Posted by Little Wound School on Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Home of the Mustangs: The Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Tim Giago: A Christmas play to remember

Pejuta Haka is a community in the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Translated the name means Medicine Root. Like nearly every river, mountain or lake in South Dakota given names by the Lakota, the community was renamed after a South Dakota State Senator named Kyle many years ago.

Great Lakota leaders like Little Wound and Bull Bear, although hardly mentioned in the history books, rose up to lead Pejuta Haka on a path to excellence. The kindergarten school I attended in the 1930s was named after Chief Little Wound.

It was during my kindergarten year that the teachers at Little Wound decided to stage a Christmas play. The theme they chose was one based on the birth of Jesus Christ. The stage was set with a couple of sheep created by the kids, a manger containing a doll dressed as a baby, surrounded by shepherds and three wise men.

All that was needed to complete the scene was a camel. The kids and the teachers constructed a camel that would require one student to be the head and another to be the rear. The brothers Johnny and Billy Bear were chosen to man the camel. As the eldest Billy took the head and Johnny the rear.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

I had learned to read because my mother had a small shop that sold used clothing and the shop was set up in the Little Wound School library. As a result when I wasn’t in class I was in the library with my mother and I spent most of my time going through the children’s books. It was in this way that I taught myself to read. And as a result I was chosen to read from a clipboard the events happening on the stage to the audience.

As the solemn scene unfolded at the manger the camel was supposed to walk on to the stage from the wings and join the shepherds, wise men and sheep surrounding the cradle. Everything went like clockwork and the camel pranced on to the stage and approached the manger.

Suddenly the camel stopped and I stopped reading the script wondering what in the heck was going on. The camel jumped and jerked and suddenly fell to the floor. The covering came apart and Johnny Bear came tumbling out. It finally dawned on me and the audience that Billy Bear had cut some mean cheese and Johnny bore the brunt of it. Gasping and retching Johnny stumbled across the stage and nearly fell into the manger.

The audience, made up of the local Lakota people from Pejuta Haka, could not contain themselves. They roared and laughed until they had tears in their eyes. Even the shepherds praying at the manger fell on the floor with laughter.

Later in life Billy, Johnny and I went on from Kyle to the Holy Rosary Indian Mission Boarding School at Pine Ridge and we remained lifelong friends. We often brought up that hilarious Christmas play we performed in at Kyle. And no matter how often we repeated the story we still got a laugh out of it. Both brothers are now deceased.

That was the first and last Christmas play I was ever in, but it is one I will never forget.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at

Content copyright © Tim Giago

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