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Gifts of Love and Gratitude: Belle Highwalking

222WHM B&W portfolio Belle Highwalking

Pictured here in her late seventies, Belle Highwalking lived most of her life on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. She died October 30, 1971. Courtesy Jerry Mader, Photographer.

A custom among many tribes, the giveaway—and the love and gratitude it represents—strengthens social bonds through reciprocal acts of generosity. Similarly, the tribal tradition of adoption to replace lost family members helps heal broken hearts and builds family ties. These culturally prescribed acts of generosity and love were central to the life of Belle Highwalking, a Northern Cheyenne woman.

Belle’s mother died giving birth to her in 1892. The Cheyennes pitied the motherless child and considered Belle poor, for a mother provided material and emotional sustenance. Belle’s grandmother took the infant to nursing mothers to be fed until Belle was able to drink milk from a can.

As a young girl, Belle traveled on horseback with her grandmother to visit relatives on the Crow Reservation, where she recalled first experiencing a giveaway: “They gave us many fine gifts. . . .  They sang songs for the different Cheyennes and gave out the gifts—shawls, quilts and dress goods. Some received horses. . . . When I arrived home, an old man, Braided Locks, gave me a beautiful shawl. He said, ‘My granddaughter helped me drive the horses very well and I will give her a shawl that I received as a gift.’”

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