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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Coolidge Remembered As Bear Ribs

President Coolidge seen here with members of the Sicangu Lakota people.
Coolidge Recognized With Lakota Name
Standing Rock Sioux Call Him “Bear Ribs”
Edited by Dakota Goodhouse
Bismarck, N.D. (Bismarck Tribune, July 1927) – The following appeared in the Bismarck Tribune, summer 1927, when three tribal community members sent a letter to President Coolidge. These three later met the President in the Black Hills, August 1927, when he established summer camp near Spearfish, S.D.

President Coolidge has been adopted by an Indian tribe, which has given him the name Bear Ribs, meaning the Indian conception of the chief who originally bore that name as “a far seeing, progressive man.” Another honor bestowed upon the President is the gift of an Indian pipe and beaded tobacco bag. He intends to smoke the pipe, he said, although he does not enjoy pipe smoking.

News of the President’s adoption came to the White House in a letter signed by the committee of three Indians, living on the reservation near Fort Yates, N.D. as follows:

Hon. Calvin Coolidge
President of the United States,
Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

The Indians of the Kenel District on this reservation at their local council desire to congratulate you upon your re-election and take pleasure in mailing you, under separate cover, a pipe and beaded tobacco bag.

Presidents in the past have done much in reference to the Indian and his destiny, but it remained for you to give to the Indian that citizenship which he hoped for through many years. We desire to express our heartfelt appreciation for the citizenship granted us, and also for the good judgement shown in protecting our property rights and by not turning them over to the Indians without supervision. To turn the property rights over without protection would have been a great misfortune to us.

For many years the Indian has doubted the government’s good intentions, but we now know that it had a definite purpose in view and that the government’s ultimate intention was to train us for citizenship.

Many years ago when trouble arose between the Indians and the soldiers under a white general we called White Beard, we fought the soldiers, but later there came peace between us. At that time Bear Ribs, a progressive chief of the Hunkpapas [Huŋkphápȟa], tried to teach us the white man’s way.

The Indians objected to learning this new way, and as a result Bear Ribs was finally murdered because of his progressive ideas.

We now know that Bear Ribs was right, and we honor his memory. Because Bear Ribs was a far-seeing, progressive man, we now give you the name Bear Ribs, by which you will be known to our tribe.

Very respectfully,
Antoine Claymore
Jovita Badger
Pius Shoots First

Monday, June 8, 2015

Purple Robe, Golden Heart: The Prairie Crocus

A Prairie Crocus flower blossoms on the Northern Great Plains.
Hokšíčhekpa, Wanáȟča Tȟá Unčí
Prairie Crocus, Grandmother Of The Flowers

By The First Scout
The Prairie Crocus is known by many names: Pasque/Passover Flower, Easter Flower, or Wind Flower. The Lakȟóta know this same flower as Hokšíčhekpa, or “Child’s Navel,” for it resembled a child’s navel in the process of healing after the umbilical cord has fallen off.

One of the legends associated with this flower is that long ago, it was white.

The Lakȟóta have the story of a young man who went to the hill to pray, a spiritual practice still with them today. As day became night, the air cooled, and the young man pulled his bison robe around himself for warmth. A small voice by his feet called out, “Thank you!” He looked down and was surprised to discover that it was a little white flower that addressed him.

As the days and nights passed, the young man and the white flower enjoyed one another’s company as they watched the yellow sun rise around a scene of purple mountains. The young man took great comfort in the little white flower’s companionship, who assured him that he would soon receive his vision.

On the last morning, the Morning Star rose into the sky and the young man received his vision; it was revealed to him that he would be a medicine man and help his people. For assuring the young man and for keeping him company, Morning Star gave the little white flower the option of choosing for herself three gifts.

The little white flower asked for a heavy robe of her own to keep her warm, the color of the purple mountains for her dress (petals), and the warmth of the golden sun in her heart. To this day, in the early spring, when winter snow can still appear, the little flower’s lavender robe opens to reveal her golden heart.

On occasion, 
Hokšíčhekpa opens a white robe. A white Hokšíčhekpa is very rare. When one encounters a white one, they say a bison drew its last breath in that very spot.

The Lakȟóta people say that the 
Hokšíčhekpa is the Unčí (Grandmother) of the flowers. She is the first to appear, announcing that spring is here and the bison will bear their young. She addresses all the other flowers as grandchildren. When all the birds have returned, and the animals have come back out, it is her time to die.

Hokšíčhekpa even inspires the other flowers with a song of encouragement, “Take courage children of the flower nation, you shall appear all over the land. As you wake and rise from Grandmother Earth, I stand here old and gray.”

She shows by her example that all must go on to the land prepared for them by their ancestors. Each spring 
Hokšíčhekpa returns to share the same message to the next generation of flowers.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Tale Of Jealously And Death

Ghost Hill on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, south and east of Fort Yates, ND.
Legend Of Ghost Hill
Jealously Drives Mob To Murder

As Told By Šiyáka (Pied-Billed Grebe)
Song by Two Shields
Recorded by Frances Densmore
Standing Rock, SD & ND – Musical ethnologist Frances Densmore recorded this story and song on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation between 1911 and 1914. About eight miles south-east of present-day Fort Yates, ND is a high butte known as Ghost Hill.

When Sitting Bull and his band were brought from Canada they camped one winter on the lowland beside the Missouri River, a few miles below Fort Yates. It was a large camp, including many hostile Indians, who were afterward located at Pine Ridge and at Cherry Creek in the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Among these Indians was a particularly handsome young man, who was very fascinating to the young women.

One day he disappeared. As no trace of him could be found, his parents consulted a man who had some sacred stones, giving him a horse and asking that he would tell them of their son. This man said that during the next night the voice of the missing man would be heard passing through the camp, and that all must follow the voice. On the night designated all the camp was on alert; just before dawn they heard the voice of the young man approaching. His parents and friends, recognizing the voice, began to lament, and the dogs barked at the approach of a person.

The voice passed through the camp, singing a love song, then turned and came back, retracing its way toward this hill. The people followed, but could not go as fast as the voice, which gradually became more distant until it was lost in darkness.

This incident seemed to make the grief of the young man’s parents more acute, and they went again to the owner of the stones, to whom they gave another horse, asking him to tell who had killed their son. The man said he had been murdered by ten men, who were jealous of him, and that one of these men would die in ten days, another in ten days after the first, and so on until all were dead.

This came to pass as he predicted. The parents of the missing man then went again to the owner of the stones and begged to know where they could find the body of their son. The man said that their son had been chased a long distance by his enemies and finally had been killed far from home, and that his body had been devoured by wolves. He told the parents to follow the voice (which was still heard at intervals singing the same song) and to keep following it until they reached the place where the voice disappeared, where they would see their son.

The next time they heard the voice they hastened toward the place whence it came and saw at some distance before them a figure wrapped in a gray army blanket. They followed it but could never quite overtake it. Sometimes they would feel its presence behind them, and on looking back, would see it, but it never quite overtook them. It always followed the path toward Ghost Hill, and the parents thought it disappeared in the side of the hill.

Accordingly they dug into the side of the hill and made a diligent search, but the body of the young man was never found. A man named Walking Elk lived at the foot of Ghost Hill. He had a large family, the members of which died one after another. He laid their deaths to the ghost and shot at it with his rifle. The last appearance of the ghost was about the year 1889. It is said that a similar figure wrapped in a gray army blanket was later seen at Pine Ridge and on the Rosebud Reservation.

Two Shields assented to record the song attributed to the young man’s ghost:

Hénake (Finally)
Wačéye (I Weep)
ČhéyA (Weeping)
Omáwani (I-wander-about)
Kȟoškálaka (Young-man)
Wióyuspapi čhaŋ (Courting-women Then)
Iyótaŋ Wačháŋmni Kȟó (Best I-tried As-well)
ČhéyA (Weeping)
Omáwani (I-wander-about)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lakota Woman Goes To War

Camp of the Gros Ventre on the Prairies, by Karl Bodmer. 
Brave Woman Counts Coup
Huŋkphápȟa Woman Remembered

As told by Jenny Leading Cloud
American Indian Myths And Legends
Edited by The First Scout
White River, Rosebud, SD - Over a hundred years ago, when the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (“Sioux”) were still living in Mníšota (Minnesota), there was a Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton) band of Huŋkphápȟa at Mní Wakȟáŋ (Spirit Lake) under an chief called Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe (His Country). It was his country too, Indian Country, until the white soldiers with their cannon finally drove the Thítȟuŋwaŋ across the Mníšoše (Water-Astir; Missouri River).

In his youth the chief had been a great warrior. Later, when his fighting days were over, he was known as a wise leader, invaluable in council, a great giver of feasts, and a provider for the poor.

The chief had three sons and one daughter. The sons tried to emulate their father in deed by becoming great warriors as their father, but it was a difficult thing to do. Time and again they battled against the Kȟaŋğí (Crow) with reckless bravery, exposing their selves in the front rank, fighting hand to hand, until one by one they were all killed. The sad chief had only his daughter left. Some say her name was Makȟáta Wiŋ (On The Ground Woman). Others called her Ohítika Wiŋ (Brave Woman).

The young woman was beautiful and proud. Many young men sent their fathers to the old chief with gifts of fine horses that were preliminary to marriage proposals. Among those who desired Ohítika Wiŋ for a wife was a young warrior named Hé Lúta (Red Horn), himself the son of a chief, who sent his father again and again to arrange a marriage on his behalf.

Ohítika Wiŋ would not marry. “I will not take a husband,” she said, “until I have counted coup on the Crow to avenge my brothers.”

Another young man, Waŋblí Čík’ala (Little Eagle), also loved Ohítika Wiŋ. He was too shy to declare his love because he was poor, and had never been able to distinguish himself.

At this time, the Kȟaŋğí made a great effort to establish their nation on the upper Mníšoše, a country the Saóŋ (Northern Thítȟuŋwaŋ) consider their own. The Huŋkphápȟa decided to send out a strong war party to chase them back. Hé Lúta and Waŋblí Čík’ala were in this same war party.

“I shall ride with you,” Ohítika Wiŋ said. She put on her best dress of white buckskin, which was richly decorated with beadwork and quillwork; around her neck she wore a dentalium choker.

Ohítika Wiŋ then went before Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe and addressed him, “Father, I must go to the place where my brothers died. I must count coup for them. Tell me that I can go.”

Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe wept with overwhelming pride and profound sadness. “You are my last child,” he said, “I fear for you, and for a lonely age without children to comfort me. Your decision has long been determined. I see that you must go. Do it quickly. Wear my warbonnet into battle. Go and do not look back.”

Ohítika Wiŋ then took her brothers weapons, her father’s warbonnet and best horse, and rode out with the war party. They came upon a vast enemy camp, that it appeared to be the entire Kȟaŋğí nation – hundreds of men and thousands of horses. There were many more Kȟaŋğí than Huŋkphápȟa, but they attacked nevertheless.

Ohítika Wiŋ was a sight to stir and motivate the warriors to great deeds. She gave Hé Lúta her oldest brother’s lance and shield, and said, “Count coup for my brother.” To Waŋblí Čík’ala she gave her second brother’s bow and arrows, and said, “Count coup for him who owned these.” She gave her youngest brother’s war club to another young warrior. For herself, Ohítika Wiŋ carried her father’s coup stick wrapped in otter fur.

At first Ohítika Wiŋ held back in the fight. She supported the Huŋkphápȟa by singing brave-heart songs and trilling (the tremulous cry which women use to encourage their men). When the Huŋkphápȟa were driven back by overwhelming numbers, she rode into the midst of the fight. She didn’t try to kill her enemies, but counted coup left and right. What Lakȟóta warrior could think of retreat when a woman fought bravely beside them?

The press of the Kȟaŋğí and their horses pushed the Huŋkphápȟa back a second time. The horse of Ohítika Wiŋ was hit by a musket ball and went down. She was one foot and defenseless when Hé Lúta passed her by. She was too proud to call out for help and he pretended not to see her. Waŋblí Čík’ala then came riding out of the battle dust, dismounted, and told her to get on. She did so, thinking that they would ride double when he called out, “This horse is wounded, and is too weak to carry us both.”

“I won’t leave you to be killed,” said Ohítika Wiŋ, when Waŋblí Čík’ala struck the horse’s rump with her brother’s bow. The horse bolted and Waŋblí Čík’ala went back into the fight on foot. Ohítika Wiŋ rallied the war party for a final charge. Their final push was so determined and fierce that the Kȟaŋğí retreated.

This was the battle in which the Kȟaŋğí were driven away from the Mníšoše. It was a great victory for the Huŋkphápȟa, and many brave young men had died. Among the dead was Waŋblí Čík’ala, struck down with his face towards the enemy. The Huŋkphápȟa warriors took the bow of Hé Lúta and broke it, then took his feathers and sent him home.

They placed the body of Waŋblí Čík’ala on a scaffold, where the enemy camp had been. Then, they killed his horse to serve him in the spirit world. “Go willingly,” they told the horse, “Your rider has need of you in the spirit world.”

Ohítika Wiŋ gashed her arms and legs with a knife in her grief. She also cut her hair short and tore her dress. Thus, she mourned for Waŋblí Čík’ala. They had not been husband and wife. In fact, he hardly dared look at her or speak to her, but now she asked everyone to treat her as a widow.

Ohítika Wiŋ never took a husband, and she never ceased to mourn the loss of Waŋblí Čík’ala. “I am his widow, “she would tell people. She died of old age. She had done a great thing and her fame endures.

Huŋkphápȟa: Head Of The Camp Circle, Hunkpapa
Kȟaŋğí: Crow
Očhéthi Šakówiŋ: Seven Council Fires
Mníšoše: Water Astir, Missouri River
Mníšota: Smoking Water, Minnesota
Mní Wakȟáŋ: Water With Energy, Spirit Lake
Saóŋ: Northern Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Huŋkphápȟa, Oóheŋuŋpa, Mníkowožu, Itázipčho)
Thítȟuŋwaŋ: Dwellers On The Plains, Teton

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Lakota Woman's Lost Love

An engraving of Lake Pepin in Minnesota. Maiden Rock appears in the background in the right half of this image. 
Legend Of The Maiden’s Leap
A Lakȟóta Woman’s Lost Love

Collected by Frances Densmore
Fort Yates, ND – In 1911 Frances Densmore, an anthropologist and ethnographer, on behalf of the Bureau of American Ethnology, came to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation and recorded hundreds of songs on wax cylinders for preservation.

While Densmore was stationed on Standing Rock she heard a story about a Lakȟóta woman’s leap which bore some similarity to a Sisíthuŋwaŋ (Sisseton) woman’s jump off of a promontory on the eastern shore of what is today Lake Pepin. The Dakȟóta woman jumped off this point and killed herself on the rocks below.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton; Lakota) say that their young woman jumped from a high point somewhere in the west. Here is their story:

A young woman had promised to marry a man, but he wished to make a name for himself before the marriage took place. He had been on the warpath, but he wished to go again that he might distinguish himself by valor. When the war party returned they said he had been killed by the Crow.

Sometime afterward in the course of tribal wanderings a camp was made at the place where, according to the report of the war party, the young man had been killed. Dressing herself in her best attire, the maiden went to the edge of the cliff, she offered a song and gave a trill before jumping into the river below her.

This is her song:
Zuyá iyá’yelo (He has gone to war)
Ehápi k’uŋ (You have said)
Hé wašté waláke (I love him)
Iyótiye wakíye (I am sad)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Woodcraft And Wisdom, Be Aware As You Go

The Northern Great Plains, photo by World Wildlife.
XXIII: Woodcraft And Weather Wisdom
Akhíta Máni (Be Aware As You Go)

By Charles Eastman
Note: The following is an excerpt of Charles Eastman's "Indian Scout Tales." Since the life of the Indian is one of travel and exploration, not for the benefit of science, but for his own convenience and pleasure, he is accustomed to find himself in pathless regions —— now in the deep woods, now upon the vast, shimmering prairie, or again among the tangled water-ways of a mighty lake studded with hundreds, even thousands, of wooded islands.

How does he find his way so successfully in the pathless jungle without the aid of a compass you ask? Well, it is no secret. In the first place, his vision is correct; and he is not merely conscious of what he sees, but also sub-consciously he observes the presence of any and all things within the range of his senses.

If you would learn his system, you must note the relative position of all objects, and especially the location of your camp in relation to river, lake, or mountain. The Indian is a close student of the topography of the country, and every landmark—— hill, grove, or unusual tree—is noted and remembered. It is customary with the hunters and warriors to tell their stories of adventure most minutely, omitting no geo graphical and topographical details, so that the boy who has listened to such stories from babyhood can readily identify places he has never before seen.

This kind of knowledge is simple, and, like the every-day meal, it is properly digested and assimilated, and becomes a part of one’s self. It is this instant, intelligent recognition of every object within his vision in his daily roving, which fixes the primitive woodsman’s reckoning of time, distance, and direction.

Sunrise on the Great Plains, featured on Wallpaper Up

Time is measured simply by the height of the sun. Shadow is the wild man’s dial; his own shadow is best. Hunger is a good guide when the sun is behind the clouds. Again, the distance traveled is an indicator, when one travels over known distances. In other words, he keeps his soul at one with the world about him, while the over-civilized man is trained to depend upon artificial means. He winds his watch, pins his thought to a chronometer, and disconnects himself from the world-current; then starts off on the well-beaten road. If he is compelled to cut across, he calls for a guide; in other words, he borrows or buys the mind of another. Neither can he trust his memory, but must needs have a note book.

The wild man has no chronometer, no yardstick, no unit of weight, no field-glass. He is himself a natural being in touch with nature. Some things he does, he scarcely knows why; certainly he could not explain them. His calculations are swift as a flash of lightning; best of all, they come out right! This may seem incredible to one who is born an old man; but there are still some boys who hark back to their great-great grandfathers; they were not born and nursed within six walls!

The colors of tree, grass, and rock tell the points of the compass to the initiated. On the north side, the bark is of a darker color, smoother, and more solid looking; while on the southern exposure it is of a lighter hue, because of more sunshine, and rougher, because it has not been polished off by the heavy beating of snow and rain in the cold season. An Indian will pass his hand over the trunk of a tree in the dark and tell you which way is north; some will tell you the kind of tree, also.

The branches of the tree tell the same story; on the south side they grow thicker and longer, while the leaves lie more horizontal on the sunny side, and more vertical on the north. Again, the dry leaves on the ground corroborate them; on the north side of the trees the leaves are well-packed and overlay each other almost like shingles. The color and thickness of the moss on rock or tree also tells the—secret.

But I must leave some things for you to discover; and I advise you to select a rock or tree that is well exposed to the elements for a first attempt. Of course, in well-protected localities, these distinctions are not so marked, but even there are discernible to a trained eye.

If you ever lose your way in the woods, do not allow yourself to become unnerved. Never give up.” Fear drowns more people than water, and is a more dangerous enemy than the wilderness. A normal man, with some knowledge of out-of-doors, can without much effort keep in touch with his starting-point, and, however tortuously he may rove, he will pick the shortest way back. Know exactly where you are before starting, in relation to the natural landmarks, and at every halt locate yourself as nearly as possible. Measure your shadow (it varies according to the season), and scatter dry earth, leaves, or grass, to learn the direction of the wind. The water shed is another important point to bear in mind. On a clear night, look for the well known stars, such as the Great Dipper,” which lies to the north in summer, the handle pointing west. The Milky Way lies north and south. Once you locate the camp, you may be guided by these or by the wind in night travel.

Hunting bison in the dusty airy landscape.

The Indian, as an out-of-door man, early learns the necessity of a weather bureau of his own. He develops it after the fashion of another system of precaution; that is, he takes note of the danger-signals of the animals, those unconscious criers of the wilderness, both upon water and land. These have definite signals for an approaching change in the weather. For instance, the wolf tribes give the storm call” on the evening before. This call is different in tone from any other and clearly identified by us. Horses kick and stamp, and the buffalo herds low nervously. Certain water fowl display a strange agitation which they do not show under any other circum stances. Antelopes seek shallow lakes before a thunder-shower and stand in the water the Indians say because lightning does not strike in the water. Even dogs howl and make preparations to hide their young. Ducks have their signal call; but the chief weather prophet of the lakes is the loon, as the gray wolf or coyote is of the prairie.

Certain leaves and grass-blades contract or expand at the approach of storm, and even their color is affected, while the wind in the leaves has a different sound. The waves on the beach whisper of the change, and we also observe the ring around the sun, and the opacity and disk of the moon. The lone hunter may be left with only the open prairie and the dome of heaven; but he still has his grass-blades, his morning and evening skies. Sometimes the little prairie birds give him the signal; or, if not, he may fall back upon his old wounds, that begin to ache and swell with the change of atmosphere.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The High Dog Winter Count, 1798

The High Dog Winter Count on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center.
The High Dog Winter Count
History Of The Great Plains
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND – The High Dog Winter Count, a pictographic history of the Huŋkphápȟa Lakȟóta people is on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center. It reaches back to the year 1798 and concludes in 1912. Šúŋka Waŋkátuya (Lit. Dog On-High), or High Dog, kept a winter count, a pictographic mnemonic device in which each year was remembered with one image and a “name.” Years, or winters, were never numbered.

When the year was named, a collective of elders, leaders, and medicine people would gather together to determine what to call the year, sometimes in the spring when the new year began, or sometimes in the fall or over the winter.

The first entry of the High Dog Winter Count.

High Dog’s winter count echoes content within other winter counts, such as Blue Thunder, No Two Horns, Swift Dog, and Jaw, among others, but it has distinct entries all its own. The first entry of High Dog’s winter count features an image of one man with a “fan” of four very blue feathers fanning or presenting the feathers to another man. Here follows the entry:

Wiyáka tȟotȟó uŋ akíčilowaŋpi (Lit. Feathers blue-blue to-use-something singing-praise-they). They sang praises using very blue feathers.

It was agreed to among the people that any one of the tribe who was seen wearing the blue feathers should be an example to others in virtue and goodness, and should be esteemed by all as a guardian of the "nation." Four men at that time were set apart with the blue feathers.

The feathers that are depicted on High Dog's entry resemble the tail feathers of the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa (lit. “Bird-blue striped-very"), commonly known as the Blue Jay. In particular, this rendering resembles the beautifully blue Stellar’s Jay tail feathers. 

The Lakȟóta say that when the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa returns, cold rains follow. Steller's Jay photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By an old ceremony men were set apart as “Atéyapi” (Fathers) and women as "Ináyapi" (mothers). By this ceremony these people were chosen as leaders in the tribe, and their admonitions were heeded.

Sometimes a small child was raised to this class because of a portent at his or her birth that indicated his or her superior wisdom. Grown persons were raised to this class on account of some distinguished service to the tribe, as well as for manifest wisdom and foresight in affairs. Those raised to this class while they were babes are said to have been generally the most satisfactory administrators of justice. Such children received careful training both from those previously raised to this class and also from their grandmothers.

They were taught to admonish with discretion and with gentleness, to honor and respect each and every one of every age and themselves; to be kind to dogs and all animals. If one of this class proved unworthy, one was not deposed, but from that time on, or until one had purged oneself of old offenses and adopted better manners one had small influence in the council-meetings, yet the people still respected him or her.

At that time, men were gifted with blue feathers to designate their worthiness; women were gifted with blue glass pendants they wore proudly upon their forehead, though this practice has long since faded. 

The Blue Cloud Stone as sketched by Col. A. Welch

Kȟaŋpéska Imánipi Wiŋ (Walking On The Shell Woman), the wife of Matȟó Watȟákpe (Charging Bear; John Grass), was among the last Lakȟóta women to have possessed one of what they called Maȟpíya Tȟó, or a Blue Cloud Stone. The stone was actually a flat blue polished piece of glass, possibly volcanic, which was melted and poured into a sand or clay mold. The stone was made by a woman of virtue, and only one was made in a year.

When it was worn, the woman was held in high esteem by all as good and honorable, a role model for all women