Cherokee was rescued from southeastern British Columbia. On December 8, three weeks after her arrival, she gave birth to seven little ones. They all looked like little wolves.
When she was about eight weeks old, we were carrying the pups back out to their yard, after they were done playing in the house and hanging out with us.
My friend said to me, “You should take her.” I was holding this little fuzzy girl and my first thought was “No,” because I knew the work it would take, and I wasn’t sure I could do it.
I looked down at the pup, and she looked up at me, our eyes met. I was holding her close to my chest and in that second our hearts came together. I knew she had chosen me to be her human and nothing would ever be the same.
She became Shoonaq’. We became partners and beloved companions, and she became one of my greatest teachers.
She also became deeply loved and honored within our community and was a respected member of our regular council circles. Shoonaq’ would usually stand back until everyone had settled into the circle and she would observe quietly until the energy shifted to calmness. She then would enter the room and lie on the rug by the door. She always knew when someone needed a cuddle or kiss…She reminded us of what being in real community meant, for it was pretty much the same as being within a pack.
Throughout the years she showed us what it was like to be wild, to live in the moment, to smell the wind, to feel the earth beneath our feet and walk softly.
She helped me to remember and connect with my own wildness, which I had known as a young person. Our relationship itself was a great rewilding. We spent fourteen years together: growing, learning, loving and being in community —and she touched so many lives.
On January 1, 2021, at 12:15 a.m., Shoonaq’ jumped off her bed and began to cough to a point where she couldn’t breathe, becoming extremely shaky and wobbly. My heart skipped beats. I could hear in the distance people celebrating New Year’s Eve, with fireworks echoing through the canyon.
We rushed her to the emergency veterinarian. Because of the pandemic I couldn’t go in with her and they had to come get her from me. I paced the parking lot until they called me on my phone and gave me the diagnosis: “aspirated pneumonia.” She would need to be on medication and kept under observation. Shoonaq’ was fourteen years old and this illness immediately began to take a major toll on her. Having never been sick in the past, it was hard for her to adapt. She continued to have difficulty breathing, and never quite returned to her previously healthy, robust, highly spirited self.
Six and half months later, on June 23, Shoonaq had reach her limit and could no longer get up to stand. The early morning sky with clouds and sun created beams from the heavens, reflecting such beauty. My beloved was embarking on her final journey home to her kin in the sky.
I prayed and sang as she lay on the earth. The earth where she was born now supported her in her death.
In her final moments, I held her head, stroking her and feeling the old velvety softness of her ear between my thumb and forefinger as I had done for fourteen years. She closed her eyes and left this physical world at 12:40 p.m. As she breathed her last breath, I saw and felt our life together pass before me: the profound bond of love between us, and the subtle ways we moved together in this world… all the ways our hearts were so connected and the way we communicated with each other without having to speak a word…
We buried her next to her mother, Cherokee, and her sister, Tschee Wa Yah, with a quiet family ceremony.
As we placed the last bit soil upon her—the earth she was born on, the earth she lived and ran on, the earth she died on—the wind came up strongly from the West, rattling the leaves in the orchard and eucalyptus.
I looked up to the sky, and there above us was a cloud formation: the face of a wolf with eyes, nose and one bent ear. Shoonaq’ had had an ear injury: I knew it was her and she was with us…
As I was doing my morning prayers, a month after Shoonaq’s passing, a memory jumped in of when Shoonaq’s sister Tschee Wa Yah passed at the age of three years. Shoonaq’ mourned her sister for a month, some days not eating, other days just sleeping with tears in her eyes.
I knew I was to just hold the space for her to mourn. I realized how as humans we tend to put a timeline on everything, including mourning. In the wild, time is different; it flows in a very organic way.
I also learned from living with Shoonaq and bearing witness to her grieving that all beings mourn the loss of their beloveds.
Shoonaq’ touched so many people within our community and many carry their own stories and interactions with her in their hearts. She lives within these stories.
I carry her forward with the stories and experiences she has given me, and the stories are the ways I will continue to carry her through the rest of my life, in memory and love. The stories are alive, and they breathe when shared.
Run free, our beloved Shoonaq’.
You are and will forever be in my heart… our hearts.
Quyanaasinaq (much gratitude).
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About the Author
Cheryl Potts is an Alutiiq (Sugpiak) Native elder, teacher and storyteller. She grew up in a small fishing village on Kodiak Island, Alaska, and spent most days outside within the natural world. She is descended from Alaska Native Alutiiq and Irish.
Cheryl has contributed to the safe return of Alaskan ancestral bones held for over one hundred years in boxes at the Museum of Man in San Diego. In a dream, she learned that the sacred masks, fetishes, instruments, and other beings still held at the museum also want to go home, and she has written stories from these places.
She teaches storytelling, working with dreams, ancestral stories, and life experiences.
Cheryl also leads and participate in councils to hold community within Blue Flag Dare’, Impromptu Dare, Revisioning Medicine, and 19 Ways Training with Deena Metzger.