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Growing Up Siouxish

It will come as no surprise to many readers, that my family is quite unconventional - and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not only are we mixed racially, we are also cross-cultural (if you are going to do something, you might as well do it all-in!)

Our kids didn’t play cowboys and Indians; they played cowboys and colored people!

We celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, and the Christmas tree was always topped with a big red Star of David!

The children sang Christmas carols in the annual school Christmas program, and then attended services at the Synagogue of the Hills on Friday. (The long-time president of the Synagogue wrote in his memoirs that he believed it was the only congregation in the world with Native American members!)

As the kids were growing up we always lived in the Black Hills, 12 years in the country, and later in Rapid City when the kids got older. But we never actually lived on a reservation, which I perceived to be a serious lack in their cultural education. (South Dakota has nine Indian Reservations, the most in the country, though not as many enrolled members as say, Arizona or New Mexico.)

To help make up for this, we attended every pow wow in a 200-mile radius, some of which included a rodeo on the program, and they each spent quality time with their grandmother on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a week or two each summer. Their father once took them to the Crow Fair in August (in southeast Montana), where they went totally Native and camped out on the ground for the entire week-end.

They also spent a year learning dancing and regalia-making in the Wicoconi (pronounced wee-cho-ko-nee) Dance Club after school. They not only practiced dancing, but made their own regalia, and in the process learned the meaning of the various trappings and decor they attached to them.

We gave our children Yiddish names without hesitation. After all, they had classmates named Apple, Raspberry and Snowflake!

Now, you might assume that this kind of mixing and matching would inevitably lead to mass confusion, or at the very least an identity crisis to young impressionable minds. But our kids just went with the flow (after all, their parents were hippies) and thought nothing of the seeming inconsistencies. And today - I’m proud to say - they remain totally open to all cultures, philosophies and lifestyles.

They also all developed highly sophisticated senses of humor, which helps. My middle son used to get a kick out of asking me to pick him up at a friend’s house, just so he could watch the expression on his friend’s face when he introduced his pasty white, redheaded mother to that friend! The friend invariably lived in a section of town that was largely Native, so I soon caught on to what he was up to. (And thought it was funny, too.)

Another inside joke was if anybody in the family got even slightly uppity about something, he would be immediately shot down with, “well, that’s real White of you!” (That one was strictly within the family, lest an outsider might overhear, and take it the wrong way.)

Origin of the word “Siouxish”: When our three children were still quite small, our family doctor declared that since their father was Native American and I was Jewish, that made them Siouxish!

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