Remembering Old Lakota Friends at Christmas

By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)

December 16, 2015

As Christmas Day draws near, I think of my friends who have journeyed to the spirit world.

I am reminded of one of my dearest friends. His name was Enos Poor Bear. A veteran of World War II, Enos always carried the memories of his days in the army with him. He was proud to have served, and if you visited his house near Wanblee (Eagle Nest) on the Pine Ridge Reservation, you would see portraits of himself and his army buddies hanging on the walls. At an inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony near the foot of the Black Hills he gave me my Lakota name Nanwica Kciji -- Stands Up For Them.

Enos died of heart problems several years ago.

During the days known as "Relocation" that took place in the 1950s, Enos took the option to "relocate" and, along with his family, he was sent to Chicago. The object of this failed Bureau of Indian Affairs program was to get the Indians off the reservations by sending them to the ghettoes of the big cities, training them in a profession and encouraging them to become a part of mainstream America.

I say failed program because most of those sent on relocation got homesick and came back to the reservation where they were raised. Nonetheless, this government experiment did a lot of damage to the Indian people. It disrupted the lives of close families. It introduced many rural Indians to drugs and alcohol. And it separated families from their traditions and culture. It also cost the taxpayers of America millions of dollars.

When Enos and his family first arrived in Chicago they settled into an apartment in a not-so-nice part of town paid for by the BIA. He was enrolled in a school to become a welder. Many years ago, I wrote that there are probably more unemployed welders living on Indian reservations than any other profession. It seems the BIA thought all male Indians should be welders. Gotta weld those teepees together, you know.

Enos bought a Chicago Tribune, and when he opened it to the sports pages, he laughed out loud. It seems one of the Chicago baseball teams had just acquired Enos "Country" Slaughter, and the headline read, "Welcome to Chicago Enos." He cut out that headline, framed it, and hung it on the wall of his shabby apartment. Later, when he returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation, he would often show the headlines to visitors and say, "They liked me so much when I relocated to Chicago that they welcomed me with big headlines."

At Christmas time, I miss this Lakota elder and the wealth of knowledge he shared with me.
In the middle 1970s, I did a weekly television show called The First Americans for KEVN-TV in Rapid City. The station often allowed me to take a camera and go out to the different Indian reservations to gather interviews and background for my show.

I chose to spend a freezing evening with an elderly Lakota woman I really cared about. Her name was Agnes Yellow Boy. Agnes lived in one of the poorest districts of the reservation at a place called Calico. It is true that she was without many material things that Christmas, but in the Lakota way, she was one of the richest women in the world. In poor health and so weak she could barely speak, she was surrounded by a family that loved her.

When I turned on the television camera in her humble, log cabin, I felt like I was intruding, but Agnes and her children welcomed me with smiles and laughter. Agnes and I had gone to the Holy Rosary Mission Boarding School to get our education and we shared memories, good and bad, of those days.

Agnes hugged me before I walked into that freezing night to do my stand up close outside the door of her cabin. This was to be her last Christmas. It was not the chilling wind that brought tears to my eyes as I looked into the camera and wished the Yellow Boy family a Merry Christmas.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the former publisher of Native Sun News. He can be reached at: unitysodak1@vastbb.net. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1994)