Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji - Stands Up For Them)
Sometimes one can find irony in a name. Let me explain.
I was almost six years old when I was deposited at the front door of Red Cloud Hall located at Holy Rosary Indian Mission on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Holy Rosary was a boarding school operated by the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church and boys and girls from many Indian reservations boarded there during the school year.
As my parents drove away I felt totally abandoned so I sat down on the concrete steps and started to cry. A boy offered me a piece of the honeycomb he was munching on in order to cheer me up. I thought it was a great gesture, but I refused the comb and continued to cry. Later I found out his name was Gutierrez and the mission boys dubbed him "Good Arrows."
He was from one of the Southwest Indian tribes as was his friend Archuleta who was given the unglamorous tag of "Farts the Lead Out." But it was the custom of the boys and girls at Holy Rosary to anoint new students with nicknames. One boy chased after his Aunt Eunice's car when she dropped him off yelling "Hoonis" and that became his nickname. One had to be careful about what they said or did around the other boys as one boy found out when he defecated in his bed and from then on was called "The Brown Bomber."
After I had been taken to the "Cloak Room" and issued my mission clothes, bib overalls and chambray shirt, I was introduced to a Jesuit Prefect named Mr. Burger. Now here is where the irony comes in. There was a small room set up as a combination commissary and food stand and it was open for only a short period each day.
It was located in the little boys gym just at the entrance of the tunnel that led to the shower room, the big boys smoking room, the big boys classrooms and then to the big boys gym. Mr. Burger decided to use the commissary to cook and sell hamburgers to the boys that could afford 25 cents.
I recall the wonderful smell emanating from the commissary as Mr. Burger flipped his burgers and placed them on buns baked fresh from the school's bakery operated by Brother Siers.
The lettuce, tomatoes and onions he put on the burgers came right from Brother Schlinger's garden. His garden was much more than a garden, it was a couple of acres of tomatoes, corn, cabbage, onions, and lettuce. In the early part of the school year all of our fresh produce came from that garden.
Most of us learned to sneak into Schlinger's garden by crawling under a fence that surrounded it and grab a tomato, but the one thing we all loved was getting away with a head of cabbage. Raw cabbage made a good and filling meal. Cantaloupe and watermelon were also one of the top priorities on our list of goodies pilfered produce. Since most of us had to work in the garden during harvest time without pay we considered it a small compensation to help ourselves to the produce occasionally.
I was raised in a small village named Wounded Knee and later moved to another small village called Pejuta Haka or Medicine Root. It was later named after South Dakota Senator James H. Kyle. My contact with people other than Lakota was pretty limited and that is why I was totally fascinated the first time I saw Mr. Burger. He had no hair and in fact his head was as slick as a basketball. I had never seen a man without hair. Many of the traditional men living in my hometowns wore their hair long and in braids.
I never forgot Mr. Burger because when I first got to the mission school I did have a few quarters in my pocket given to me by my father. I used one of them to buy the first hamburger on a bun that I had ever eaten. It was absolutely delicious. Mr. Burger made a burger fan out of me for life.
It is also ironic that two former students of Holy Rosary Mission were later in life inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. I was lucky to be one of them and Charles "Wobbie" Trimble was the other and I wish Mr. Burger could have been there to cheer us on.
(Contact Tim Giago at firstname.lastname@example.org)