The grandkids used to fight over Stanley Paul's chair.

It was his smell, said Ann Paul, Stanley's daughter. They wanted to fall asleep in it. 

Nobody fought over Stanley's empty chair at a recent drum circle. It was meant for him, and the people surrounding it were celebrating his life. 

Stanley Paul was born on Nov. 25, 1956. In February, he passed over to the spirit world after a battle with COPD, a lung disease that causes airflow and breathing-related problems. His loved ones sang him a travelling song as he left this earth.

"It was absolutely beautiful," Ann Paul said.

A young man with dark hair sits, wearing a brown shirt.
Stanley Brian Paul, from St. Mary’s First Nation (Sitansisk), went west to learn how to make drums, bringing that knowledge back home to teach others. He was a firekeeper and a sweat lodge keeper. He taught his daughter, Ann Paul, how to fish and swim, and then he taught her children how to walk. (Ann Paul/CBC)

A fire had been burning for several hours leading up to Paul's death. Sacred fires are usually started after someone's death to offer comfort to the community, said Paul, but they started this one before his death to give the family strength as they stayed in the hospital with him for a week.

After Stanley Paul's death, his body was brought home, where there was drumming, smudging, and another sacred fire. A wake lasted for two days so loved ones could travel from farther away to join.

Ann Paul, who has shared how a baby is welcomed into a First Nation community through her work with CBC News, also wanted to share how her community celebrates someone's life when they die.

"Everything was done with our way of life," she said.

Scroll through the photos and watch the video to see how an Indigenous community is working to decolonize funerals. 

WATCH | 'We celebrate all of it': Ann Paul shows us how St. Mary's First Nation celebrates death 

After Ann Paul’s father died, she invited us to see how her community mourns — and laughs — together

CBC contributor Ann Paul is our guide to how St. Mary’s First Nation celebrates a life well lived.

A group of men sit around a drum, each one holding a drum stick. There's an empty chair with a drum stick on it.
A drum circle was held for Stanley Paul at his wake. On the right, there’s an empty chair with a drumming stick on it, a space held for Stanley. (Ann Paul/CBC)

A young woman sits on a hospital bed, talking to an older man in a blue hospital gown.
Stanley Paul’s grandchildren spent nearly every Friday night with him and his partner, Maggie Paul, watching movies and eating pizza. Ann Paul said Stanley was a father figure to her own son. (Ann Paul/CBC)
A group of people sit and stand together in a hospital room.
Two days before Stanley passed away, a pipe ceremony was held to help him on his journey home. (Ann Paul/CBC)
Two women sit on the floor, rubbing the feet of an older woman.
The way Ann Paul remembers it growing up, someone’s passing involved the entire community. People would come to your house to clean it, often bringing food. Here, some support workers are caring for Maggie Paul, Ann’s mother. (Ann Paul/CBC)
A collection of cards and photos stand on a table.
Ann Paul said Stanley wanted Ann’s son to be with them in the hospital when he passed. On the day Stanley went to the spirit world, Ann’s son arrived at the hospital at 6 p.m. Stanley passed 12 minutes later. (Ann Paul/CBC)
A man holding a feather bends over a woman whose mouth is open in song.
Many members of the community celebrated Stanley Paul’s life with his family. 'He would do anything for anybody,' Ann said. (Ann Paul/CBC)
Two men and three women stand together in front of a pile of snow.
Sisters of the Drums sang Stanley Paul in when he was brought home for the wake, and the Muskrat Singers drummed for him. (Ann Paul/CBC)
Four people stand around a fire. One woman is bending over, offering tobacco to the fire.
A sacred fire, started after someone’s passing, gives comfort to the community. People can put tobacco in the fire, offering prayers to the Creator. It’s not just tobacco that can go in the fire. Shortly before Stanley died, Ann Paul visited a sacred fire for him, where there was a pizza with Stanley’s favourite toppings. Ann sat with the firekeepers, who offered a piece of pizza to the fire. (Ann Paul/CBC)
Two women hug.
At the wake, there was celebration, joy, and laughter. If there were tears, Ann said that was OK, too, because you have to let those tears go. Children are not shushed, and the rooms are not quiet. It’s a celebration of life. 'Everybody was buzzing around,' Ann said. 'It's getting together, loving and hugging.' (Ann Paul/CBC)
A graphic drawing shows an Indigenous woman holding a camera up to her eye.
(CBC News Graphics)

Ann's Eye

Photographer Ann Paul brings an Indigenous lens to stories from First Nations communities across New Brunswick. Click here or on the image below to see more of her work. 

Source link