Guest Opinion. Inflation and the economy have recently been in the news and discussed on social media. As someone who is part of a big family, I am only too aware, like so many of you, of the tensions between financial security and meeting the great needs of others. These were especially acute during the holiday season, and with the severe storms and the high costs of heating and food in the face of a long winter. But I am an optimist, and the actions of others have shown me that we have every reason to be hopeful for better times.
This is also a time when I am reminded of values that are particularly dear to me—the values of generosity and industriousness. For me, those values go hand-in-hand. I am able to be generous because I work hard, and I am always busy. I am thankful that education, both education in my community as a Native woman and through formal college experiences, gave me more tools to make my values a reality.
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One of my greatest joys is to give gifts. I am so grateful to be in a position where I have the motivation and resources to give to others. During the holiday season and at the end of the calendar year, I like everyone else, felt bombarded with gifting opportunities. I always feel like I should do more. It makes me think about the purpose of giving and how I learned about the value of sharing from my lived experiences as an Indigenous woman.
I grew up in a household where giving was the norm—not necessarily material gifts, although we certainly got birthday and Christmas presents and our parents would often give us something special on payday, but rather the gifts of time and attention, shared food, and financial resources. No one who came to visit us left hungry. If people needed help—gas or grocery money or someone to help them with their children or with an event like a birthday party, an honoring, or a funeral—we were there. My dad’s mom generously gave of her time and resources to ensure that we were recognized for our achievements and, in keeping with modern traditions, we received our tribal names through a public ceremony that she and my grandfather hosted.
Not surprisingly, my grandmother gave my mother the name Tawacin Waste Win, which translates as a woman who acts with good intentions and who is a generous woman. One time, I gave my mother a whole set of new kitchen items and soon after she gave them to my brother. Another time, I wrapped my hunka parents (adopted through Native tradition) with star quilts and they literally took them off their backs and gave them away.
I learned through these actions that time, resources, and material goods were all to be shared with others. And I learned, over time, that as I put my education to good use, more financial resources make it possible for me to give more generously. I use my own education, which transformed my life, to help transform the lives of others.
Giving small gifts like beaded pins or earrings or a favorite book are a way for me to recognize and appreciate the contributions of others. The same is true of making sure that new babies have a quilt so they can be wrapped in warmth and welcomed to the human world or giving a quilt or eagle feather in honor of achievements to show that others also see the results of one’s resilience and commitment. It isn’t the size of the gift; it is the act of giving that makes the difference.
When giving I also think of the students we serve. As our students finish their fall semesters, they are given the small gift of time–time to spend with friends and family, take a breath, and clear their minds for what comes next in their educations.
The “giving season” may be over but because of my Native values and my work at the American Indian College Fund, I know that giving is not just relegated to one season—and it is about more than a season. Giving is about creating connections, building community, and generating hope all year long. At the American Indian College Fund, we are reminded that the scholarships and support we give students and tribal colleges and universities are gifts that come from the generous hearts of others, who also see that giving matters. And our students and institutions, who are the recipients of that generosity, feel seen and acknowledged that their pursuits are valued and matter.
On behalf of our students, tribal colleges and universities, I would like to thank you for your support throughout the past year and in the coming year ahead, especially now, when the act of giving is as important as the gift itself.
Cheryl Crazy Bull (Sicangu Lakota) has led the American Indian College Fund since 2012.
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