“The Christmas Coat: Memories of Sioux Childhood”

“The frigid gale blew sideways across the South Dakota prairie, and cold rain lashed the children’s bare faces. They leaned into it to stay upright on the reservation road to school.”

Thus begins a children’s book by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Having spent her childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, she has written about her Native American heritage in books for adults as well as children.

Christmas Coat

In the book, Virginia has outgrown her winter coat and hopes for one that would be long enough to come to the top of her boots and one with a warm hood. While this is a children’s book, the description of poor children, poorly clothed, trudging through a South Dakota winter is a stark picture of reality. It is a reality that is repeated outside of South Dakota and is common on the reservations in Montana and North Dakota as well.

At school, the children ask about Theast boxes. Theast is reservation slang for the big boxes of used clothing shipped by Christian congregations in “the east” to the reservation. If you want to know what happens next, you’re going to have to read the book, or have your kids read it to you. I don’t want to spoil it.

I’m not really a judge of children’s books, in part because I’m rarely around children. On the other hand, I do know something about reservation life and this is a book which provides some interesting insights into the lives of Indian people living in poverty on the reservation. While the story focuses on Christian Indians, poverty and the cold wind of winter don’t really distinguish between Christian and the traditional pagans.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of Sioux Childhood is illustrated by Ellen Beier and her illustrations add depth to the story.


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