In 1920, the Missionaries at the Rocky Boy Reservation were desperately trying to finish their chapel before winter so that they could hold a Christmas celebration at their new church. Unfortunately, they did not finish in time and it was far too cold to hold the celebration there. Even so, they were able to have a successful Christmas with the help of the entire community. Surprisingly, the celebration even included the incorporation of native drums and songs! The retelling of this Christmas story is as follows:
“The goal, all through autumn had been to complete the chapel and celebrate Christmas within its walls; to have the first of the Gospel story told in a building provided by Christian friends and dedicated to sacred use. The goal was in sight, and then all was altered. The heating stoves could not be installed in time, so another plan [had to] be considered. I asked for the use of the Indian Council Hall, which was readily granted. And a fine celebration we had on Christmas eve.”
“We secured a couple of men to get a large fir tree up in the mountains. A number of young Indian men whitewashed the Council Hall, cut up plenty of wood and put things in shape generally. The matron and her sister helped with the baking and lunches. Some of the half-breed girls aided with the lunches and decorated the tree. Mrs. Burroughs and I found plenty to do, not the least being to get the great number of gifts classified and ready for distribution. The storekeeper brought down a second gasoline lamp and helped with the serving of lunch. A half breed readily interpreted for me as I gave the Christmas story, and something of an account of The National Indian Association and its purposes for this people.”
“Mr. Parker, Government Agent, spoke first and told them that The National Indian Association had put up the Mission buildings, provided this celebration with its many presents, and were interested in helping the Indians in every way possible. He urged them to show the interest they ought in the Mission. The Matron, her sister and five half-breed girls sang a number of Christmas hymns very sweetly, as I played on the ‘baby organ’. I knew the Indians would like a part, so had a number of young men beat the drum and sing in Indian. Some started to smoke during the program and I noticed one or two better informed men successfully request them to desist. Everyone gave good attention and showed interest in the story of Jesus’ birth, and applauded the girls who sang.”
“And they did enjoy the lunch! One old woman shouted and shouted when lunch was announced. There were 276 present, and all had a hearty feed. The lunch consisted of chopped beef sandwiches, cake, coffee and oranges. The children all received candy. Two hundred and seventy-six received presents for themselves and took gifts home for children or old people who could not attend.”
Annual Report of the National Indian Association (1920). New York: NIA.