Caskets offer ties to heritage: Filling needs of American Indians goal of father, son
WAUBUN, Minn. - When his father died, James Weaver Jr. wanted to lay the man they called "Iron Legs" to rest with a reminder of his heritage. But Weaver, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, couldn't find a casket designed with American In...
WAUBUN, Minn. - When his father died, James Weaver Jr. wanted to lay the man they called "Iron Legs" to rest with a reminder of his heritage.
But Weaver, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, couldn't find a casket designed with American Indian themes in mind. Instead, he built one himself.
In the five years since, Weaver, 58, and his son, George Meyer, have built about a dozen more of the caskets, and they're hoping to expand the business.
The two are taking a weekly business course in St. Cloud through the Twin Cities-based American Indian Development Fund. They're working on a business plan and have applied for a small business grant.
For now, though, they work about 16 miles east of Waubun in a trailer off County Road 4.
Weaver, a commercial painter for 30 years, said his caskets fill a need for many American Indian families in the area. Most of the caskets he and Meyer have built have gone to relatives, though one order came all the way from a stranger in Minneapolis.
"I've had people stop me right on the middle of the road and say, 'Hey, we need a casket,' " Weaver said.
Using wood burning, the father-and-son team can design a casket with animals, nature scenes or symbols, such as dream catchers, pipes and hatchets, Weaver said.
While area funeral homes may not have similar caskets on display, they can meet requests to add details of just about anything, said Larry Boulger of Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo. The custom work can be done within a day or two, he said.
Different tribes use different symbols, so it's nice to be able to cater to specific requests, Weaver said. Ideally, once the business grows, Weaver wants the ability to turn around a project within 24 hours.
If they get that efficient, they'll have come a long way from when they started.
"My first casket took me about a month to build," said Meyer, 24.
Now he can build one by himself in about a week, he said.
Meyer grew up with a knack for carpentry; until recently he'd set to work with a design only in his mind, not written out. His current job is with a drywall and painting company in Bemidji, but he hopes to work full time with his father in their new business.
Weaver said he wants to set up an operation that's selfsustaining using wind and solar power. He'd then like to advertise in the five-state area, so he or his workers can deliver a casket within five or six days.
Until then, he'll take calls from Blossoming Images, his friend's flower shop in Mahnomen.
"It brings a lot of people to my door, I'll tell you that," Weaver said.
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