Smitty in full Sioux headdress

The Root of It All

Anyone who has met us at the Farmer's Market in Delta or at any of our other shows has probably heard the story already. But for those whom we've not met yet, here it is:
At smittyslittlefarm we try to make products that help other people the same way those products have helped us. No more, no less. Because we need these things. And we've found them to be helpful.
It's not a particularly lofty goal to want to feel good. But I think most of us are pretty sure that feeling good (both physically & mentally) is pretty important & often out of reach. 
As a kid it's easy to believe that you will always feel fine (because luckily, most kids do) & it's also easy to believe that the important people in your life will always be there. Sadly, as an adult I can guarantee that both of these things are unfortunately, not true. 
Smitty, my dad, was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a mechanic, a handyman, a WWII Army Vet, a husband, a father to seven & a grandfather to many. He was also an adopted Native American by the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Why? Well, that's the thing. Come in close, because it gets weird. He was one of the only white guys ever adopted as an adult by Native Americans. It was 1965. I was there & I remember it vividly. Because I ws terrified!
We went to a big pow-wow ceremony which took place in South Dakota, I believe. I don't remember the location from 1965 but it was a place that we visited often & I knew it to be in South Dakota once I was old enough to understand such things.
So 1965. I'm 4. My dad - the adult being adopted, is at this point 52 years old. That night there was lots of smoke & fire. There were half naked braves & beautiful maidens all dressed in beautiful ceremonial garb. There were ceremonial pipes, bonfires, food & dancing. It was a thing! A big thing!
Enter my dad. Why were we there you ask. We, of Northern European & Scandinavian descent - yeah...whiiiiite. Like really white.
My dad was a storyteller. And a GOOD one. He won prizes for that stuff. And the stories that he told were stories that gripped him. 
In the 1950's my dad became a Boy Scout leader. He had always been outdoorsy & he had four sons all close in age so it almost seemed inevitable for the times. He did all the outdoor things & the camps & the hunting & meetings & good works & all the things until he finally became a Boy Scout Commissioner. My brothers were all grown by then & I guess this was the natural progression. Along the way he earned the Order of the Arrow & the Silver Beaver among other awards. This was his passion in life.
He had always been very interested in all history but primarily Native American history. We took vacations to Native American reservations & museums. We went to Wounded Knee & walked some of the Trail of Tears. It's what we did. During his time in the Scouts as he taught the boys about Nature & hunting & survival skills, he had also taken on a certain persona of a Sioux chief in costume to reinforce the history & teachings. At first he was asked to give speeches to Cub Scouts & Boy Scouts & then to Scout leaders & committees & other Scout Councils. I don't remember all of the hierarchy but that's basically how it played out. 
Eventually, he was giving these "Speeches" as we called them to schools, groups, social clubs, professional clubs, just all over. If you were in the Omaha NE vicinity (& small towns all around) during the early 60's to the late 70's, you saw my dad. I will almost guarantee it. We travelled to other states, other reservations & lots of civic group events. He was everywhere! Even on television! 
His presentation was elegantly simple, but most people were really not ready for it. In full Sioux leathers - wearing his Indian Chief costume, with to-the-floor crowned feathered headdress, he gave a pretty impassioned speech detailing sometimes horrific American history events through the eyes of a Native American. In the 60's. (side note - sometimes I got to beat the big drum or rattle his aluminum "thunder" during his shows!)  Of course, Native American people have been dealing with the effects of the European invasion for hundreds of years. But for most working class Americans that were ushered through the public school systems, this was all new to them. It was a great show & I've always been proud of my dad for doing what he did. He was casting light on a subject that was not really known & that was most likely very uncomfortable for much of his audience. But they listened. And they wanted to learn more & more. We got letters & cards & gifts from so many people back then! He was teaching them what they really had not learned before. American History books at school before this time didn't address much of the Indian's plight. The perception for many people was that the natives were swept off onto reservations because they had been too "savage" & war-like. So the natives probably deserved it. Or so it appeared. 
Around the time that all of this actually started my dad had met John G. Neihardt, Poet Laureate of Nebraska. 
Niehardt had authored several stories & books about the Sioux, including "Black Elk Speaks". That book became very important to my dad causing him to reach out to Mr. Neihardt. They recognized their shared interest & while they had a few in person meetings, they seemed to generally correspond in letters & the occasional phone call. 
It was during this time that dad upped his game. He had gone to the reservation to meet with the elders to ask permission to tell their story & wear the leathers. Eventually (a year? more?) they granted his request. What would follow would be years of wrapping feathers & creating intricate beadwork. Each stitch, each feather, each bead & each phase of the project had to be accepted by the Council Elders. But first, they adopted him. 
Back to that night in 1965. There was a big ceremony. The "medicine man" (I believe) cut out my dad's tongue - no more "White man tongue which speaks lies. Now he will speak the People's truth".
This was indeed ceremonial. No tongues were cut during the making of this serious honor. But my dad wasn't allowed to speak for three days! And I was 4. I was pretty sure they HAD cut out his tongue & just like in the movies we were going to have to live among the People now. Dangit. I liked my friends at home.
Anyway. It passed. He got his tongue back. And he spent a lot of time on that reservation & others, too. As did my mother & I. There was a family of women that became mom's friends then. They were very active in their community & in keeping their traditions & they also taught Mom & me different things. Some cooking, beading, braiding, how to work leather & more. Yes, this was modern times & they didn't need to do these things, but they kept the old traditions alive. 
I said all of that to say this. My dad was an adopted Sioux. My mom was of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Between the two, if there was a wildcraft solution that they didn't know then I guarantee they knew how to find it.
I didn't think much of these things at the time, but they all came back to me years later while raising my young kids at 9,000 feet in the mountains in & around Georgetown Colorado. There were times when a grocery store just was not in the forecast. Our little town store did okay with meat & potatoes, but certain things were just not always available. Like shampoo. And lotions. And certainly not vapor rubs or first aid salves or bath salts. 
So I got on the phone with Mom & Dad. And that's when we started.



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