Thursday, December 17, 2020

A 2021 Traditional Lakota Calendar

Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpaye (Fallen Star or Star Boy), the traditional hero of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, takes his place in the heavens with his father Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (North Star). 
Exploring the Traditional Calendar
Thirteen Moons In A Year

By Dakota Wind
The traditional calendar of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (the Seven Council Fires; Great Sioux Nation) consists of thirteen moons. A month begins with Wit'é (New Moon). The Winter Count Keepers kept track of the year with counting sticks. This was Haŋwí Yawápi, the Moon Counting Tradition. 

For many Očhéthi Šakówiŋ people the year begins in spring. Natural occurring events inform them when the New Year begins. When the ice breaks on the rivers and streams. When the geese return north. When the spring rain falls. When the bison bear their calves. When the trees bud. When Tȟašíyagmuŋka (the Western Meadowlark) sings. When certain stars appear too. 

In the winter count tradition, the year was referred to as Waníyetu (a Winter). The winter, or year as it were, was named after the year had passed. A year lasted from spring to spring. There were two spring moons, four summer moons, two autumn moons, and five winter moons. Since winter was the longest season on Northern Plains, it was natural to refer to the year as winter

In the moon counting tradition, the month was generally named for the natural events that occurred during that span of time. A month begins with the new moon. It is poetic to say that a month lasts twenty-eight days, but the winter count keeper with counting sticks knows the month is usually twenty-nine days or thirty days. 

The thirteen-month calendar overlaps the twelve-month astronomical by about twenty days. To reconcile the difference when the last month overlaps with the first month, the winter count keeper referenced the names of the last month and first month interchangeably. 

Last summer, a Lakȟóta educator contacted me about the possibility of creating a traditional calendar that was as faithful to the original calendar system as could be. I removed the names of the week because the traditional calendar did not have that, but I kept the seven-day week format. I removed western and American holidays and added several Wókiksuye (Memorial) Days. Blackened circles on each page demarcate where that month is in relation to the year (i.e. five black circles = fifth month, ten black circles = tenth month). Colors on the sides of the pictograph for each month correlate with the season (Blue = Spring; Red = Summer; Yellow = Autumn; White = Winter). 

This calendar includes the winter moons from the traditional year of 2020-2021. The new year for the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ begins on March 13, 2021, and runs through April 31, 2022. 

You can download this sixteen-month calendar RIGHT HERE. Its dimensions are 11" x 17". 

Here's a "white guy friendly" version too that is just 2021. Humanities North Dakota has beautifully redesigned each month and inserted my captions to explain the pictography for each traditional month. You can download that version if you want, RIGHT HERE. Humanities North Dakota will be printing a limited number of FREE calendars. Visit their website and sign yourself up for notifications and updates, or make a donation to them. 


















Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Challenge of the Winter Moons, Winter Solstice Time of Hope & Light

Above, "Snowshoe Dance at the First Snowfall, 1835-1837," by George Catlin.
The Challenge of The Winter Moons
Winter Solstice Time of Hope & Light

By Dakota Wind

Winter lasts five moons in the traditional Očhéthi Šakówiŋ calendar. 

The snow made hunting easier. When the first snow fell, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ men put on snowshoes and danced. They sang a song of Wópila (Thanksgiving) to Creator for sending snow. Snow may fall as early as Čhaŋwápe Ǧí Wí (the Moon when the Leaves turn Brown), or September, on the northern plains, but that doesn’t make it a snow moon. Generally, Waníyetu Wí (the Winter Moon), the first moon of winter is about the month of November.

Waníčhoka Wí (the Midwinter Moon) is about the month of December. According to Haŋwíyawapi Wičhóȟ’aŋ (the Moon Counting Tradition), each moon may be known by more than one name. The Midwinter Moon might also be called Tȟahékapšuŋ Wí (the Moon when Deer shed their Antlers). The Midwinter Moon may also be called Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí (the Long Night/Nights Moon).

The natural observation of the winter solstice was over the span of four days/nights. On contemporary calendars, this might be the nights of December 19-20, 20-21, 21-22, and 22-23. Astronomy informs us that the 2020 winter solstice will be on Monday, December 21, at about 4:02 AM CST. 

During these long nights, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ gathered together in their lodges in wóčhekiye (prayer). There was no universal special prayer. The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ didn’t have formal prayer together as Christians do. Rather, an individual fostered his or her own relationship with Creator. While there might not be collective formal observance there were some things they did together.

Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí él Pahá Makȟásaŋ, or The Long Night Moon at White Earth Butte. A watercolor pictographic representation of the midwinter moon. Appearing upside-down at the top of the image is a profile view of that summit from the south looking north. 

The Winter Solstice was a special time. The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ shared many stories, among which was the story cycle of the cultural hero Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpáye (Fallen Star, or “Star Boy”). Sometime during the longest night of the year his star, in the constellation commonly known as Auriga, rises above Pahá Makȟásaŋ (White Earth Butte, or “White Butte,” the highest point in North Dakota). In his last day among the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ he hiked to the summit with his kȟolá (his lifelong best friend; him who he did everything with as a brother) where Fallen Star lay down, died, and transformed into light. He rose into the sky to take his place in the heavens with his father Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (the Star that does not move), or North Star, and from there sends rays of light and hope to his people. Fallen Star broke the trail so that the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ may return to the sky after death.

I asked Lekší Virgil Taken Alive about winter solstice observations, and he shared this incite: they prayed. “When I was a younger man I heard that this was the start of preparation for the upcoming times of ceremony,” he said. They smudged their čhaŋnúŋpa (sacred pipe), čhaŋčhéǧa (drum), and such that they held sacred. “After Čhaŋnápȟopa Wí (the Moon of Popping Trees) they went out to gather Čhaŋšáŋšaŋ (the inner bark of the Eastern Dogwood, or ‘Red Willow’),” he concluded. 

Wiótheȟika Wí, or the Moon of Difficult Times. The rib lines demarcate the concept for hunger.

The month following Waníčhoka Wí was a challenging one. They called it Wiótheȟika Wí (the Moon of Hard Times). 

Lekší Kevin Locke offered this retrospective of the Midwinter Moon, “In most accounts of pre-reservation days it seems to be a time when folks could enjoy the success of their winter preparation.” Locke reflected on the following month, Othehike Wi (the Moon of Difficulties), had good reason for being thusly named. 

Indeed, the Moon of Hard Times is represented in Plains Indian pictography as a figure with rib lines (to denote hunger) above an inverted crescent moon (the month). It can even be represented with an empty meat rack (another sign of hunger) above the sign for the moon or month.

Further, winter counts recall the most challenging winters. The High Dog Winter Count recalls the summer of 1800 as one of the most challenging years to survive. The summer heat was unbearably hot. The great gangs of bison went away, and hunting was poor. Flowers disappeared from the landscape, and the wind drank up the water. The birds refused to sing too.

A punishing winter followed, as remembered in the White Bull Winter Count.


Winter came, snow and ice were everywhere. A group of Lakȟóta decided to move winter camp from the bottomlands of one river to that of another. As they moved over the high plains, a blizzard caught them. Gradually some of them began to succumb to the cold and fell. As one person fell, another lifted and carried him or her for the rest of their journey. Kičhíč’iŋpi keúŋkiyapi, “They say that they carried each other.” 


Thiyóȟeyuŋka Wí, or the Frost in the Lodge Moon. A view of the interior of the lodge looking up through the smoke hole as a few snowflakes enter.

In a communique with Dallas Nelson, an educator and second language learner of Lakȟóta, Nelson shared what he learned from his lekší and other relatives in his community, “Aŋpétu Wí kiŋ haŋbléčheyapi iyéčheča hečhé, it appears as if the Sun were on a vision quest. For those four days the sun prepares himself. Readies himself for the coming seasons. A medicine man may offer prayer or hold ceremony during the winter solstice. He prays for that season [winter].” Nelson noted that they “cleanse each other,” he said, and they smudge their hóčhoka (the ground upon which they have ceremony) and their čhaŋnúŋpa. 

“They tell traditional stories after sundown in the winter months,” said Nelson. He shared a traditional warning too, “they say if you tell stories at the wrong time you’ll get hairy!” As for the winter solstice, he concluded to me that observations during the winter solstice was a sacred time and that prayer was highly individual, concluding, “Many people pray at home.” 

Throughout the winter moons they sheltered in place, from about the time we call today November to about March or April. The men prepared themselves for the coming seasons. They worked on their bows, made arrows, and other needed tools. Hunting parties went out from time to time when their meat supply ran low. Severe winters brought starvation. The women kept busy too, they made and repaired winter apparel, gathered wood and water, and kept a kettle of soup ready. 

The late Harriet Skye informed me during the difficult times of winter the mothers and grandmothers reached into a pouch containing Haȟúŋtahu kiŋ Sú (Blue Flax Seed) and drew forth a handful. “They added that to their soup to make it go further. When unexpected company came they did this too. Where the grandmas were prepared to feed all within their lodge, a moment later they could feed many more. They were prepared to share.” The harsh winter taxed their supply of precious seed. 

Ištáwičhayazaŋ Wí, or the Sore Eyes Moon. The last winter moon on the traditional calendar. The name for this moon and the pictograph represent the concept of snowblindness.

The Flame Winter Count recalls the winter of 1845-1846, as a winter feast. That winter took a toll on the people and there wasn’t enough food to go around. A young man they called Curley Hair (he would later be known as Crazy Horse) rode through camp calling the people to his family’s lodge where they had food. 

The Battiste Good Winter Count recalls the winter of 1720-1721 as a starvation winter. Three lodges of people died. The pictograph for this year denotes a man standing next to a lodge, his ribs are showing. Going out in the winter, whether to make war on an enemy or to hunt, could prove disastrous; a later entry in this same winter count for 1738-1739 informs us of a war party that went out and perished in the cold. 

Starvation in the winter moons made the people consider eating things that they wouldn’t normally consume. Drifting Goose recalled the winter of 1689 as the winter that they ate their own with great difficulty. White Cow Killer recalled the winter of 1839-1840 as the year they ate horses they captured from the Pawnee. In a later entry of his winter count, Drifting Goose recalled the brutal near-starvation conditions of winter internment at the Fort Snelling prison camp in 1865. 

The Blue Thunder Winter Count recalls the winter of 1788-1789 as a deadly cold winter. It was so cold the birds fell dead from the sky. A dead crow bird represents the concept for this year’s entry. 

Winter took its toll on the horses too. The Cloud Shield Winter Count recalls the winter of 1865-1866 as the year they lost many horses to starvation. 

The fourth moon of winter, Thiyóȟeyuŋka Wí (the Moon When Frost Enters their Lodges), informs us of the lingering cold. The long winters took a toll on the people. Long cold nights, short gray days. Today that emotional toll is known as Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), but long before the medical diagnosis the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ this winter stress as Čhantípiskiče (Something pushing against his/her/their heart/s). 

Wíačhéič’ithi, the Sun makes a fire for himself. This winter feature in the sky is commonly known as a "Sundog." In this image, it appears above the Little Apple Creek Fork in the Missouri River valley.

Regarding the cold gray that settles into one’s heart during the winter, Lekší Cedric Good House shared the story of Wíačhéič’ithi (the Sun makes a fire for himself). Long ago during a bleak seemingly endless winter. Many days had passed since they last saw the sun. The people called for council in the middle of winter camp. After prayer and deliberation, they built two fires east of camp. As they prayed for a break in the weather, the sky began to lighten and the clouds dissipated, the winds calmed, and the sun broke through. As the sun ascended into the sky, the two fires east of camp rose up into the sky on each side of the sun. I vaguely recollect lalá Innocent sharing this with me as a young boy. Lekší Cedric remembered lalá Ed Good House (Innocent’s older brother) sharing this story. Iná Carmine Good House (my mother’s sister) recalled that the winter gloom caused the people to have bad dreams, which was the impetus for calling a council in the middle of the camp.

The end of winter was marked by natural signs. When the ice broke. When the first flower Hokšíčhekpa, what settlers call the Pasque Flower, blossomed - often when snow was still on the ground. When the geese returned. When the meadowlarks sang out, “Oíyokhipi! Omákȟa tȟéča,” or “Take pleasure! The world is anew!” 

Lekší Kevin thoughtfully shared a benediction, the kind of prayerful and hopeful philosophy that is embraced by the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ during difficult times. He said, “Although surrounded by adversity, nonetheless, may you safely emerge on the other side.” I inquired with both Lekší Kevin and Lekší Virgil how I might best articulate this Lakȟól’iya. 

Akhé Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí ú. Akhé kičhíč’iŋpi kte. Ohómni wótheȟike ečhéča takómni uŋmáčhetkiya yakpáptapi kta héčha. Mitȟákuye Owás’iŋ.  Again, the Long Night Moon approaches. Again, let’s carry each other. Although surrounded by adversity, nonetheless, may you safely emerge on the other side. All my relatives. 


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Stringing Rosaries, A Review

A little girl kneels in prayer on the cover of Lakimodiere's "Stringing Rosaries." The title takes its name from one of the sixteen narratives within this book that recalls a story doing just this. 
Stringing Rosaries, A Review
A Must Read For Church Leaders
By Dakota Wind
Lajimodiere, Denise K. Stringing Rosaries: the History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors. Fargo, ND: North Dakota University Press. 2019. $42.95 (hardcover). 277 pages + xiii. Preface, acknowledgments, photographs, fold-out map, appendix, bibliography, index. 

Lajimodiere shares the post-reservation Native American parochial boarding school experience of the Great Plains in an absolutely powerful and heartbreaking narrative that is certain to provoke a sense of loss, anger, sadness, and hope. This is not an easy read. 

Stringing Rosaries begins with an introduction to the methodology of militarized education that was developed by Capt. Richard Pratt following the Civil War. Pratt was the superintendent of the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA where he subjected “new recruits” to an exhausting regime of corporal punishment to any who exhibited indigenous identity, namely that of speaking their language. 

Lajimodier’s research informs us that many children were stolen from their homes if their parents didn’t obey the mandate to send their children to school. Her work focuses on the boarding school experience of survivors from a variety of reservations, mainly in North Dakota, but all genuine and moving, and for this reader, close to home. 

Pratt’s model became the standard for native education. Lajimodiere takes readers through sixteen firsthand accounts of assimilation. Each account recalls a dehumanizing experience. Children were coldly stripped, washed, and deloused with powder regardless if they were clean on arrival. Hair was cut or shaved entirely. Children were excessively and cruelly punished mainly for disobeying authority and speaking their language. 

It would be easy to read only one or two of the survival narratives. In a sense, reading one is very much like reading them all. There is a general sameness of story, each school could be the same one but for location and name, but reading each one is part of the reader’s witness to understand the survivor’s journey. 

Boys were taught manual labor skills like carpentry and farming, girls were taught domestic skills like cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Boys and girls were strictly kept apart from each other, even in play or prayer. They were all awakened in the early hours for morning prayers. They were served coffee at every meal to keep them awake. Most disturbing of all, at any hour of the day or night, some children were sexually assaulted by both men and women of the cloth. 

Some of the first-person accounts are recalled under a pseudonym. Others employ their everyday names, and I am profoundly grateful that Dr. Ramona Klein (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) and Dr. Erich Longie (Spirit Lake). I know both through their work and have met both on occasion; Dr. Klein when she was employed at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND; Dr. Longie in his work with the tribal historic preservation office at Spirit Lake. 

Lajimodiere brings her work to a powerful close. She gives voice to her understanding of her father’s experience, of the native experience in assimilation: “...I came across terms I had not heard of before, terms such as historical trauma…[which] is conceptualized as a collective complex trauma.”

A year before her father took his last journey, Lajimodiere watched the documentary In the White Man’s Image with him. “The video documented the use of whistles, bells, bugles, military-style punishment and daily regimen, the building of guardhouses on school campuses, kids dying of homesickness, disease, and poor nutrition...that boarding schools left a legacy of confused and lonely children.” 

Part of Lajimodiere’s testimony is forgiveness. This is not the same as reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen there has to be an acknowledgment of wrong-doing on behalf of the Church. Lajimodiere tells us in her closing pages of well-being and story of the White Bison Wellbriety Journey of Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness, in this sense, is a deep sense of being wronged, something buried deep inside one’s soul, and a profound relief of releasing that tightly wound bundle of anger and loss. This isn’t something light or easy, nor is every person ready to forgive when neither the Church nor clergy has acknowledged these dark sins. 

Lajimodiere’s Stringing Rosaries isn’t a read for everyone, but it needs to be read by Church leaders and clergy. It should be read by people who call themselves Christian. Get your copy, or tell your minister to get one through the North Dakota State University Press.

   


Monday, January 6, 2020

A 2020 Lakota Calendar

The New Year begins in spring when the geese return. Pictured above is a goose above a hung moon to represent the Moon When Geese Return. Above the goose is a red star, Itkob U, or Arcturus, which signals a change in season from winter to spring.
Haŋwí Wówapi 2020
A 2020 Lakota Calendar

By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND - The New Year begins in spring for the Lakȟóta. A year is called Waníyetu or winter because winter is the longest season on the Northern Plains. The new month begins with the new moon. A month is called Wí. The sun is also called Wí. To differentiate between the luminaries, the moon is sometimes referred to as Haŋwí (Night-Luminary), and the sun as Aŋpétuwi (Day-Luminary).

The eight phases of the moon are recognized as:

Wit’é (Moon-Died) The New Moon.

Wílečhala (Moon To-Be-Recent). The Waxing Crescent between the New Moon and the First Quarter.

Wíokhiseya (Moon Half-Of). The First Quarter of the moon.

Wímimá Kȟaŋyela (Moon-To-Be-Round Near-By). The Waxing Gibbous between the First Quarter and the Full Moon.

Wímimá (Moon-To-Be-Round). The Full Moon.

Wí Makȟáŋtaŋhaŋ Ú (Moon From-The-Earth To-Be-Coming Here). The Waning Gibbous between the Full Moon and the Third Quarter.

Wiyášpapi (Moon-To-Bite-A-Piece-Off-Of). The Third Quarter of the moon.

Wit’íŋkta Kȟaŋyéla (Moon-Wears-About-The-Shoulders Near-By). The Waning Crescent between the Third Quarter and the New Moon.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ (the Teton, or Lakota) regard the moon in a feminine sense. There is no “man on the moon,” but an old woman in the moon whom they call Hokhéwiŋ. When a ring around the moon appears it is called Wíačhéič’ithi (The Moon Makes A Campfire); when a ring appears around the moon they say that Hokhéwiŋ has vigorously stirred her pot and the light has spilled out and around her lodge.

Wíačhéič’ithi is also a reference to sundogs. Long ago, a man went out to pray when the cold gray winter seemed to linger too long. The constant bleak gray days began to affect the people’s dreams. He came back and instructed the camp to select two groups of youth to go out east of camp and build to fires, then to return. Everyone came together in the center of camp and prayed. The sun broke through the clouds and as it rose into the sky, the two fires rose into the sky with it. For the Húŋkpapȟa, the sundog is a promise of hope and light.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ have two differing explanations for the cycles of the moon. The Húŋkpapȟa say that a large Itȟúŋkala (mouse) with a pointed nose gradually eats away the lodge of Haŋwí until there is nothing left (the waning of the moon). Haŋwí then has to reconstruct her lodge (the waxing of the moon). The Oglála say that Haŋwí draws her shawl over either side of her face as Wí approaches her or withdraws from her.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ recognize four seasons. These are: Wétu (Spring) which is two months; Blokétu (Summer) which is four months; Ptaŋyétu (Fall) which is two months; Waníyetu (Winter) which is five months. The changes of seasons are caused by the eternal conflict of two brothers: Wazíya (the North) and Ókaǧa (the South). If Wazíya plays his flute during summer rains, he causes it to freeze, making hail. When Wazíya wins, we have winter; when Ókaǧa wins, we have summer.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ used to keep track of the days, months, and year with Čhaŋwíyawa (Counting Stick/s). Some might use thirteen sticks, one for each month in the lunar year; others might just use one willow switch and notch it (one for a day, or one for each month). The Čhaŋwíyawa are recognized more for their use in hand games (a traditional guessing game) than for tracking time.

This calendar includes memorial days of some massacres and major conflicts. This 2020 moon calendar overlaps with part of December 2019 through part of January 2021.


Download your FREE 2020 traditional Lakȟóta calendar RIGHT HERE. Its dimensions are 11"x17". 

Need a twelve-month civil calendar version? That's available RIGHT HERE TOO



























Thursday, December 26, 2019

Lakota America, A Book Review

The cover of Lakota America features the art of Lakȟóta artist Jim Yellowhawk (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Itázipčho). A simple photo of my copy of this book. 
Lakota America, A Book Review
This Book Fuckin' Moved Me
By Dakota Wind
Hämäläinen, Pekka. Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2019. $35.00 (hardcover). 544 pages + ix. Acknowledgments, a note on terminology, introduction, epilogue, a list of abbreviations, notes, glossary, index, maps, photos, illustrations.

“Yet this book is decidedly a history of the Lakotas, written from sources that seek to convey their perspective, often in their own words. An extraordinary archive makes this possible to an unusual degree. Lakota communities traced the passage of time by drawing on a buffalo hide a pictograph of one memorable event for each year. Lakotas call these calendars waníyetu iyáwapi. They draw attention to the mundane and reveal the sublime. Perhaps most important, as a body of historical record, winter counts capture what fascinated Lakotas and what mattered to them most. Lakota America makes the fullest use yet of this Indigenous archive in writing Lakota history.” (Hämäläinen, 2019; 8)

Thus begins Hämäläinen’s Lakota America, a post-colonial contact history of a people referencing their own historical records, and in this process, treating these pictographic records with a serious care and careful regard that these primary resource documents deserve. Most histories regarding the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Seven Council Fires (or “The Great Sioux Nation), are constructed primarily from colonial records (i.e. explorer journals, trader records, and missionary accounts). Hämäläinen embraces the indigenous record as a concurrent history, complemented by the colonial record.

I felt a deep sense of gratification reading this beautiful work.

Hämäläinen paints a picture of a people occupying a known and busy landscape inhabited and shaped by other indigenous peoples from trade, war, disease, and expanding colonial empires, to displacement, removal, imprisonment, and survival in a post-reservation world.

The story begins not with conflict, but with the arrival of Thiyóškate (Plays In The Lodge) on a diplomatic mission to Montreal to secure peace in the interior of North America. Conflict spread west threatening to invade Očhéthi Šakówiŋ homelands for beaver pelts in a trading system that left indigenous peoples dependent on iron wrought trade items.

There are many books about the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, among them other notables including Royal Hassrick’s “The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society,” Thomas Mails’ “Mystic Warriors of the Plains.” Nearly all western history books agree that the horse arrived in the mid-1700s. Hämäläinen breaks from academic consensus by informing readers that the horse arrived on the northern plains following the Pueblo Revolt of 1682. (Hämäläinen, 2019; 55)

The chapter, The Lakota Meridian, explores the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ in the context of world history. Hämäläinen reconstructs the setting of the interior of North America following the arrival of the horse, the gun, and smallpox epidemics which obliterated or weakened so many other first nations. The Lakȟóta secured and manipulated trade to their benefit. The Arikara War of 1823, the first American military campaign against Plains Indians sees the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ side with the United States, years after refusing “to be discovered” and acknowledging the United States as sovereign. (Hämäläinen, 2019; 140)

Lakota America is not a conflict history of the American West. It is closer to a biography in tone, but not on any one individual or few of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ leadership. It is not so much a cultural examination either; there are other resources for that. This work is like a study of the character of a people throughout several generations. Hämäläinen briefly articulates the cultural story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the Gift of the Sacred Pipe but reimagines this ancient narrative as a story of new urgency as the Lakȟóta ventured west from the Mnišóše, the Water-Astir (or Missouri River). (Hämäläinen, 2019; 164-165). He does reiterate throughout his work that Očhéthi Šakówiŋ identity is evidenced by virtue of practice and language. 

The image above was drawn by Sitting Bull's own hand. In his later years, Sitting Bull and his own people, the Húŋkpapȟa, identified him as a medicine man or spiritual leader. 

Očhéthi Šakówiŋ homeland is determined by occupation of waterways, in particular, the Mnišóše and all his tributaries. Boundaries are determined by the waters, and those boundaries were recognized in both the Fort Laramie Treaties. Hämäläinen carefully determines and explains how those boundaries were set through conflict and diplomacy. Their villages moved from valley to valley across the plains. The traditional Očhéthi Šakówiŋ recalls that the people moved from stream source to stream source across the plains.

Hämäläinen explores Lakȟóta political philosophy in their own terms as well as they dealt with the decline of the great bison ganges and the arrival of more fixed signs of American occupation. Iwáštegla, meaning “moderate,” “gentle,” and “easy,” but for also for the greatest maximum benefit, that which is “wašté,” or “good,” for the people. “Lakotas still expected wašíčus [sic] to compromise more than they did: after all, most of their interactions took place in Lakota territory. In this charged moment one can glimpse something essential about Lakotas’ ability to accept new realities, adjust to changing governing conditions, and yet remain indigenous.” (Hämäläinen, 2019; 300)

Lakota America has many strengths. Meticulous research is one, but what makes Hämäläinen’s work stand out is that he acknowledges, employs, and attributes the history (oral and pictographic) of the people he writes about, putting it on the same page as colonial records equating its importance.

Lakota America touches on the greatest conflict to shape the American West, Pȟežíšla Wakpá Okíčhize, or the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Every year there’s a book written about Lt. Col. Custer and the fate of the 7th Cavalry. Every book published about the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ includes this fight. It is refreshing that Hämäläinen does not dedicate an entire chapter retreading the last great Indian fight.

Hämäläinen does not stop his narrative of Lakȟóta history with Čhaŋkpé Ópi Owíčhakte, the Wounded Knee Massacre. No, he brings the story of adaptation, survival, and self-determination up to recent events at Íŋyaŋ Iyá Wakpá, the Talking Stone River (or the Cannonball River). A people and their history did not end at the turn of 1900. It lives and is a constant story of change. Hämäläinen gets it.

Lakota America is an engaging read. I found myself stopping several times throughout, lost in thought, and provoked to remember that indigenous occupation includes several other first nations who contested the landscape and gratified to discover how much Hämäläinen relied on Lakȟóta history to create this immensely reflective work.

My only concern, and it is a very minor thing, is that not all Dakhóta-Lakȟóta use the same term for the “winter count:” Northern Lakȟóta (i.e. Húŋkpapȟa) and Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna (i.e. Wičhíyena, or “Upper Yanktonai”) refer to the pictographic records as Waníyetu Wówapi, which means, “Keeping an Account of the Winter.” The Dakhóta and Lakȟóta who were placed at Fort Peck refer to winter counts as Hékta Yawápi, or “Counting Back.”

Lakota America has earned its place on my bookshelf. Get your copy as soon as you can to add it to yours. 




Saturday, December 21, 2019

Winter Solstice Is Sacred Time

The Long Night Moon at White Earth Butte. The crescent represents the moon or month. Above the moon, appearing upside down at the top is the landscape profile of White Earth Butte as seen from the south looking north. 
Winter Solstice Is Sacred Time
A Time To Carry One Another

By Dakota Wind
The longest season of the year was winter on the Great Plains. On the traditional Očhéthi Šakówiŋ lunar calendar, the year consisted of two spring, four summer, two autumn, and five moons or months. The word for "year," in fact, is “Waníyetu,” meaning “Winter.”

The first snow was celebrated. Men put on their snowshoes and danced in the fresh powder. The snow made for ease of hunting. The Lakȟóta explained the changing of the seasons as an epic battle between two brothers: Wazíya (The North) and Okáǧa (The South). As one retreated, the other gained ground. When Wazíya won, his breath blew across the landscape, and for as deadly and sharp his cold breath might be, he brought a blanket of snow under which Uŋčí Makȟá (Grandmother Earth) slept.

The cultural genesis of the seasons aside, they remembered and shared real events from winters past. The High Dog Winter Count recalls the year 1800 as one of the most challenging years to survive. The summer heat was unbearably hot. The great gangs of bison went away, and hunting was poor. Flowers disappeared from the landscape, and the wind drank up the water. The birds refused to sing too.

A punishing winter followed, as remembered in the White Bull Winter Count.

Winter came, snow and ice were everywhere. A group of Lakȟóta decided to move winter camp from the bottomlands of one river to that of another. As they moved over the high plains, a blizzard caught them. Gradually some of them began to succumb to the cold and fell. As one person fell, another lifted and carried him or her for the rest of their journey. Kičhíč’iŋpi keúŋkiyapi, “They say that they carried each other.”

The Lakȟóta used the long winter night to share stories like that of Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟphaya (The Fallen Star; also called “Star Boy”). The story of his mother, Tȟapȟúŋ Šá Wíŋ (Red Cheek Woman), and father, Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (The Star that Does Not Move; “The North Star”) is fairly well known and told in books and various online media.

The Lakȟóta share Ohúŋkakaŋ (stories from the distant past) and Wičhówoyake (stories, legends, myth) during the five lunar months of Waníyetu (the winter season), and during this moon especially, they share stories like the Fallen Star narrative. 


Sometime during the Long Night, the Fallen Star rises from the highest point of White Earth Butte. As the heavens turn, or as the earth rotates, the constellation gradually moves counter-clockwise until most of it gradually disappears past the northern horizon. Fallen Star, or Capella, dips down past the horizon, then majestically rises, bringing hope to the people. 

According to Ronald Goodman’s work in his Lakota Star Knowledge, Fallen Star was renowned among the Lakȟóta as “the Protector, the bringer of light and higher consciousness.” After becoming a father, Fallen Star ascended “a hill at night with a friend,” and told him that he was going to return home. Fallen Star laid down upon the hilltop and died. His spirit was seen as a light that rose into the star world. “At some time in the past, all Lakȟóta acquired the gift of light he brought them.” (Goodman, 2017; 32)

Goodman discusses an ancient central symbol strongly associated with the heavens and the world. This symbol is referred to as Kapémni (“the action is swinging around and around,” as with a warclub or bull roar), and resembles an hourglass. One half represents all that is heavenly, the other half represents all that is worldly. What is in the heavens is also present in the world. In the pages of Lakota Star Knowledge, this “mirroring” is demonstrated in a map of the Lakȟóta constellation Čhaŋgléška Wakȟáŋ (The Sacred Hoop) which demarcates the locations of landmarks in and around the Black Hills.

In 1967, Helen Blish published her thesis A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux, featuring the works of Amos Bad Heart Bull (~1868-1913), a noted Lakȟóta artist, amongst of what was a map of the Black Hills and other features including Pahá Ská (White Butte). White Butte is noted as being north of the Black Hills.

It is a general map; not everything matches up perfectly, in fact, maps of the landscape were concerned with lineal cohesion rather than over-exactness. Matȟó Thípila (Bear Lodge), or Devils Tower, is not actually within Khiíŋyaŋka Očháŋku (The Race Track), the edge of the Black Hills. The Race Track is the “mirror” of the Sacred Hoop, just as Makȟáska (White Earth Butte), or White Butte, is not a part of the Black Hills, it is north of the ‘Hills. It is a real butte. It is also the hill upon which Fallen Star made his journey back to the sky. 

Like Devils Tower, White Butte appears to be in the narrative of the Sacred Hoop in Bad Heart Bull’s map narrative, though it is not so in actuality. Yet according to the map of the Sacred Hoop constellation in Lakota Star Knowledge, a star commonly known as Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga appears as part of the Sacred Hoop.

Referencing Bad Heart Bull’s map and tracking the sky from the Sacred Hoop to the North Star one “sees” the stars associated with the constellation Auriga “pointing” or “reaching” towards the North Star. The constellation Auriga appears to be Kapémni, or "mirror" of White Butte and the immediate landscape surrounding that beautiful plateau. 

Fallen Star returns to the sky to be with his father. He sends rays of light and hope to the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ people. 

As Capella is the Fallen Star I’d like to suggest that Auriga is his constellation. At about 6:00 PM on the longest night of the year, this constellation appears upside down. Twelve hours later, at about 6:00 AM, which is at the tail end of the longest night, the heavens have rotated 180° counterclockwise, and have become right side up. The Fallen Star “rises” from the horizon, it rises from the top of White Earth Butte.

Long ago, before the reservation era anyway, the month which some might call December today, was known by some Lakȟóta as Waníčhokaŋ Wí (The Midwinter Moon). They might not have known the exact time (it’s 10:19 PM CST) but could reckon the subtle shift in daylight when there was a little more of it and could track the general date with counting sticks; they knew it happened in the Midwinter Moon.

According to Vi Waln, “I believe the real day of prayer was observed on the winter solstice by the people with ceremony, food, and family.” Further, “Nature and the stars were monitored carefully to help with preparation for whatever time of year was upon the people.” And lastly, “Many Lakota people will offer prayer in much the same our ancestors did so on the Winter Solstice.” (Valn, Winter Solstice Is Sacred, 2011)

There are five winter moons in the traditional Lakȟóta calendar. After the Winter Solstice, it was time to gather red willow (eastern dogwood) to make čhaŋšáŋšaŋ, traditional tobacco made from the inner bark of the red willow, and used for ceremony.

In the heart of winter, in daylight, there sometimes appears the sundog. The Lakȟóta call it Wíačhéič'thi, which means "The Sun Makes A Campfire [For Himself]," and the story associated with this event holds the promise of light, that it returns. Sometimes, during the winter nights, they see a ring around the moon, also called Wíačhéič'thi, only this is interpreted as "The Moon Makes a Campfire [For Herself]." The Moon has vigorously stirred her pot and light has spilled about her lodge.

The New Lakota Dictionary lists the Winter Solstice as Waní-Wí-Ipȟá (Crest of the Winter Sun). The Húŋkpapȟa might call the same Haŋyétu Háŋska (The Long Night) as they called this traditional month Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí (The Long Night Moon).

However it is called this day, or this month, these things are certain: gather close together with family in observation or prayer, eat together, share stories, and carry each other.