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White Earth historian, spiritual leader and storyteller Andy Favorite will be missed

Andy Favorite and his wife, Mary, often worked together on public events.1 / 2
Andrew Favorite2 / 2

White Earth lost one of its best storytellers when Andy Favorite died in May.

Favorite, who served as tribal historian and archivist and was a pipe-carrier for the tribe, loved Anishinabe culture and spirituality -- and he had a way with words, says Mike Swan, tribal spiritual leader and head of the White Earth DNR.

"He was very passionate when he started talking about some of these things," Swan said. "It takes a certain amount of talent for anybody to get up in front of groups and tell stories and hold their interest -- he had that charisma ... He could mesmerize adults."

But he was also good with groups of kids, and he was always approachable.

"He made you feel very comfortable one on one," Swan said.

Favorite, 64, died May 24 in a Fargo hospital following a heart attack.

"I can't say enough good things about Andy," said Lorna LaGue, special projects coordinator for the Indian Health Service in White Earth. "He was definitely one of a kind. He was kind, gentle, caring, interesting, informative, and so unique."

Favorite grew up in Minneapolis, but always considered his roots to be in White Earth, where his grandparents lived.

He graduated from DeLaSalle High School, where he was a state wrestling champion, and went on to graduate from the University of St. Thomas, where he was a national wrestling champion and a member of the university's wrestling hall of fame.

"Whenever someone asked about historical information on our area, I would refer them to Andy," LaGue said. "I called him a 'walking encyclopedia' on facts, figures, dates and historical data about the White Earth Reservation."

Favorite gave credit for his memory abilities to a nun from his early school days. She wouldn't let the students in her classroom take notes, so he learned to retain information by memory.

"At the time he thought she was mean," LaGue said, "but later he learned to respect her."

Shortly before he died, Favorite completed work on a video designed to give new tribal employees a look at traditional culture, ways and humor.

"I brought it to his wake and played it for everybody," Swan said. "Everybody loved it."

It's intended to teach new employees "the demographics of the reservation and its people and the history of the Anishinabe," Swan said.

"We talked about our customs and history -- a lot of things even our own people don't know about," Swan said.

For instance, it's traditional to look down while talking to a tribal elder and not make eye contact -- that's showing respect, Swan said.

The video also talks a bit about native humor -- showing a young man making a long-overdue visit to his grandparents' home, only to find his grandfather paging through the newspaper -- looking, he is told, for his grandson's obituary. How else to explain his long absence?

"Andy had a passion for people," LaGue said. "And he learned from the mistakes of his past --- he recently celebrated his 39th birthday with the Alcoholics Anonymous group he was so committed to."

Favorite believed that everybody has a path of destiny -- one that's not always clear at the time, -- but that ultimately contains a purposeful meaning.

"Things happen for a reason" was one of his favorite mottos.

Swans feels that way about Favorite's work on the video.

"The way it came out, we helped preserve something of our culture -- the knowledge he had and the talent he had."

Swan would like to see the tribe do similar video projects with other elders and their special skills, like basket-weaving or bead-making. "We could capture that forever," he said.

Favorite was also deeply in love with his wife, Mary, and always treated her with respect -- a model for how men should treat their wives, Swan said.

"Andy's passion for people was truly demonstrated in his marriage," LaGue said. "He cherished Mary. Their relationship was such an example for others. Andy liked to reminisce about their earlier days, their engagement, their first house, their family ... they shared their love and respect of one another with everyone. Every time he talked about Mary, you could see a sparkle in his eyes."

But Favorite was perhaps best known for his storytelling abilities, and Swan challenged other tribal members to step up and fill the void.

Favorite spoke in English but mixed in occasional Anishanabe words and phrases, used a lot of humor, and was fond of stories that taught a life lesson.

"Andy was a religious person, believing in one Creator," LaGue said. "He was a pipe carrier and often conducted blessings and ceremonies in our traditional ways; yet at the same time he respected everyone's religion and often made comparisons to show how much our religions correlate with one another.

"One of the last teachings he shared with me was, 'If you are worried pray -- because if you pray, you don't have to worry.'"