By Vi Waln
Many of us living on today’s reservations grew up in homes that practiced some form of Christianity. This is largely due to our ancestors being forced to adapt to the Christian way of worship after being confined to the homelands we now live on. The boarding school experience also conditioned many of our grandparents and parents to worship as Catholic or Episcopal.
On Rosebud, there are still many faithful attendees of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. St. Charles Church in St. Francis always had an elaborate Christmas display. Christmas Mass is a time to greet relatives and other people by shaking hands and wishing one another well.
With the ongoing renaissance of Lakota ceremony, many of our people have stopped following Christianity. Regular attendance at our local churches has dropped dramatically. For instance, St. Francis Mission once had an entire community of priests, brothers and nuns who helped spread Catholic teachings to the Lakota people. Many of the priests lived in the outlying communities on the Rosebud. They served the people in the community by providing a regular weekly mass, as well as other religious activities.
Today, there are just few Catholic and Episcopal church leaders living on the Rosebud Reservation. Every week they spread themselves thin conducting mass in several of the 20 communities on the Rosebud. They no longer assist our people with certain events as there is just not enough of them to go around anymore.
Even though our people have embraced Lakota ceremony and may no longer attend Christian mass, many still observe Christmas by giving gifts and hosting holiday dinners for their families. However, some of our people view others as being colonized because of this practice. We are all entitled to our own belief system. Some Lakota people view the sharing of food and gifts during the Christmas season as simply another way for us to demonstrate our generous nature. Some Lakota do not observe Christmas at all.
Many Lakota people also observe the change of seasons by offering special prayers during both the solstice and equinox times. Today many Lakota people are observing the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. Some of our people will travel to sacred sites in the He Sapa to offer prayers this week. Some will go pray at Inikaga or Lowanpi. Others will be attending Christmas Mass this weekend to offer their prayers there.
Many of us believe it’s okay to keep what practices are good and shed the ones that no longer work for us. Life is forever evolving. Even though some behavior may appear to be colonized, what really matters are the daily prayers we offer. As Lakota, many people in the world look to us to see how to behave. We have to show our children to be accepting of each other. This means we have to avoid judging our fellow tribal citizens on the choices they make regarding family customs during holiday seasons.
The experiences our ancestors lived through greatly influenced our contemporary worldview. I often wonder what our lives would be like if all our ceremonies had disappeared. I appreciate my Lakota ancestors who risked their lives when they resisted total colonization by moving our ceremonial ways underground. They are the reason some of us still pray to Tunkasila on a daily basis.
We can make Christmas a better time for our children by not judging one another’s holiday practices, as well as living the virtue of generosity. This is a time to heal ourselves from lateral oppression. If you are fortunate to share with other families outside of your own, please do so. Our ancestors included everyone when it was time to celebrate.
We are here today because our ancestors always put prayer first. It’s up to every one of us to help our children understand the importance of prayer. Behave in such a way so your family knows it that it doesn’t matter if you pray in a church or in the Inikaga; what matters is that we are carrying on the prayerful ways of our ancestors. It’s called being a good relative.
I wish all of you healthy and happy holiday season.