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A Finnish Native American


The great Sioux leader Sitting Bull is a legendary figure in American history remembered for his powerful leadership and his fateful battle with Custer. While Sitting Bull's name is etched into the American memory, his legacy reaches far beyond the Great Plains, even into the snowy regions of Finland where one man was so awed by the Sitting Bull legend that he dreamed of one day visiting Sioux leader's grave. On this date in 1962, the Bismarck Tribune reported that Sitting Bull's remaining blood relatives gathered to remember their ancestor at his resting place in Fort Yates. And they were accompanied by a special guest of honor: Klas Gustafsson.

A native of Borga, Finland, Gustafsson traveled thousands of miles to honor Sitting Bull with a large wreath symbolizing friendship between the people of Finland and the Sioux. At the ceremony, Gustafsson delivered a stirring speech in which he expressed his admiration for Sitting Bull and explained the significance of his gift. The wreath was adorned with seven sunflowers representing the seven Sioux tribes and an eighth flower representing the people of Finland. The colors blue and white were interwoven to represent the Finnish flag. Gustafsson's hopes for unity were fulfilled when he was inducted into the Sioux tribe and given the name "Eagle Eye."

Though not a native-born Sioux, Gustafsson was no stranger to Native American culture. In Finland, he enjoyed studying Indian lore and was more likely to be found building wigwams than practicing his own native traditions. His enthusiasm for Native American culture was so great that he even arranged and presented his own traditional Native American music. In fact, it was Gustafsson's music that earned him a trip to see Sitting Bull's grave. When a U.S. State official heard the Finn's music, he was so impressed by its authenticity that he invited Gustafsson to study Native American life and culture in the States.

Gustafsson's fixation with Sioux culture may seem odd, but the study and practice of Native American traditions is actually a popular activity in Europe, especially Germany. European interest in Native American culture was ignited when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show toured the continent in 1896 and captured the European imagination with tales of cowboys, Indians, and the rugged frontier. To this day, Native American enthusiasts, known as hobbyists, can be found building teepees, tanning hides, sewing beadwork, and speaking Native American languages. Recently, Europeans have had the chance to view an authentic piece of Native American history in the "Sitting Bull and His World" exhibit that is touring Europe. And forty-seven years after Gustafsson's journey to the United States, Sitting Bull has finally come to Finland where his artifacts are on display at the Vaprikki Museum in Tampere.

Dakota Datebook written by Carol Wilson



Bismarck Tribune, August 3, 1962.