Right. The problem there is not really a place for me to check. There is not a great collection of Native obituaries from across the country.

I have always loved obituaries (called “eight points” back when I started in the news business because of the small type). I remember being the first to volunteer to write or edit several pieces early in my career. The stories stick with me: An heir to a rifle maker, church leaders, politicians, authors, and just people whose lives made a great story.

The best thing I have ever written was a tribute to my grandmother in The Seattle Times. She saved for me a stack of silver coins. But “the treasure my grandmother left us was a stack of stories. Each coin is a reminder of something that happened, an event or family adventure. She saved these for later, and gave them back now that we're ready to understand their value. I pick up the coins now and shuffle them from thumb to thumb. I hear shiing-shiing, shiing-shiing, a sound like a fancy dancer makes at a powwow. I hear stories.”

Those family stories are on my mind again. I have been thinking about all of this since my father’s recent death.

When my siblings and I met at the mortuary where we were handed a proscribed obituary for the local newspaper and a bill for $174. We didn’t even think about it, we said, “yes,” and added it to the list of everything else we had to do.

But now that I am back at work … I think we can do better.

Indian Country Today can do something that a local newspaper cannot. Our digital platform has a spacious channel. We can post obituaries from Seminole to Unga. From Penobscot to those from the aboriginal people of Hawaiʻi.

We also believe in service -- so there will not be a fee or a charge for passing along these stories.. It’s a part of our collective story that should be shared.

It seems to me that we live in an age where Indian Country is connected instantly. A death in one tribal community has a meaning in others. This has been true for a long time, perhaps forever, but now the speed of that communication means that people want to know about their friends and family as soon as possible.

So we have created a new tab: Obituaries. To publish information just send us a photograph (required for our content management system) and a short essay. Send an email to

What should be in that obituary?

Start with information about the death, such as the time and place. Then a short biography (my favorite part) of the person. A few words about family members, those who have died before, and those who remain. This part of the story connects us. If there is a special ceremony, or an upcoming service, please tell us about that. Finally, it’s just fine to add a special message. A poem. A note of appreciation. Or even a prayer.

And don’t forget to include a photo. (Or even two.)

When my father died I was fascinated by how the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes did what a community does best. There was a system in place: Tribal employees set up a teepee at his home, there were prayers and papers, and engagement. Every tribe it seems to me has a variation of that. That’s what makes Indian Country distinct. It adds to the richness of our lives and it’s a story that’s not often told.

Earlier this week I received a note asking for an obituary to be published about an attorney who worked in Indian Country a long time. “Great timing,” I thought. “Yes.”

Then I got this note: His “brother said he happens to know that every day when Karl opened up his computer he went to Indian Country Today.”

As if we needed another reason. Thank you.

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Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports