A Pine Ridge Christmas
A Pine Ridge Christmas
KYLE, S.D. 'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the Pine
Ridge Reservation ...
.. Yellow school buses made a snowy, icy trip to Piya Wiconi, the administrative offices of Oglala Lakota College, near Kyle. Their mission: bring children enroll
ed in Head Start to Piya Wiconi to meet the man of the season, Santa Claus.
Santa had a huge sack of wrapped gifts. As the children entered the round
conference room, their eyes immediately focused and fixed on Santa. They
filed up to him one by one. Greetings were given and received.
Members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe  of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., were the
financial backers of Santa's generosity through its 10-year-old Angel Tree
program, a yearly outreach program to give Christmas presents to Pine Ridge
residents. It is administered by the Saginaw Chippewa's Andahwod Continuing
Care Community & Aging Services department.
Louanne Bruner, a Chippewa who works for the Andahwod department,
coordinates the gift-giving. She said that while Angel Tree's first eight
years were successful, the organization and delivery of gifts lacked
strength. For the past two years, the program has dealt strictly with the
Head Start program, she said.
"The organization that we have encountered from the staff of Head Start has
been really great," Bruner said.
Needs and wants sheets are sent to children with instructions to list three
things that they need and two things that they want, Bruner said. That
happens in about October when the Chippewa tribal council reviews the
program and gives authority to continue it.
"Tribal families look forward to this every year," Bruner said.
This year Chippewa families raised more than $4,000 for the Angel Tree
Program, according to Bruner. She said she is proud that nearly 500 Pine
Ridge children got gifts this year and that every child received every item
listed on the needs and wants list. This was 100 more children who were in
the gift program last year.
The most popular items asked for were clothes, basketball goals, bikes, toy
cars, Dora the Explorer dolls, skates and sleds. Four tribal employees and
five volunteers transported the toys from Michigan.
Bruner said that some of their tribal families go the extra mile and send
an envelope to their child's family, realizing that other children and
other needs need to be met.
To her, the best part of the program is to see how much the children look
forward to seeing Santa, Bruner said. The 2- and 3-year-olds seem to draw a
line on how close to get to him, she said, but the 4- and 5-year-olds hug
and squeeze Santa.
One happy child was Destiny High Hawk as she rode her new bicycle around
the Piya Wiconi conference room. Asked what she was going to do with her
gift, she said with a grin, "Take it home and ride in the