The Indian Bureau’s policy of assimilation always supported ways of changing or eliminating Indian customs. They forced children to go to boarding schools to learn white ways, made Indians on reservations wear “citizen” (white-style) clothing, and forbade Indians to enjoy traditional dances and worship. The push was always toward adopting white culture. Indian agents and reservation superintendents encouraged Indians to celebrate government-endorsed holidays. The Fourth of July was a major holiday enjoyed by westerners, and Indians eventually began to also celebrate on that day since those in authority encouraged it.
Some tribes had a practice of giving away assets during celebrations, often through a formal ceremony called a potlatch. Native Americans considered it an honor to give their possessions to others, and often gave to the poorest members of the tribe, first. Sioux Indians apparently ramped up this gift-giving practice on the Fourth of July, and the Indian Bureau began calling this “Give-Away Day.” Tribal members celebrated the Fourth with games of skill and strength, feasting, and dancing. They also incorporated their practice of honoring individuals with important gifts, with no thought of reciprocation. Gifts were substantial–horses, fancy bead work, saddles, and other valuable items. Whites seemed to be amazed by the practice, since it often left the giver without any resources.