Tim Giago: Growing up in Kyle, Pine Ridge Reservation

While researching on the Internet today I ran across the announcement that a 75-year-old man from Kyle, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, had passed away. His name was Sidney Hunter.

I remember Sid as a young boy swimming and playing at Kyle Dam. You see, Kyle was my hometown and it was a place where everybody felt safe. It was a place where all of the kids could go to Kyle Dam and spend the entire day and our folks wouldn’t worry one bit.

Sid was two years older than me and was already a veteran of the Holy Rosary Indian Mission Boarding School. After I started school there I remember him as a really tough kid that nobody wanted to mess with. He was good on a horse and in the cowboy language of today he would be called a “real hand.”

I had a lot of friends at Kyle. There was my immediate family as playmates, my brother Tony and my sisters Mary Jane, Sophie, Ethel, Lillian and the baby Shirley. Mary Jane would join the WACS in 1941 and report to San Antonio, Texas for basic training.

Billy and Johnny Bear lived down the hill from me and “Dutch” Apple and Albert Janis, plus the Garnette boys, "Heavy" and "Frosty," and their sister Elizabeth, always stopped to visit and stay awhile when they were in town. We spent most of that summer fishing and swimming in Kyle Dam. At other times my dad would take us out to Three-Mile-Creek to visit his sister, my Aunt Lucy Vocu, and we would ride horses with my cousins Leo, Bobby, Melvin, Donna Mae, and Rosie. Leo would join the Navy as World War II started and Bobby and Melvin, we called Melvin “Buzzy,” would join the Marines. The Lakota people are very patriotic.

My father stood up as the godfather to Shirley Apple Murphy and she became my Lakota sister. Her little sister Cecelia would be the first woman ever elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

There was an elderly priest named Father Sialm who was from the German-speaking area of Switzerland who had come to the reservation to save souls. He had a console radio and would play it very loudly with his front door wide open. We children would get a special kick out of him as he listened to the ranting of Adolph Hitler because he would shout back at Hitler in German at the top of his lungs. Of course we didn’t know what Der Fuhrer was saying and we didn’t know there was a war raging in Europe. This was before Pearl Harbor.

It’s funny how the death of a friend can bring back long forgotten memories. The Pine Ridge Reservation was in the news this week because some of the tribal members had asked Budweiser Beer to stop selling their product at the liquor outlets in the community of White Clay, Nebraska, a town that is just across the border from Pine Ridge. Many years ago there was a drive on to legalize the sale of alcohol on the reservation. I remember one of the alcohol counselors named Melvin “Dickie” Brewer speaking out in favor of legalizing it.

He felt that anyone that wanted booze could get it from the bootleggers or just drive across the border to Nebraska. He thought that if it were legal the Tribe would have some control over it. And his alcoholism program would be able to raise money on liquor taxes to help alleviate the problem. Dickie used to say, “When I was drinking nobody ever put a gun to my head and told me to drink that booze or they’d shoot me.”

Another drug and alcohol counselor, Glen Three Stars, told me that when men and women from Pine Ridge went to the border towns to get alcohol they tried to drink it up before they got back to the reservation and that made the highways pretty dangerous. He called it “gulping and binging.”

Of course, none of this has anything to do with Sidney Hunter or my family, but there are a lot of mixed feelings on the reservation about legalizing the sale of alcohol and since it in the news today, I thought it was important to get a couple points of view on the subject.

I was lucky to have lived in Kyle. In the summer of 1941 the annual Kyle Wacipi (dance or pow wow) was held across the street from my house. It was held next to the Kyle Day School, the school where I attended kindergarten before I left home for the boarding school. One elder told me many years later that this was the last pow wow before so many of the young men and women joined the armed forces and went off to fight in World War II. Many of them never came home to Kyle.

Many of the people in mentioned in this column have since departed this world. My sisters Mary Jane, Sophie and Shirley, and my brother Tony have all passed on. And “Buzzy” is the only child of my Aunt Lucy still alive.

Billy Bear and Dutchy Apple have made that trip to the Spirit World. Perhaps they’ll meet up with their old classmate Sydney Hunter as he rides that horse across the morning sky.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991 and founder of The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers. He founded and was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

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