So we weren't Re-enactors. My wife was not wearing a blanket, nor me a loincloth, thank goodness. Besides, we almost always took the buck. And the fact is almost everything on the slab of concrete outside our old town barn we won't miss. We were lightening the burden.
A real Lakota giveaway, the kind that may have been practiced right here, was no garage sale. Sometimes, I'm told, they'd even give away horses, the most precious commodity Native Siouxlanders owned. The Yanktons, like all Sioux, were nomadic, of course, moving around on the never-ending prairie following the buffalo, which means there was no Sioux Center in 1850. This town was put here by business interests, a place attractive to white people simply because the palefaces believed no one else lived here, or if they did, they were of no matter. It was homestead land. We're miles from a river. The Lakota, to whom this land belonged, wouldn't have been here either; they would have camped farther west, near the river. Still, there were moments I imagined what it might have been like.
I first read about the Giveaway on a Sunday morning, I remember, in a big book about the Yankton Sioux. Giveaways were a means by which people gained stature. Those men and women rich enough in spirit to simply give away what they valued grew in esteem because of their care for the poor. We can assume, I'm sure, that the Giveaway was practiced right here in the county somewhere long before my great-grandparents lugged the New Testament along with them into the hinterland and talked about what Jesus said to the rich young ruler--"give it all away and follow me."
By 1870, when my great-grandparents came, white folks had made Giveaways illegal, a heathen ritual from which those savages had to be saved. That Sunday morning I first read about them, we eventually marched off to church for what was, I remember, a wonderful sermon on materialism, the kind of sermon we might have seen in practice had we not commanded those redskins to give up their heathen ways.
That's what I thought about, out back, at our Moving Sale yesterday, how just for a moment I had a sense--a fleeting sense--of a Giveaway, the kind of thing that would have happened here long, long ago, maybe even on this very ground.
We didn't make bundles of money, and I never shed a tear for anything people carted away. Now my brand new Dell laptop?--that would be another story. Or my father's World War II samari, or the ancient Navajo rug my grandfather once got in New Mexico--or our bank account, our stocks and bonds, our IRAs? Had any or all of those things been out there on the driveway yesterday, to be taken for the asking, then it would been a Giveaway in the Yankton tradition.
We didn't do that. You think we're nuts?
Right about now, 150 years ago, the whole region was trying to rid itself of such barbarism.
Anyway, standing outside yesterday, a perfect April afternoon, I couldn't help think of a tall, grass prairie just as full of people, red people, coming by and looking around, all of them smiling.