Bernice Mascher with Sunnie Whipple

Sunnie Whipple (left) with Bernice Mascher (Source)

By Bernice Mascher, LACDMH Cultural Competency Committee Co-Chair

Two days before Thanksgiving on November 21st, 2021, Sunnie Whipple crossed over to join his ancestors. Two thoughts crossed my mind.

  1. First, he would miss out on all the Native American community feasts and get-togethers. He always looked forward to this. However, he was now experiencing a new level of health and thankfulness and fellowship.
  2. My next thought was how much he would be missed here. In the midst of loss, I felt a profound sense of thankfulness to know him, and for the many opportunities to team up with him on outings, events and projects. I will forever miss that.

Sunnie really enjoyed learning new things, engaging with other people, and finding ways to bring about good change. In all these opportunities, he was very proactive in presenting the Native American culture of today in a more realistic and positive light. In many ways, that was also what Thanksgiving was for him, as he enjoyed the get-togethers, the food, and the conversations around the table, including what he thought about the holiday. There were various events and feasts he often attended in the surrounding Los Angeles area, as well as in neighboring counties, as many Native American organizations and churches pulled together community members to gather and enjoy food and fellowship during this holiday.

Several days before Thanksgiving in 2021, we actually had a conversation about what Thanksgiving was like for him as he grew up. He decided to write down some of his thoughts and experiences for the Cultural Traditions and Connections Blog. He completed it, but with his sudden death, it was not published in 2021. Now that Thanksgiving is upon us once again, we can enjoy some of his last thoughts, and sometimes humorous reflections.

I’m grateful to be able to share this piece with the wider LACDMH community and its many stakeholder groups at this time. His involvement in the CCC as co-chair, and participation in the AI/AN UsCC and other stakeholder groups will not be forgotten. While speaking up about his own concerns, he regularly shared a bit of his own lived experience. It meant much to him to participate in all the meetings and gatherings, and to bring some hope and change to others. He also loved the exchange of ideas, sharing personal stories, and seeing lives, culture and spirituality strengthened.

So, like a kind of exclamation mark, he gets to drop in one last time to give us a little piece of himself—in his own words. In the first section, Sunnie includes some humor and reflections. He enjoyed noticing the nonsensical and loved to play with words and ideas and thinking about the meaning of things. In the second section, he writes about his own Thanksgiving experiences as a boy.