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Delvin Cree, Dunseith, N.D., Column: Bare Bulbs, Wood Stove, Warm Hearts

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Times were tough for many Indian families back in the 1960s, especially during the holiday season. Back then, everything was a challenge.

I remembered being wrapped with blankets and extra layers of clothing in our old trailer home. My mom made sure us kids were warm, even though if it meant separating clothes bundles that we acquired from a local Catholic church. She would take these clothes bundles, spread them out and cover us while we lay in bed. This helped keep us warm during those long cold wintery nights.

We didn't have electricity, so at times a wick would be made out of cloth and grease. The lighting of this Indian candle seemed to add warmth to the room we were sleeping in.

During these times, my father would be outdoors gathering wood for the night. He went hunting during the day for rabbits, grouse or anything that would make a good soup. With this soup, my parents would make some homemade Indian bread on an old wood stove. Those homemade meals were the best.

We didn't stay long in that old trailer. Eventually, we moved to a small house on a nearby hill; the building was an old log home with its walls covered with mud.

When the wood stove would burn in this old house, it would keep my feet warm while I walked on the dirt floor.

The location where we lived was off the main highway north of Dunseith. At times, the tribal snow plow wouldn't come for days. Our car would get stuck in the deep snow banks, and my parents would end up shoveling their way out. A makeshift road always was needed to keep traffic flowing to our little house on the hill.

On cold mornings, my father would raise the car up so he could make a fire to put underneath the vehicle. In doing this, he would thaw the engine out so the oil and coolant would circulate and the car would start. This was done almost daily because of the many cold nights we endured throughout the winter months.

More than 40 years have passed, and these old memories always come to light during the holiday season.

My grandparents and other family members lived in the area of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota for many years. In fact, my grandparents, Francis and Rose Cree, provided many ceremonies and traditional gatherings in the past few decades here. A building was built so they could host a number of community events.

"The Round Hall" is the name of the building, and it's where many people took part in healing ceremonies, sweats, ceremonial dances and traditional gatherings throughout the year. Since the passing of my elders, these practices have stopped. Today, the building where so many spiritual activities took sits idle.

Also today, many of our people still live without power, water or plumbing. Some things have never changed for some our people.

One other holiday moment touches my heart very deeply. But before I get to that, I want to say there was a time when many of us were growing up that we learned real lessons about the Christmas and New Year holidays.

I remember family members going around house to house, shaking hands and welcoming everyone to the upcoming new year. Food was always shared and people's hearts were filled with happiness. Those kinds of days, we don't see much of any more; I guess times have changed over the years, and we have changed our way of living.

In the trailer house where I lived in during my toddler years, we didn't have Christmas lights. I think my father felt bad about that, and he rigged up a couple of household light bulbs -- strung them on a string of wire, and so created our own Christmas lights. We kept those lights lit all the way through New Year's Day.

Though we didn't have much in the way of Christmas gifts back then, those darn lights sure made us kids happy. We didn't need gifts because we had seen our parents create them every day of the year.

Things like those rigged-up Christmas lights, I'll never forget. Those kinds of things I'll cherish for a lifetime.

Cree is a columnist and writer for The Tribal Independent, an alternative online news source for the Turtle Mountain Band of Indians in North Dakota.

Delvin Cree, 52 years old is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. He currently lives in New Town N. D. His hometown is Dunseith N.D. He has contributed The Native American Press/Ojibwe News in Minnesota, The Turtle Mountain Times and other media organizations for the past 20 years. He shares commentary and enjoys sharing his point of view on Native issues. This column originally appeared in the Grand Forks Herald on December 25, 2011.