By Ben Sam Mille Lacs Band Member

Death is always something I have a particularly difficult time talking and opening up about. Yesterday, after 80-plus great years in this life, the Sam family had to say goodbye to an absolute legend. Leonard Sam was my niiyawen’enh (namesake/Godfather) whom I was named after when I became a man, my adopted uncle, unofficial grandfather, and biologically my second cousin once removed.

Len taught me many things in life both as direct and indirect lessons in verbal and nonverbal teachings.

Len taught me how to be a man.

Len is the one who showed me how to provide for my family how our ancestors once did and how we must in the modern world.

Len taught me to value any and every life taken as an Ojibwe outdoorsman, whether it’s plant, fish, or critter. Everything is placed and taken from this world for a reason and to only keep or kill what you will use and eat — no exceptions.

Len taught me how to live well, strong, as if someone is always watching. To put others in line when they need help finding the path. He taught me what it means to be respected and the power that comes as a leader.

Len taught me to care for my family and stay strong in my faith — even though that faith was different than his. He taught me how to listen, when to speak, and when to know the difference.

Len taught me how to remember — sharing stories of hunting, fishing, and the days of playing ball. In the last few years, Len taught me how to be together with someone you love. I learned that togetherness matters, even if it means sitting in silence while Gunsmoke silently plays in the background.

I loved this man with everything I am and I wish I would’ve spent more time visiting him when I had the chance. He was there for me for my entire life and it was an honor to carry him to his final resting place. I strive to show my family and my community the kind of unconditional love Lenny did. When we meet again, I hope to be able to tell him I lived exactly how he taught me to and to one day be half the man he was to me.

If you haven’t seen your elderly loved ones in a while, take the time to stop by and say hello to just be with them. You’d be surprised how much it means to them.