Indigenous Gift-giving and ‘Squirrels’ is Scriptural

As I Was Saying

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Although I was adopted and grew up apart from my biological Indigenous community, some of my attitudes and behaviors connected with my Indigenous ancestors—and, I believe, Scripture. For example, when we went camping, I felt a connection to animals such as squirrels. I loved how they gathered their nuts. I saw these nuts as gifts from nature to the squirrels.

I have also noticed, as a result of being around my people in the workplace and in the community, that there is no separation between when giving gifts is or is not appropriate. Giving gifts is a lifestyle to the Indigenous people of Canada, and I know this lifestyle overlaps with other Indigenous people around the world. This lifestyle of gift-giving is not the way I grew up. Gift-giving in my Western, non-Indigenous upbringing only was applied to birthdays and Christmas time.

Within the context of the Indigenous community I’ve observed and participated in, gift-giving takes place in five situations, though there might be more, depending on the tribe or location. These are my observations:  

  1. When attending a retreat associated with work, there is usually a gift of some kind, sometimes even spending money.
  2. When attending a day of golf at work, there are many gifts for people accomplishing different goals on the course, such as a hole-in-one.
  3. When attending a round dance or a pow-wow, there are always gifts given near the end of the celebration. Gifts such as blankets, Tupperware, and towels are given out.
  4. When a guest speaker such as an Elder speaks or attends a meeting, they receive an honorarium.
  5. When I attended a community graduation celebration, I was one of three people that day to be acknowledged for finishing a master’s degree. They blessed me with two wool Pendleton blankets, an eagle feather in a frame, a glass ornament with my new credentials, and a check for being one of the guest speakers that day.        

In the book of Corinthians, Paul says that each person should give as they have decided in their heart. James says that every perfect gift comes from above. The writer of Hebrews says that sharing what you have is a pleasing sacrifice to God. The early church in Acts was known for selling their possessions and making sure all the believers were looked after. In Proverbs it talks about how a gift brings that person before great people. And one verse I absolutely love is John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The squirrels know about gifts. Squirrels gather nuts to take care of themselves in the winter, and some experts on squirrels say that when squirrels are gathering nuts early, that winter is coming early, and it will be a harsh winter. These nuts that fall off the trees are gifts for the squirrels from the trees. Yet the way God designed creation and the way God provides for the squirrels is all sustained by his hand.

My early recollections of squirrels gathering nuts, witnessing gift-giving with my people, and seeing the writers of New Testament talk about giving gifts soothes my heart. Knowing that gift-giving has been passed down to me through watching squirrels in nature, watching my people being generous, and reading Scripture, has solidified in my heart that giving gifts must be a regular part of my life.

Giving gifts to honor someone’s accomplishments, acknowledge a birthday, help out someone in need, or just make someone’s day should come naturally—as naturally as a nut falling from a tree. God sent his one and only Son as a gift to the world. A gift of salvation. How much more of an example can you get than that?

About the Author

Parry Stelter is originally from Alexander First Nation that is part of Treaty Six Territory. He is a doctoral candidate in contextual leadership with Providence University and Seminary who offers workshops on grief, loss, and intergenerational trauma. He is a member of Hope CRC in Stony Plain, Alta. His website is wordofhopeministries.ca.

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