Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Tim Giago: Our first Christmas away from our home on the reservation

Notes from Indian Country
Leaving the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

In the late summer of 1943 rumors fed by the moccasin grapevine circulated around the Pine Reservation that there was plenty of work available in Rapid City. The fairly new Rapid City Army Air Force Base was expanding as the war ground on.

My dad decided to stay with his father-in-law, Talles Tapio, while he looked for a job at the base and tried to find a house for our family. He had seven children, five daughters and two sons. He was assured of a job at the base if he could pass the security clearance and while he waited for the paper work to clear he started to hunt for a house.

My father was 50 years old in 1943. He had worked his entire life on the reservation. He was obviously Lakota and for the first few days every landlord he talked to said, “Sorry, but I just rented that house.” And this went on and on. There were no housing discrimination laws in those days.

One day he found himself looking for an address on Lemmon Avenue in North Rapid. He saw a man working away nailing tar paper to a house he was building. He watched the man work for a short time and then he opened the trunk of his car and took out his tool box. My father stepped up to the house and started to work right alongside of the man. They never said a word for the two hours they worked together.

Finally the man looked at my dad and said, “Good job. Where you from?” My dad said, “Kyle and I need a house to rent.” The man looked at him and said, “You got one; here it is, just finish the work on it.”

And that was how we got our first house at 712 Lemmon Avenue in Rapid City. My dad finished the house including putting white siding on it. There was no indoor plumbing so he built an outhouse and since there were so many of us, he made it a two-seater.

The oldest child, my sister Mary Jane, had enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and so we all went with her to the train depot on Omaha Street and bid her fair well as she boarded a train for boot camp at San Antonio, Texas. One of the first things my mother did after we moved into our new house was place a Gold Star military family flag in the front window.

My dad brought home a Christmas tree and since we had no electricity yet, the whole family decorated the tree with tiny candles.

It was our first Christmas away from our home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. On Main Street there was Montgomery Wards, JC Penney’s, and Sears department stores and every window of all the stores was decorated for Christmas and we had never seen anything like it.

I don’t remember what I got for Christmas that year of if any of us got any presents at all. Four of my sisters and my only brother have all passed away since then. Although we didn’t have much, at least we were all together as a family that Christmas.

Thinking back on it I wish we had never left the reservation. Maybe we gained a little something by moving, but I believe we lost so much more.

Tim Giago can be reached at najournalist1@gmail.com

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