Saginaw Chippewa Santas deliver presents to
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota: Santa Claus traveled more than 1,200 miles and arrived at the Piya Wiconi (New Beginnings) administration building Wednesday and Thursday, handing out presents to students in the Oglala Lakota College Head Start Program.
The presents were delivered by semitrailer this year, courtesy of members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe from Mount Pleasant, Mich., who have been providing gifts to the children of Pine Ridge since the 1990s.
Three years ago, event coordinator Louanna
Bruner focused the gift-giving program on the
Head Start children. In the fall, the children
are asked to make a list of three things that
they need and a couple of things they would
like. Mount Pleasant families review the lists
and adopt one or more of the children and buy
them gifts on the list.
In past years, the Chippewa tribe brought several vans loaded with the gifts. This year, a semi was rented, loaded and made its way to western South Dakota. Nearly 20 tribal members and helpers made the trip from Michigan and stayed to help with the gift-giving.
Colleen Green, director of the Native American Program at Central Michigan University, told how students in that program go shopping for any of the children who have not been adopted by tribal members. The gifts are then wrapped for their transport to Piya Wiconi.
Green said that almost 450 children received gifts this year. The most common requests are shoes, boots, jackets, jeans and other clothes. The most unusual gift this year was a toddler-sized rocking horse with furry hair and a bright red bridle.
Photos were taken of each child receiving his or her gifts, images that will be given to the donor families. A video of the event also was made.
The most common comment?
"Oooooh, I got what I wanted," according to Michelle Yankton, Oglala Lakota College Head Start director.
"Parents are thankful for what is done because there are no jobs right now," Yankton said. "Grandparents have voiced that. They are glad for others who are fortunate enough to give, because without them, the light in their kids' eyes would not be there."