Tim Giago: A month of tears, tragedy and happiness in April

Notes from Indian County
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Unity South Dakota Foundation

In April of 1921 Vaudevillian entertainer Al Jolson stood on the stage in Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre in New York City in blackface in the production of the Broadway musical Bombo, and he sang, “Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May.”

At that time April became the month of hope and dreams. But before Jolson’s song of April, the month took some ominous turns.

On April 20, 1889, Adolph Hitler was born and between his life and death, millions would die in World War 2. More than 6 million Jews would die in the concentration camps in what Hitler proclaimed as the Final Solution.

On April 15, 1912 the luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank taking 1,517 passengers to the bottom with it.

It was in April 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy made his historic visit to the Holy Rosary Mission Indian boarding school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just a few months before he was assassinated in California.

On April 19, 1995 an Army veteran named Timothy McVeigh calmly walked away from the Ryder Truck he had parked in front of the Alfred Murrah federal building and the truck exploded nearly destroying the building and taking the lives of 168 people.

And on April 20, 1999, Hitler’s birthday, two high school boys, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked into the classrooms at Columbine High School and took the lives of 12 students, one teacher and then turned the guns on themselves. In all 15 people died that day.

Something else happened in 1981 in the month of good and bad. On April 4 a group of Native Americans from the American Indian Movement occupied a small plot of land called Victoria Creek Canyon and changed the name to Yellow Thunder Camp in honor of Raymond Yellow Thunder, the Lakota man killed in Gordon, Nebraska by locals.

On the evening that AIM took over the grounds at Yellow Thunder Camp the skies above Rapid City took on colors of red, pink and purple that I have never seen before or since. The entire sky above this city lit up for nearly 30 minutes. Members of AIM looked upon this as a sign that Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit) was with them.

That same evening in a hospital bed at the Rapid City Regional Hospital, a tiny Lakota woman named Lupe breathed her last breath. When I looked out of the windows at the hospital and saw the brilliant hues of colors in the skies I thought, “There goes the spirit of my mother.”

In April of 1991, I got a phone call from my cousin “Buzzy” telling me to hurry home because my brother Tony, the man we called “Tuna the Bass” was in the same Regional Hospital and in dire straits. I was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard at the time and I rushed out to Logan International Airport in Boston and caught the first available flight home.

I was too late. My brother passed away before my plane could reach Rapid City. I found it ironic in 2001 when I saw on the news that one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City took off from the same airport where I boarded the plane in an effort to make it home before my brother’s death.

From that day on, April has been a month of anxiety to me. My angst about the month “that brings May flowers” was pushed to the limits when on April 6, 2006, my lovely daughter Roberta died in a terrible pickup crash in Albuquerque, N.M. She was only 34. She was a student at the University of New Mexico. We buried her ashes in the wooded hills near the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, a place she loved to visit and just sit under the trees to reflect on life.

It was on April 22, 1996, that I went on a blind date to celebrate the birthday of Karla Anderson, one of my employees at the Albuquerque office of my newspaper, Indian Country Today, and met, Jackie, the woman who would become my wife.

We still celebrate April 22 as the very special day in our lives. Karla Anderson now lives and works in Oregon with her husband Bob, and every year we hoist a glass and wish her a very Happy Birthday.

April did have its happy times.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. His career in journalism spans more than 30 years. He can be reached at Unitysodak1@knology.net

More from Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: When Leader Charge spoke, Kevin Costner listened (4/2)
Tim Giago: Turtle Mountain Times marks its 20th anniversary (3/26)
Tim Giago: Newspaper business should take look at its past (3/19)
Tim Giago: Lakota views missing from Keystone XL debate (3/12)
Tim Giago: Religion caused near destruction of Lakota families (3/5)
Tim Giago: Inspiring a new generation of Native Americans (2/27)
Tim Giago: South Dakota law aimed at Indian abuse victims (2/20)
Tim Giago: Indians as mascots for America's fun and games (2/13)
Tim Giago: Cobell settlement just another government rip-off (2/6)
Tim Giago: Rosebud constitution should be 'law of the land' (1/30)
Tim Giago: Reservation among poorest counties in America (1/23)
Tim Giago: Alcohol is a red flag that has been waving too long (1/16)
Tim Giago: The new year brings time for a couple of apologies (1/9)

Join the Conversation