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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 7, 2002 - Issue 69


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Hooked on Fishing

by Kevin Woster Argus Leader
Fishing SceneHere's what I liked best about the fishing tournament sponsored Saturday by St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain.

They gave a prize for trying hard.

It went to a little girl named Libby Renbarger, who went to bed the night before and slept with her clothes on, including her shoes, to be ready to fish bright and early in the morning.

I was one of the judges. I can't remember if she caught a fish. I don't think it mattered.

A runner-up in the "effort" category was a little boy who rode in to the fishing registration area at the American Creek Marina on his bike, still wearing his pajamas.

He didn't take time to change for fear he'd miss the fishing, and the skipping stones, and fiddling around in the water.

He did all of that. I watched him. But I can't remember if he caught anything, either. I don't think it mattered.

What mattered Saturday, on a sunny, muggy, almost-calm day along the shores of Lake Francis Case, wasn't bulging baskets of walleyes draped over finely calibrated scales at weigh-in stations. There weren't any of those.

It wasn't big-money prizes, $25,000 fishing boats and grueling, testosterone-filled battles over bragging rights and point standings and inflated egos.

There wasn't any of that, either.

What mattered was that a bunch of people, mostly kids, got together to cast their individual hopes into the universal promise of the river.

What mattered was they touched the water and believed for at least a few hours in an assortment of very real possibilities.

What mattered was they had fun - pure, uncomplicated fun.

Oh, there were prizes. Rods and reels and tackle and shirts. And there was a category for walleyes, of course, but also a non-walleye category where carp counted as much as catfish or white bass or northern pike.

Each was valued equally for its thrashing, joyful weight at the end of the line.

And effort counted as much as expertise and equipment, maybe more.

The tournament was part of a fund-raising day for St. Joseph's, a 75-year-old landmark along the Missouri north of Chamberlain. It is operated by Priests of the Sacred Heart to serve Native American children from reservations across the region.

My nephew, Scott, works as a counselor there and believes in the mission of St. Joe's as completely as he believes in the children it serves.

One of those kids is Paul Pulliam, an 11-year-old Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge with a confident smile and facile touch with a spincast reel.

Most of Paul's fishing has been at White Clay Dam out on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he catches northern pike and largemouth bass and bluegills and suckers.

He likes the pike best, " 'cause they're big."

Saturday morning was his first try at Missouri River fishing. He was pitching a worm into the shallows of American Creek. And it didn't take long for him to tie into a nice walleye.

He beached the fish and carted it up to the weigh station, where he learned, to his initial dismay, that all fish caught in the tournament had to be released.

When he returned to the water with the fish, however, he was resolute in his mission.

"Come on, get back you guys," he said to the crowd of buddies. "I got to let it go now."

Before he did, however, he held it up just briefly for a picture, flashing a smile as innocent as it was joyful - and reminding all of us what fishing is supposed to be.

St. Joseph's Indian School
St. Joseph's Indian School (Chamberlain, South Dakota) has been serving as a "home away from home" for Lakota (Sioux) children since 1927. The school is a privately-funded and accredited residential facility that gives needy children a safe and productive place to live and learn. We have over 200 students in our "Tiyospaye" or "extended family", and unfortunately, just as many on our school's waiting list.

Chamberlain, SD Map
Maps by Travel

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