Tim Giago: Reaching another milestone after 37 years of writing

Tim Giago. Photo by Talli Nauman

There’s a long, long trail a-winding
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Native Sun News

When a ship is about to leave port the boatswain’s mate and the deck crew hoist the anchor and this is where the phrase “anchors aweigh,” originates. The anchor is aweigh when it is pulled from the bottom of the harbor and the captain duly notes in his log book that it is “aweigh” and the ship is leaving port.

As a boy I always thought it was “anchors away” and in a way I suppose it is because when the anchor is hoisted the ship is away. As a ship leaves port those on the dock say, “bon voyage, a French phrase translated to mean “safe journey.”

I have been writing a weekly column, or “blog” as it is now called, since 1978 or 37 years. And aside from that I have been publishing a weekly newspaper since 1981, 34 years. At least twice I have tried to walk away from it but I have always been dragged back into the fray for a variety of reasons. The last time I decided to leave, the noted Lakota artist Del Iron Cloud painted a portrait of me on a horse riding into the sunset and I have since apologized to Del for turning that horse around.

I have stood by the graves of Rupert and Jeanette Costo and shed a tear for the greatness they deserved but were never acclaimed. Rupert, the man from Cahuilla, strove to bring the true history of Native Americans to the public eye with his Indian Historical Society and Indian Historian Press. The monthly newspaper Rupert and Jeanette published, Wassaja, was a classic innovation in its time. The paper was called Wassaja, pronounced Wa-sah-ha, after the great Fort McDowell Apache journalist, Carlos Montezuma; Wassaja was his Indian name. He is buried at the Fort McDowell Apache Reservation in Arizona and I made it a point to visit his gravesite also. In a small way I tried my best to emulate their example.

A few weeks ago I was visiting with one of my dear friends, an attorney named Bob Moore, in Rapid City to discuss some legal matters, and Moore, in his blunt and honest manner said, “Tim, you are now 80-years-old and you have lived five years past your allotted time.” It hit me between the eyes because as most of you know we never really look at ourselves as having aged. We know that the face we see in the mirror is not the face of the person we saw in that mirror 40 years ago, but it never seems to dawn on us that life’s journey has just about reached its course. Like that ship leaving port we found the harbor to be a safe haven, most of the time, and now we are adrift to we know not where.

My journey has taken me from the Model A Ford to automobiles that can drive themselves; from the bi-plane, single engine planes that landed occasionally on my home Indian reservation in South Dakota while the coyote hunters aboard the plane got out to stretch to the monstrous jet airliners that can carry 500 people. My grandmother Sophie was working at an Indian mission boarding school on December 29, 1890, just a few miles from a place called Wounded Knee, at the exact time the Hotchkiss guns were mowing down innocent men, women and children. I also have often visited the mass gravesite where those innocents were unceremoniously dumped into an open pit. Those nearly 125 years that have elapsed since that inglorious day in American history are just a blip on the scale of time.

I firmly believe that knowledge is power and for all of my years as a newspaper publisher and journalist I have tried my very best to bring knowledge to the American Indian people in hopes they would use it to continue the 500 year fight for their very survival.

I leave this world of blogs and columns to devote my final days to completing the book I have been working on all of my life. I leave having made a few enemies, but deeply proud of the many more friends I have made.

I have had the privilege of meeting many great people from senators to presidents, from editors to publishers of great newspapers, and I am most honored to have met so many distinguished Native Americans cut in the mold of a Wilma Mankiller, Gerald One Feather and Vine Deloria.

In 1990 I interviewed a 100-year-old gentleman named Jim Holy Eagle. I asked him, “What is the best thing about being 100?” He replied in a flash, “You don’t care what anybody says about you!”

And I guess the same can be said of a writer who has turned 80. Anchors aweigh!

Tim Giago was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and has been inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame, the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame and into the Native American Journalists Hall of Fame. His book, Lakota Manifesto, should be on the book shelves next year

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