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Native Americans and Community Celebrations
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Gold Discovery Days
All Images Courtesy: 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer
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When the Native Americans from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations in South Dakota inducted U.S. President Calvin Coolidge into their tribe, they honored him by giving him the name 'Chief Leading Eagle' - 'Wamble-To-Ka-Ha' in Lakota. The ceremony was a part of a tradition of bestowing honor and signaling respect.

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Beginning in the early 1900’s, Native American people living on reservations close to towns in the upper Midwest took part in the various community celebrations.

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In most communities, participating Native Americans recreated original robes and honorary headdresses to match images and descriptions of warriors and those involved in ceremonies during the 1700s and 1800s.

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One of the interesting and educational aspects of the gathering of Native Americans during those years was the opportunity for non-native people to intermingle with American Indians, including their camp-life, which was always a popular feature.

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Photographs taken in the 1920’s show huge gatherings of automobiles circling the rodeo grounds during the 'Gold Discovery Days' event in Custer, South Dakota. The open space provided plenty of room for the hundreds of Native American spectators and participants attending the rodeos and parades that were an important part of that celebration.

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Native and non-Native alike joined in exchanges of displays including those talented people involved in native dancing and music. This was an important part of the cultural exchange, which was such an important part of these annual celebrations.

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Scenes on the streets of Custer and dozens of other towns in the Midwest a hundred years ago featured history re-enacted for city folk and tourists who had few other opportunities to experience Native American culture. These cultural exchanges have all but disappeared in most local communities, although some still maintain relationships with local Native American tribes who participate in these annual celebrations.

There are still opportunities however to witness authentic displays and contemporary performances by musical groups like Brulé, which performs during the summer months in the Black Hills town of Hill City.

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These performances continue to preserve the important exchange of historical traditions that help build and maintain positive relations between neighboring populations of Natives and Non-Natives.

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