One of the most important ceremonies in American Indian teachings (and one that we hold frequently at Night Eagle) is the Give-Away Ceremony. The Lakota understood the meaning of the word sacrifice, which originally meant “to make sacred.” To make any act or any gift sacred, one has to complete that action with a joyful heart and a humble attitude.
The purpose of the give-away is sharing. The lessons connected to this ceremony teach us how to release possessions and to let go the ideas of importance connected with those belongings. The more prized the possession and the greater the sense of ownership, the more powerful the lesson. The Give-Away Ceremony is never used to get rid of belongings that are no longer functional or badly in need of repair. Some gifts of the give-away may be made especially for the occasion. To give cast-off items is a disgrace to the giver and shows a lack of respect for the receiver.
In native tradition, a gift is never thought of as an obligation or used as a means of controlling the person who receives the gift. The obligatory giving concept came with the Europeans whose ideas were based in European thought, which was that if a person gave a gift, the giver expected something in return. When this manner of giving is experienced, there is no true give-away. The American Indian knows that giving is a way of releasing the people’s spirit from the attachment to the physical world. In releasing possessions we love dearly, we are able to open our lives for future abundance.
The concept of “Indian Giving” came from a misunderstanding when a white man received a give-away and the Indian who gave the gift later reclaimed it. This manner of taking back a gift is done for a reason. If any item is given to someone who has no use for it, the giver has the right to reclaim the gift and give it to another who will use it.
If a clay pot sits on a shelf and is not used, the mission of that pot has not been honored as sacred, and therefore, should be passed to someone who will allow it to complete its mission of service. When anything is made by human hands, the medicine of that maker is a part of the object created. To wantonly destroy the object would be to dishonor the medicine of the maker along with that tool’s ability to be of use. If an object is carelessly broken by a human, the spirit of that object has been killed. To make fun of, criticize, or break anything that another has created is to dishonor one’s self.
Many other lessons are learned each time we have the opportunity to share and are faced with personal feelings that arise when a decision to give something away is made. As we free ourselves from the need to give with strings attached or the regret that sometimes follows, we are able to release our spirits and allow them to soar beyond the limited understanding of our former selves.
Those people not familiar with the Night Eagle community and its understanding of the Give-Away might have difficulty understanding how a boy could work for weeks making a bow and then give it to a friend. In the past, I have seen handsome bull roarers, amazing beadwork pieces, arrows, hobblebush chokers, well-loved knives, special feathers, throwing hawks, atlatls, and even favorite caps, blankets and t-shirts exchange hands at give-aways.
Once, at the closing of camp one summer, I watched as a counselor gave another counselor, with whom he had become close friends, a blanket that his grandfather had given to him many years earlier.
Next summer, as we hold our give-aways at Night Eagle around the campfire in Hocoka, I’m sure that I will see that same spirit of giving exhibited by campers and staff alike.