The Gift

Especially during the holiday season, gifts are pleasant exchanges of presents, embodying good thoughts and feelings. Gifts embody the desire to strengthen relationships. They need not be large or expensive. As the adage exclaims, “it is the thought that counts.” 

When one receives a wrapped gift, the anticipation of opening it is exciting. This excitement about what is concealed inside the wrapper is usually enough when one is young. The gift is consumed if food, or used and often soon discarded if it is a toy or other object. Whichever it is, we are taught to be thankful for the gift, and to thank the giver. 

As one matures in age and thinking, however, receiving a gift takes on additional meanings. Excitement and anticipation are still present, and so too is appreciation for the gift as one consumes or uses it. But now one is more grateful for the giver and for our relationship. The focus shifts from objects to relationships; from presents to presence.

Individuals give gifts, and so too do groups and nations. Take for instance the Statue of Liberty. It was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States of America. It memorializes the interdependence of the two peoples in their quests for liberty and freedom. The statue holds a tablet in her left arm inscribed with the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. At her feet is a broken shackle and chain to commemorate the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery.  The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. 

One hundred years later, the first Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday was officially celebrated on Monday, January 20, 1986. At that time fewer than 17 states recognized the holiday. When South Dakota finally did so in 1992, it was one of the final four states that did not been officially sanctioned as federal holiday.

At the seventh annual meeting of the King Federal Holiday Commission in 1992, two South Dakotans were among the ten persons from across the United States who were recognized for their “significant contributions to the establishment and institutionalization of the holiday honoring Dr. King,” according to the Commission’s 1992 Annual Report.

Mr. Pete Catches, Sr., a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the United States of America, was cited for “his dedication to the principles and precepts espoused by Dr. King, for his contributions to the development of the Federal Holiday Commission’s Native American/American Indian Involvement Committee, and for his work toward increasing the understanding of Dr. King’s work among the people and helping others to understand the contributions of the Native Americans/American Indians to the United States.”

Also recognized by the Commission was Mr. Lynn Hart, a citizen of the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the U.S.A., “for personally living the dream Dr. King so fervently spoke of and for his persistent and dedicated work in the passage of two separate South Dakota holiday bills honoring Dr. King and the contributions of the Native American/American Indian community.” 

Interestingly, neither of these men is in the South Dakota Hall of Fame. It has been 30-years since South Dakota recognized the Martin Luther King holiday and established Native Americans’ Day, yet has there been any curriculum developed to teach South Dakota students about the gifts these men gave to our state and to the United States? Mr. Catches, Sr. has passed on from this world, but Mr. Hart is still an active resident of our state. 

“The Gift” is the title of the new educational art exhibit CAIRNS is developing. It is based on a traditional narrative about White Buffalo Calf Woman giving a gift from the Buffalo nation to the people of the Itazipco nation. That gift is known as the White Buffalo Calf Pipe. In Standing Rock Reservation, around 1911, Mr. Isnala Wica, Lone Man, shared the narrative. It was translated by Mr. Robert P. Higheagle, authenticated by at least ten Lakota men, recorded by Ms. Frances Densmore, and then published in Teton Sioux Music in 1918. 

According to the narrative, the Itazipco people “received the pipe in the name of all the common people.” This wondrous gift from the Buffalo nation is today under the stewardship of Mr. Arvol Looking Horse, its 19th generation keeper. The pipe commemorates the close ongoing relationship between the Buffalo nation and the people of the Lakota nation. 

(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)