Friday, May 10, 2013

The Villages of the Ochéti Šhakówiŋ in 1750

A Dakota Village by Seth Eastman
The Villages of the Ochéti Šhakówiŋ
The Year 1750 On The Northern Great Plains
By D. Jerome Tweton, The North Star Dakotan
BISMARCK, N.D. - They are commonly referred to as the Sioux. They call themselves the Ochéti Šhakówiŋ, Lakĥota for “Seven Campfires,” representing the seven major bands of the Great Sioux Nation. Once each year representatives of the bands come together to hold council, socialize, and participate in religious rites. This meeting of the Great Sioux Nation takes place in Péšhla “The Heart Of Everything That Is”—the Black Hills, the place, according to tradition, that gave birth to the Ochéti Šhakówiŋ. It is a serious mistake, however, to group all these Siouan-speaking people under one name or characterization, for the ways of life of the Campfires differ considerably.

The Dakota, sometimes referred to as the Eastern Sioux or the Santee Sioux, live in the Mississippi and Minnesota river valleys and account for four of the seven Campfires: the Mdwakanton (Spirit Lake People), the Waĥpékute (Shooters Among The Leaves), the Waĥpétowon (Dwellers Among The Leaves), and the Sissétowon (People Of The Swamp). To the west of the Dakota in the region of the James River Valley lie two Campfires, the Ihanktowan (Yankton) and the Ihanktowana (Yanktonai), sometimes known as the Middle Sioux. The Lakĥota, who populate the plains from the Platte to the Knife rivers, is the seventh Campfire. Also known as the Teton Sioux or Western Sioux, the Lakĥota are comprised of seven bands: Oglala (They Scatter Their Own); Sĥičhaŋğu or Brule (Burnt Thighs); Mniconjou (Planters Beside The Water); Itážipčho or Sans Arcs (Those Without Bows); Oohénoŋpa (Two Boilings/Kettles); Sihasapa (Blackfeet); Hunkpapa (Campers At The Horn).

Siouan territory about 1750.

By the 1500s, the Ochéti Šhakówiŋ inhabited the prairie and woods to the east of the plains. They could not avoid contact with the Ojibway who were moving toward the same territory south of Lake Superior. Tied closely to the French fur trade, the Objiwa, armed with French guns, gradually pushed the Yankton, Yanktonai, and Lakota to the west. The Ojibway made peace with the 5,000 Dakota who stayed in the Mississippi and Minnesota river valleys.

The Dakota remain people of the woods. The Mdewakanton occupy seven villages along the Mississippi; the Wahpekute have a large single village on the Minnesota River not far upstream from where it empties into the Mississippi. The Wahpeton’s seven villages and the 12 of the Sisseton are to the west on the Minnesota River. That the Dakota are people of the woods and water influences how they live. They construct permanent heavily-timbered bark houses with pitched roofs. Some live in small conical structures covered with skins and bark. Both men and women build the dwellings—sometimes referred to as wigwams. For food, the Dakota depend upon the lakes and rivers for fish and the woods for deer and small animals such as rabbits and muskrats. An annual early winter deer hunt usually brings enough meat to get through the winter. The Sisseton, the furthest west of the Dakota, venture out into the open prairie to hunt buffalo. Some Dakota raise corn, squash, and pumpkins. Wild rice and cranberries are plentiful and maple sugar mixed with water provides a tasty hot drink. Dakota life reflects a typical woodlands culture.

The Yankton and Yanktonai lived together around Leech Lake prior to the late 1600s when the two campfires separated. The Yankton, about 3,000 people, moved out of the northern woodlands and onto the prairie country near the pipestone quarries. A hundred years later they have established themselves in the region of the lower James River Valley. The Yanktonai, with a population of about 6,000, left the woodlands in the early 1700s and have built permanent winter homes in the James River Valley to the north of the Yankton.

The two groups developed into mixed cultures; that is, they combine the ways of the woods with the realities of a new environment. They continue to live in permanent villages near water where fish are plentiful. Gone are the large quantities of deer, wild rice, maple sugar, and cranberries. In their place are large gardens and buffalo. Buffalo hunts take the Yanktonai north to Devils Lake, east to the Red River, and west to the Missouri River. The Yanktonai have adopted the earthlodge , probably learning the building technique from the Missouri Valley tribes.

A Lakhota camp follows a bison gange, a scene by George Catlin.

The Lakota, the largest campfire with about 12,000 people, moved to the plains between the late 1600s and the mid-1700s. By the mid-1700s, the Lakota entered the sacred Black Hills, displacing the Cheyenne and Kiowa. As more and more bands reached the lower Missouri River, the Lakota pushed the Sahnish (Arikara) northward upriver toward the Mandan and Hidatsa villages.

Facing a new land, the Lakota have had to abandon their woodland ways and adjust to a completely different climate and terrain. Soft-soled moccasins, so comfortable in the woods, have been replaced by hard soles, more appropriate on the sun-baked plains. Total dependence upon the buffalo has forced radical change. The buffalo, so numerous that they look like a vast brown sea, have become the life blood for the Lakota, providing food; skins for clothing, shelter, and beading; bone tools; sinew for sewing; materials for making all kinds of containers including cooking pouches and spiritual objects. One cannot overstate the importance of the buffalo to sustaining Lakota life.

A Lakhota chases a bison bull on horseback, a scene by George Catlin.

Because the buffalo herds migrate from place to place—sometimes hundreds of miles apart—so, too, do the Lakota. This has made permanent villages impossible; the tipi, a portable dwelling, has replaced the fixed wigwam. Village membership disappeared and has been replaced by smaller units called tiospaye—groups of related people. Each tiospaye is divided into camps that represent extended families. Because the Lakota have to travel, skin cookery has taken the place of breakable and heavy pottery. Because a tiospaye sometimes has to move suddenly, life is extremely well-organized and the closing down of a campsite can be done in a short time. The Lakota have acquired horses, making life much easier.

The Ochéti Šhakówiŋ are people of the woodlands, people of the prairie, and people of the plains. Where they live has dictated how they live. Their bond of togetherness, however, is stronger than their separatism.

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