With Christmas just around the corner, my mind goes quite naturally to gift-giving. With layoffs extant in these united states and the economy in a little bit of trouble, it might be a smiggen tight for the pocketbook this year. But that doesn’t mean that the spirit of giving doesn’t live in each of our hearts. Or that it has to take a back seat. There are other solutions. Come with me on a journey into Native America and the spirit of giving. Maybe it will give you some ideas, even if you have a full pocketbook.
In the days of old, before the white man came to this country and influenced the American Indian into other traditions, giving was a point of survival. No chief could become chief who did not give to the needy and the less well to do. Often the chief of the tribe was the poorest person in the tribe because he gave away almost all that he had. However, contrary to a more socialist point of view, this was not pure socialism, because the giving was never regulated and never mandatory. (Compare that to our income tax system.) Only the strong, the wise and the kind-hearted could be counted on to give, and it was considered one of the most aspired-to attributes.
Actually, it requires a bit of mind change to grasp the American Indian idea of giving. If a man attained a higher state or did some great deed, he was not given something by the tribe, but rather, he gave gifts to others. If a woman attained some desired state (a young girl attaining puberty for instance — or an older woman attaining praise for her handicraft) she and her relatives worked night and day to give gifts to others. An example of this might be this: Say it is your birthday, but instead of you getting gifts on your birthday, you and your relatives would work for months and months in order to have a feast, where one would give to the community in celebration of something one attained. This was considered the highest honor one might place upon a family member.
This tradition is still carried on in Native America today. When a family wishes to honor one of its own, members of the family will work for months and months (sometimes years) to produce goods, not for oneself, but to give away to others — in honor of the family member. If you ever have attended a pow-wow, you might be struck by the tremendous time spent in give-aways. It is quite an enriching experience. And if I might be allow to tell you, a very recent example of this that comes to mind is something that happened to my friend, Patricia, who several years ago had finished a particularly hard course and graduated. Instead of people bringing her gifts, she sponsored her own give-away and feast, recruiting family to help in the give-away.
The gifts in Native America weren’t wrapped. Sometimes the gifts were simply in the form of food or clothing or blankets. Sometimes, in the case of a marriage or some other big event, items such as a tepee were given away (remember Dances With Wolves and the tepee the star of the movie was given?) When one couldn’t give because one didn’t have the wherewithal to do so, one sometimes still gave what one had by simply giving things that one already had. That way such articles were kept afloat in the society. Sometimes one gave the very best thing that he treasured most, especially so if there were a sickness in the family and one wanted to ensure their beloved one’s recovery. Sometimes the gift came in the form of service to one’s people. Certain societies had stringent rules about bundles or other sacred items and most people didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of these items (such as becoming a bundle holder.) In this case the gift would be in the form of the entire family taking on the responsibility, in order to preserve the spiritual traditions of the people.
This picture was taken, by the way, at Patricia’s give-away — Patricia is in the middle, although the blond lady’s name is also Pat. It was considered a real gift of giving if one gave in such a way that the other person didn’t feel they had to return the favor. This happened to George Catlin in the 1830’s when a young warrior gave back to him a diary that Catlin had lost. The giving was done in such a way that Catlin was unable to give-back, since he was embarking upon a ship. There is yet another example of giving by the American Indian comes to us from the Iroquois. The Iroquois (which was composed of originally 5 tribes and eventually 6) had a system of government that was truly Of the people, For the people, and By the people. Men served and were never permitted to draw any kind of pay for serving — it was simply considered their duty and their way of giving to the the tribe. Such service is still in operation today.
I’m not certain if I’ve given you any ideas, but the point is that it doesn’t have to be a material object that one is giving. (You knew I’d sneak this photo in somewhere, didn’t you?) When my kids were growing up, they used to give me coupons for Christmas — I still have them to this day — little chores they would do for me upon presentation of the coupon. Many people still give food as a gift for Christmas, some people give their time to others as a gift. I guess the point is that one can always give something of themselves to another. Perhaps it might even be said that this is the most wonderful gift of all. It might even be said that we as a people might have become too addicted to material wealth and material gift-giving. Perhaps. The truth of this I’ll leave you to debate.
I’m probably preaching to the choir here, as the people who come here and blog are some of the most kind-hearted people I have known. But I still thought you still might appreciate this little tour into the American Indian way of giving. So how about you? What is the greatest gift you have ever given? Received? And what is it that you would like for Christmas this year?
For my own part, I would like to wish this: That reasons for war would perish from this earth. I’d like to see more understanding between people take place and I’d like the peace that we wish for each other at this time of year become a reality. So come on in and let’s chat. Maybe we can give the gift of sharing our thoughts. Because I’m putting in extra time on a course of study I’m involved in, I’ll be checking in a lunch time and tonight when I finish with course — Eastern Time.