Tag Archives: Indian Bureau

Fourth of July

Sioux Indians Hitting a Dime at 100 Yards, July 4, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

The Indian Bureau was never culturally sensitive, especially when it came to Native American celebrations. It actively discouraged or forbade ceremonial dances, feasts, and other gatherings, fearing that they might unite tribes or keep them from assimilating into white culture. Most gatherings required written permission. One explanation for the Indian Bureau allowing celebrations at all was offered in Sunday Magazine (July 2, 1911): “Shut off on reservations and compelled to do without any extraneous amusements, the Indian grows morose and is much more inclined to give trouble than when occasionally permitted to enjoy himself.”

The Bureau didn’t pay as much attention to Fourth of July celebrations, and Native Americans soon discovered that they could get together on that day without written permission. They began to use the Fourth of July as an excuse to gather and perform the dances and ceremonies they enjoyed. 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.

Fourth of July Celebration, 1891, South Dakota, courtesy Library of Congress

 

Nez Perce Fourth of July Parade, Spaulding, Idaho, 1902, courtesy Library of Congress

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New Reasons for Insanity

Blackfoot Family

Blackfoot Family

Many (white) observers over the years believed that insanity was rare among Native Americans. Their conclusion was born out during the Indian Bureau survey that tried to assess the need for a special asylum for insane Indians; among the thousands and thousands of Indians living on reservations, fewer than a hundred could be identified with mental problems. Continue reading

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Asylum’s Biggest Booster

Oscar S. Gifford

Oscar S. Gifford

Oscar S. Gifford—Canton, South Dakota’s first mayor–was also a lawyer, merchant, surveyor, and sometimes justice of the peace. He was the kind of hustle and bustle “booster” that the city applauded. Gifford had been born in Watertown, New York in 1842, but moved to South Dakota’s Lincoln County in 1871.

Gifford was well-respected by the citizens of Canton. He had served as a private during the Civil War, studied law, taught school, and energetically looked after South Dakota’s interests as first a territorial delegate and later, the state’s first representative to Congress. In 1896 he had been nominated as the Republican candidate for governor.

When it came time for the Indian Bureau to appoint a superintendent to the Canton Asylum, Gifford seemed the obvious choice—never mind that he had no medical background. Whether it was a reward for backing Senator Pettigrew or whether no one who was actually qualified wanted the job, Gifford got it.

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