Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Sahnish (Arikara) Tale Of Standing Rock

Standing Rock Important To Many Tribes
A Sahnish (Arikara) Tale Of Standing Rock
By Dakota Wind
Some years back I attended the Knife River Culture Festival, an annual event held at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, in the town of Stanton, ND. Generally, the speakers and presenters are members of the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan Nation, otherwise known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

On this occasion I met a few people of the Sahnish Cultural Society. They shared with me their story of Standing Rock, which was held in high regard and venerated by the Sahnish. The tale they shared with me is not the same tale that was shared by the Rev. Aaron Beede, an Episcopal minister who lived and preached on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. However, I can share "Beede's" version.

The rock, known as the Standing Rock to the Sioux and which is now at Fort Yates, N.D., formerly stood in an Arikara vilage in the vicinity of the old town Winona, directly across the river from Fort Yates.

The headman of this village had a beautiful daughter. She was much sought after by young men of the tribes to wed. She refused them all. It was her custom to spend much time among the growing corn in the fields of the village. She cultivated the plants with the shoulder-blade hoe and talked to the corn and sung songs to the pumpkins in the fields, for the Rees were corn raisers. She was very different from the other young women of the village and there was not a word of scandal regarding her. In fact, she was thought to be very pure and holy. She refused many men who were good hunters and brave warriors, and her parents, at last, became displeased with her actions in this manner. At such times she would say that it was intended that she should marry and that it would displease the spirits.

But at last a noble young man appeared from a great distance and played upon his eagle-bone flute outside her father's lodge, or rather, earth lodge. She persisted in refusing to marry and her father said, "It is always good for Indian women to show respect towards their parent's desires in such matters; that she was not displaying the proper filial obedience and that they were displeased with her. This time she must marry whether she wanted to or not."

The young chief brought a great pile of furs and other presents for the parents of the young woman and laid them at the door of the lodge. He presented his horses to the father. At last the young woman was married to the young chief from far away. But still contended that it was the wrong thing for her to do; that she was not intended for marriage and that it was all a big mistake. A great feast was given and, after many days of merry-making, the two young people started upon the long journey toward the west where dwelt the people of the young chieftan. 

Sometime afterward there staggered into the village of the Arikara this same young woman, tired and weary with hunger. She had made the long and dangerous journey alone, she said. Her anxious mother asked her what the trouble had been, if her husband had abused her, if she did not have enough to eat, if she had not been well cared-for and and many other questions, such as a mother would ask her daughter. 



But the daughter said that she had been well-treated by her husband, that he gave her the softest skins to rest upon, that she was well fed and that her husband was the perfect man in all things, but she said, "I told you that it was not intended that I should wed, and now see the ruin you have caused by compelling me to marry." 

She then displayed her private parts to her mother. Behold, what had been formerly shaped like the beautiful flower of the pumpkin blossom were now faded and drooped. Her parents comforted her as well as they knew how, but that night she disappeared and, after a long search, was found upon the top of the hill to the northeast of the village, but she refused to return to her parent's lodge. 

Then her father went to speak with her but she still refused. Her mother next talked with her but she told her that she was slowly turning to stone and could not go. She was stone to the knees.

Terribly alarmed, her parents urged the medicine man and all the people to go with them to the hill and have her return. They went, but it was, indeed, true, she was turning to stone and could not move. Her little faithful dog climbed up into her lap and would not be disturbed. Soon she had turned to stone to her private parts, then to her breasts, and finally her entire body and that of the little dog were turned to stone. 

Then a terrible storm came up, spirits rushed through the air, the people were scared and terrified. When the storm had passed over, the daughter was still there, but stone, as you see her, today. So this stone was sacred ever after and was put up in the sacred enclosure in the middle of the village. 

If this story is the true one it is not a Sioux stone but originated with the Arikara. Assuming it was an Arikara stone, the story became evidently known to the Sioux women who carried it across the river after the Arikara had been driven out of that country and established it upon the slope of the hills south of the Porcupine. The Sioux stories were gradually woven about the stone, as the Sioux women would quite naturally take good care of it as a holy object, even though of Arikara origin, as the story connected with it was about a woman. 

Rev. Beede speculates that the Standing Rock stone is not the "original" and that it must come from some where else. That the Sioux women would gradually weave their own stories about the stone mirrors the displacement of place identity the Sioux in turn had the land before soldiers and settlers displaced them. 

Its possible that there are as many as four Standing Rocks.