Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Tim Giago: Reflections on Father’s Day

Notes from Indian Country
Reflections on Father’s Day

My father, Tim, Sr., was born on January 22, 1895, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just a few years after South Dakota was admitted to the Union on November 2, 1889. My father became a citizen of the United States by an Act of Congress in 1924. He was 29 years old when he could finally vote in an American election, state or national.

With a holiday called Father’s Day here I must reflect on the different path most Native Americans had to follow as fathers.

First of all, after the Sioux, Arapahoe and Cheyenne warriors defeated George Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn, Native Americans were forced on Indian reservations. The days when they could roam freely on their own land and hunt and fish were gone. To add insult to injury the government stripped the men of their weapons. This, for all intent and purpose, emasculated all Native males. The men were the protectors and providers of their families. For generations they passed on their skills at making bows, arrows, and the methods it required to hunt the different animal species in their geographic locations to the next generation. They were the mentors to their sons.

The Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Photo: Jasperdo

In the traditional family the women taught the daughters the skills they needed to fit into their tiospaye (extended family) or Tribe. The men taught their sons. This traditional concept survived for thousands of years and was wiped out in a few short years. All of a sudden the fathers lost their ability to be the protectors and providers for their families.

They were forced into a life of dependency, the exact opposite of the lives they had lived for a thousand years. Their food came in the form of commodities supplied by the federal government. They were called rations and delivered to the people of the reservations on a monthly basis. They still had the skills to make bows and arrows and they went back to hunting the way it was before the white man, but there was one horrific exception. The one animal that was a part of the culture, the spirituality and the provider of tools, clothing and shelter, the buffalo, was nearly extinct.

In an effort to make the Indian totally dependent and unable to fend for themselves, the government set out to destroy the once mighty buffalo herds, the source of life to the Plains Indians. The edict was for the Indians to report to the reservations or starve. Many of the Native men turned to alcohol in order to drown out the impact of their losses and gain any kind of respectability, if even for a short while. They felt like the warriors of old when under the influence. Of course it was a false sense of security and the family suffered. Fathers had become the near helpless dependents.

It is said in our culture today that it was the Indian women who stood tall, tried to fill in for their men, and took charge of the family’s future. Many Native men will tell you even today that if it had not been for the strong wills of the unci’s (grandmothers) and winyan (women) the Tribe would not have survived.

But that wasn’t enough. Next came the boarding school era. Native children were placed into boarding schools across America, separated from their families. There was a total loss of identify and even of the language. The boys had no Fathers to emulate. And the girls were just as bad off.

This total assault on everything that had been a part of their lives for hundreds of years had a lasting impact upon the Native men. Overnight everything they held dear was taken from them. Their role as father and provider was erased.

Army general Richard Henry Pratt is seen here with an Indian boarding school student , circa 1880. Pratt was the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and advocated the Kill the Indian -- Save the Man approach to the education of Indian children. Photo: U.S. Military Institute, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

My father survived it, but never is his life did he ever give me a hug or say I love you and this has been the legacy for many Indian children. He was a good man and I loved him, but I feel his struggle to survive took away so much more than he could give.

If he was alive today I would wish him a Happy Father’s Day and give him a hug.

Tim Giago is the author of four books. Contact him at najournalist1@gmail.com.

Note: All content © Tim Giago

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