Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter On The Great Plains

Sundogs. In Lakota they're referred to as campfires.
Cold On The Great Plains
Winter & Sundogs On The Missouri River
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - This morning was cold. It’s not enough to say it was cold. This morning was a little windy, and it’s not enough to say that it was windy because this is the Great Plains, the land of sky and wind. I like to think of it that way. It sounds minimal and majestic.

This morning was cold. It was the kind of cold that reaches through one’s clothes and seizes your intimates with its freezing embrace and just squeezes the warmth right out. It was the kind of cold that made me blink back tears when I dared to step out and start my little beast.

The snow and ice sounded brittle like styrofoam when I stepped on it. Jesus, on the Great Plains it gets cold enough that even the snow and ice groan and ache.

My little beast wasn’t feeling like a beast and it started like a crotchety bastard. I swear it fought the ignition, and then sputtered thrice before defiantly turning over. On the Great Plains, cars have character and mine was acting like a frosty bitch.

...I filled a bowl with frosted flakes which seemed to fit the feel of the morning so far...

I let it warm up in the garage whilst I finished prepping for the day. I dived into the dresser and rolled into a pair of khaki pants, thick woolen socks and a Def Leppard t-shirt, and then I filled a bowl with frosted flakes which seemed to fit the feel of the morning so far. My son Isaiah – we call him Zay – meanwhile had already broken fast, dressed and took care of our little pup that the boys call Penny, but I like to call Pensethilea after the Amazon warrior whom Achilles fell in love.

We got in the car and found that the frosty bitch had warmed up agreeably and we set off down the road.

The sun hadn’t yet risen as we pulled onto the main road. My car seemed to protest against acceleration as I brought the needle up to fifty-five. The drive was normal, that is to say it was boring and uneventful but for the promise of the sun, of light and warmth, as purple twilight became golden dawn.

I turned my car back onto the road and drove into the sunrise and sundogs.

On each side of the sun as the daystar ascended into the sky appeared the striking phenomena commonly called sundogs. I don’t know about how or why the natural event became known as a sundog, and I’ve never been particularly fond of the term.

I dropped my boy off at school and told him to have fun, but not too much fun. I have a benediction I like to impart on my boys when I drop them off at school, “Work hard. Study. Graduate, and go to college.” I don’t know that they care to hear me say it or even if they listen, but its something that I remember by grandmother said to me. I don’t recall that I listened all the time either when she said it.

I turned my car back onto the road and drove into the sunrise and sundogs.

The Lakota people have the traditional story about the sundog, and know it by another name, Wi’ačé’ičiti. It means The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself.  Suffice to say that only on the Great Plains does it get cold enough that even the sun makes fires for itself.

It was an awesome site to witness. The sundogs, the campfires if you will, burned rainbows on each side of the sun. The sun itself was set in colors of purple and pink and nearly unbearable to directly at, but I imagine that it’s like looking at the first dawn of creation. The campfires are still hanging in the air when I park my little beast.

...silent beauty of the morning sun and the campfires make me feel small inside as I stand in my reverie...

The campfires remind me of my childhood. They remind me of the living room in my grandmother’s home back on Standing Rock.  The living room had floor to ceiling windows on one side and another large window on another side which allowed for sunlight from morning until late afternoon. I’m reminded of sunrises over Lake Oahe on long-ago mornings, and of my grandfather, my lala, coaxing his car to start so he could take my brother and I to school.

The immense and silent beauty of the morning sun and the campfires make me feel small inside as I stand in my reverie. I wouldn’t call myself traditional, but I’m suddenly inspired to reach into my glove compartment and take out my tobacco. I remove my glove and delicately reach for a pinch of sweet potent tobacco and sprinkle it betwixt my fingers in fond remembrance of my grandparents.

They watched over me and now its my turn to watch over my sons. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Racing To Save A Language

The beautiful vesper twilight on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.
Lakota Language Nest, An Immersion School
Reviving Language On Edge Of Extinction

By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, N.D. & S.D. - It is the heart of winter on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Gleaming white snow blankets the landscape, the Missouri River has turned to ice and the crisp cold air somehow makes every sound sharper–the peal of a bell seems to carry an impossible distance from town–but the sounds of children playing, laughing and singing warms everything.

The children are in pre-school, ages three to four. Their high-pitched play echoes down the hall when their door opens. The pitch of little voices sounds like what one would hear in any other early child care service across the state, but listen closer and it becomes obvious that this isn’t like any other day care service. The children speak a mix of English and Lakota amongst themselves, but the teachers strictly speak only Lakota in the classroom.

I grew up learning my colors with a few different words. "Luta" is another word for red; I grew up with "Tho'Tho" for green. Here they use "Thozi," or "blue-yellow" for the color green.

This preschool is called Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi, the Lakota Language Nest. It is an immersion school still in its first year of practice and based on the language nest model which was designed by the Maori people in New Zeeland. The language nest was established to raise language loss awareness on the reservation and to raise up a new generation of first-language Lakota speakers.

The language nest is one part of the Lakota Language Education Action Program (LLEAP) designed for students to go to college and pursue language studies. Students who are in the program are given financial aid to learn Lakota and gain proficiency in the language with the caveat that LLEAP participants must teach the language. Many of the nest’s learners have parents participating in LLEAP at Sitting Bull College.

Tipiziwin Young answers a question only in Lakota.

Tipiziwin Young, a second-language teacher in the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi program, estimates that there are about 200 fluent Lakota speakers left on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. “A few years back, I was facetious with Jan Ullrich about who I am and where I’m from when he said to me, ‘You’re language will die.’ He didn’t say it to be mean. He said it to be real. I was moved to silence. I was provoked. The loss of my language motivated me to learn it.” Young is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, born and raised on the reservation, and a mother to three children. “I teach here, then go home and stay in Lakota for my children to learn.”

A little boy with a mop of brown hair approaches me. In a quiet unassuming voice he introduces himself to me. Thinking to obey the rule of the classroom, I go down on one knee and respond, “Hau. Dakota émaĥčiyapi lo.” I gesture to him, an open palm when I greet him, then gesture to my heart. I place my right fist above my left fist over my heart, then gesture with my right hand–index finger–to my mouth when I say my name. I’ve seen few others use the Plains Indian sign and gesture language and the signs I made were for “my” or “mine” and for “name.” I don’t know that his little one has seen the old sign and gesture but he nods his head and smiles.

Whitetail-Cross prepares a hands-on activity with one of the children.

Sacheen Whitetail-Cross, Project Director of LLEAP and the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi at Sitting Bull College, is preparing an activity with rice for the children. For Whitetail-Cross the greatest challenge with the language nest has been to “stay” in Lakota, “I spent a week in Washington DC, speaking nothing but English. When I came back to the classroom, during an activity, I asked a couple of the children, ‘What are you doing?’ in English. They were as shocked as I was.”

One observation that Whitetail-Cross shared about the children of the language nest is that they are showing ownership of Lakota. At a recent program, they heard a Lakota speaker, and many of them told Whitetail-Cross, “That’s my language.”

Red Bird works with a young boy on a puzzle. He answers the boy's questions only in Lakota.

Tom Red Bird, the first-language teacher on staff at the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi, approaches a group of little boys near the window. One mischievous boy stands on a heater behind the short bookcase which was put next to the window. “Héčé šni! [Don’t do that!]” Red Bird says and gestures to the boy to get down. The boy casually climbs down as though he were going to get down anyway and rejoins the other boys.

Perhaps an indication of how comfortable the children are is use of Lakota is in their own little conversations. Two of the children, a boy and a girl are playing with Legos. They began to argue over a few choice bricks in their construction. The boy wants a brick that the girl is already using. As he reaches for it he says in English, “That’s mine!” She retorts in Lakota, “Šni! Šni! Héčé šni! No, don’t do that!” and keeps her brick.

Two children work out who can play with which brick.

A father steps into the classroom. Chase Iron Eyes is his name. His daughter Azilya (4) is among the nest participants. “I heard of this program through community members,” says Iron Eyes, “My wife and I were immediately drawn to it. We wanted her to have this opportunity.” Iron Eyes commutes each week day from Mandan, ND. “She’s not a morning baby. She fights every morning.” He believes the effort is worth the struggle.

Iron Eyes relates to me that Azilya experienced culture shock for the first two weeks then she started to like it and began to speak Lakota at home. Azilya’s older siblings have begun asking their sister and father how to say things in Lakota, and she corrects her father’s Lakota grammar.

Chase Iron Eyes, Esq., founding writer and editor of The Last Real Indians.

Iron Eyes doesn’t believe that language revitalization today equals a renaissance. “Its something that’s been building up now since the 1960s and ‘70s,” he points out, “native activists were and are proponents of language practice. It’s not a renaissance because you live it.” Iron Eyes is active with the community and engaged as a parent in the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi program.

The children in the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi are getting to be good speakers. “Their American accent is going away,” says Red Bird. They hold hands and pray before lunch. Little hands clasped in little hands. When the prayer of thanksgiving, the Wota Wačéki, is finished the children say together in unison, “Mitakuyé Oyasiŋ,” the traditional way the Lakota conclude prayers meaning “All My Relatives.” During lunch one of the little boys stops eating and spontaneously breaks into song, singing in the Lakota language.

Red Bird work on a project for one of the children while Tipiziwin Young engages them busy with a language activity.

After the parents have picked up their children, Red Bird deeply breathes what sounds like a sigh of satisfaction. The only relief he shares is that the language is spoken again daily. “I like it,” Red Bird says in English, “I get to speak my language all day. It feels good.” Red Bird is originally from the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, and had taught Lakota at United Tribes Technical College for several years. “Our Lakota people get lonesome to be home or go home, and language is part of that. That’s where our heart is. I go home to get re-energized.”

Red Bird has hopes for the children, the Thakoza, as he refers to them. “If this keeps going, maybe in ten years we’ll have a new group of Lakota speakers who speak the language correctly.” Red Bird is a great-grandfather and he speaks only Lakota to his great-grandson. His optimism for what can only be called a language revival pours out of him, “We have a culture and tradition, our spirituality, a land base, and our relationship with all of those is best expressed with words found only in our language. It is a sacred language.”

Whitetail-Cross offers comfort to a little boy during an activity.
Whitetail-Cross’ hopes for language revival echoes Red Bird’s, but her optimism is laced with concerns for the program, “Funding is an issue.” The Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi program received funding from an Administration of Native Americans grant for three years. The first year of programming consisted of developing preschool curriculum, training for language educators, and classroom startup. The Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi is in its second year of funding, its first year of operation.

The North Dakota Humanities Council recently awarded a $10,000 grant to the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi program to assist the program with publication of language materials, but its not enough. Both Whitetail-Cross and Red Bird have expressed the dire need for age-appropriate language materials. There isn’t much published.

The author of this beautiful children's book, SD Nelson, contains some text in Lakota. Nelson is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Whitetail-Cross is working with Nelson and the South Dakota State Historical Society to acquire the necessary permissions to print a limited number of language resource materials for the children.

Once a week, Red Bird will take a children’s book, translate the text, and then read the story to the children. Having extra copies of Red Bird’s translations for parents to take home and read with their children would help to reinforce that day’s language lesson. “We desperately need more language materials,” Red Bird said.

Jan Ullrich, linguistic director of the Lakota Language Consortium, shares Red Bird’s concern for speaking the Lakota language correctly. Ullrich has had a hand in the development of a standard Lakota orthography for the New Lakota Dictionary. We converse on Skype getting to know a little of one another before business. Ullrich is from the Czech Republic. As a little boy he admired the survival story of the American Indian. In 1992, he travelled to the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation and made friends with the Fire Thunder and Looking Horse families and came to learn Lakota.

Ullrich may come from the Czech Republic but his heart is Lakota. Visit his work online at the Lakota Language Consortium.

Ullrich sends me the letters t, o, k and a. He then asks me to pronounce what he’s spelled. I reply TOH-kah which can mean “enemy,” then follow up with toh-KAH which can mean “first.” Ullrich then sends me the texts Tĥoka and Tĥoká. The accent marks take a moment to get used to, but the new standard orthography he employs has me pronouncing Lakota correctly when I read it.

Ullrich’s standard orthography isn’t embraced by all Lakota speakers, nor is it the first effort at standard orthgraphy he admits. Sometime back, a Lakota man named Curly from the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation developed a thirty-six character alphabet. The main drawback with this alphabet for modern Lakota speakers is that it involves learning and remembering entirely new symbols. The new standard orthography makes use of the modern keyboard and letters with sounds Lakota students learned with English, the only addition are marks for accent, aspirants, glottal sounds and glottal stops.

Ullrich is the editor of the New Lakota Dictionary, but being the editor means little to Ullrich who credits several Lakota people who've contributed to this work. Support the Lakota Language Consortium and buy a copy of this dictionary or any other of their published Lakota language materials online at the Lakota Language Consortium Bookstore.

“Missionaries did a good job of starting the process of recording the language,” explains Ullrich, “But they ‘invented’ new words in the interest of literal word for word translation, rather than translation of concept for concept.” Thousands of entries in the Buechel and Riggs dictionaries should be carefully and critically examined according to Ullrich. These dictionaries should also be praised for bringing the Lakota and Dakota languages to the general public’s attention.

Ullrich recently joined the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi via Skype to encourage the young learners and to offer courage to the language teachers. Like Red Bird, Ullrich believes that the key to language revitalizing is learning consistently and accurately.

Young engages the children in an activity. The children enthusiastically respond with requests for pictures of various faces and feelings.

Young gathers the children together in a circle on a soft blue carpet. A couple of the children take their time in getting to the circle. Young raises her voice a little, “Inaĥni!” she says, hurry. I know the word well from my own childhood and it becomes obvious that these young ones do too. “Iyotake, iyotake,” Young commands with the strong confidence that mother’s everywhere instinctively possess. Sit down, sit down, and they do so without argument.

She takes out a pen and paper and quickly draws a series of faces with a variety of expressions. The children respond somewhat in unison, “Iyokipiya!” “Wačiŋko!” Happy! Sad! The children tell her in Lakota what faces to draw next and she obliges. When they finish this exercise, they even take time to sing happy birthday to two of the boys, “Aŋpétu tuŋpi,” Young begins and the thakoza sing following her cues. It is to the popular tune “Good morning to all” which was popularly appropriated to the Happy Birthday song, and it’s a close translation in Lakota, They day you were born.

Little voices singing in Lakota continue to echo in my mind when I leave the Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpi, the Lakota Language Nest. It was spoken everyday in the days of warriors and legend. It was spoken everyday when the reservations were established.

The Bismarck Indian Boarding School for girls, 1933.

Somehow along the way between then and now the language began to die through a variety of reasons. Some speakers were scarred from their experiences in learning English during the boarding school days. Some left the reservation and never returned, their children and grandchildren grew up speaking only English. Schools on the reservation teach only in English. Lakota became a language for church or special occasion.

These thakoza speak the language in fun, in play, in prayer, and even in arguments. They can express themselves and articulate their feelings accurately through the knowledge of two languages. Perhaps English has too many words. There is a word for everything, a noun. It’s a language of things. Lakota is a language of description and relation, and that’s just what we need these days.

General Sibley's Apple Orchard Conflict, 1863

Get yourself a copy of Mike Cowdrey's book Horses And Bridles Of The American Indians. Order it direct from the publisher Hawk Hill Press. A review of this book is coming soon.
Sibley's Apple Orchard Conflict, 1863
Interpreting A Forgotten Fight

By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - Note:Back in September of 2012, Mr. Mike Cowdrey and I began a friendly dialog about a pictograph which was identified with the Whitestone Hill conflict of 1863. I had postulated that the conflict depicted was the running conflict from Dead Buffalo Lake to Stoney Lake which ended at Apple Creek in late July, 1863. Here are Mr. Cowdrey’s remarks:

Let me say that I do not "have a dog in this fight," by which I mean that I'm not wedded to the Whitestone Hills identification for the events depicted on the muslin, if you can come up with more-compelling evidence that better fits the circumstances of Sibley's fights. Here are some of the points I think you'll need to address; and also the reasons I concluded 15 years ago that the depiction shows the camp at Whitestone Hills.


Here is the pictograph which Cowdrey interpreted as having something to do with Whitestone Hill. Unfortunately, the pictograph was sold at Sotheby's back in the 1990s to an anonymous collector.

The Army descriptions of the large, multi-band village specifically mention pothole lakes within the circle of lodges, and these are shown by the Sioux artist, also. What may be the SAME, water-filled depressions are illustrated by one of the color photos in the recent report. There are probably at least several other depressions in the area which might also have been water sources for the village of 1862. In comparison, Dead Buffalo Lake, where the Sibley attack occurred, was a much larger body of water, more than a mile in diameter. I think this is far too large to have been encompassed by ANY tipi village anywhere on the Plains during the 19th century.


Picture of two pothole lakes south and west of Whitestone Hill State Historic Site. Takes-His-Shield stated that the encampment was south and east of the Whitestone Hill SHS.

The name of the area, Inyan Ska Paha, is traditionally said to have originated from the ancient practice of piling up the white, glacial debris which litters the surface, into cairns on the hilltops and ridge lines. Sunlight reflecting from these white rocks was visible for many miles. Several of these cairns are carefully depicted by the Ihanktowanna artist, along the ridge line which horizontally bisects the composition. As I recall (I don't have a copy of my 1997 text, at hand), there is also Sioux oral testimony that these cairns were often created by vision-questers in this sacred area; and a vision quest in progress is depicted near the left-center of the same ridge line (the sanctified site with four cloth flags). The survey team, of which you were a part, found and documented the remains of many of these rock piles (last, two attachments), while noting that most of the historic rock cairns had been dismantled in the 1920s, for use in constructing the present monument.


Diagram by Kimball Banks, Ph.D., of Metcalf Archaeology who coordinated the Arch III Survey at Whitestone Hill SHS in 2012. The diagram depicts the remains of a stone cairn, toppled by careless passersby sometime back.

I respect Mr. Cowdrey’s forwardness in saying that he doesn’t “have a dog in this fight.” He has conducted meticulous research in his own work and maps he’s put together in regard to the horse and its historic journey across North America are things which I concur. Here’s my take on the pictograph.

The guns were identified by a few individuals at the 2012 Great Plains History Conference in Fargo, ND, as Spencer carbines. The seven-shot repeating Spencer rifles were produced from about 1860 to 1890 and were used throughout the Civil War and the western Indian Wars. The rifles which the soldiers are carrying as they ride away on their horses appear to be the 1860 Spencer rifle with bayonet.


A screen capture of a Google map above Whitestone Hill (in yellow square). Several pothole lakes are in the vicinity, easily within a mile of Whitestone Hill SHS.

There are several natural pothole lakes on site at Whitestone Hill. There is one lake at Whitestone Hill that is of great importance to the Dakota and Lakota peoples, the lake which has a peninsula in the shape of a pipe. The artist (still unknown artist) chose to render just two lakes when the site has several lakes and one significant lake.

The Dakota-Lakota encampment was far larger than the historically designated “core,” the site that is currently designated the “battlefield.” If there were 5000 people, that might mean about 1000 lodges, each with sanitation concerns and grass for their horses. The encampment would have been spread out to encompass more than just two of the lakes there. An encampment of that size around just two pothole lakes would not likely be possible.


The tipi village encampment location according to Takes-His-Shield, which is on privately owned land, within the orange square.

The pictograph seemingly portrays an “Indian” victory. The conflict at Whitestone Hill ended with resounding violence, a massacre, for the Dakota and Lakota who were there. It's possible that the artist chose to portray the Whitestone Hill conflict as a victory.

The practice of building stone cairns was a spiritual tradition of pilgrims of the vision quest at Whitestone Hill, but also at many sites of spiritual significance across the continent. I agree with Cowdrey that a vision quest, or perhaps that one is about to begin or has ended, is shown.

I threw the idea out there to Cowdrey that the pictograph possibly tells of the conflict of Sibley’s running conflicts with the Dakota and Lakota at Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake, and it is true that the lakes are big, perhaps too big to be encompassed by a tipi village as I first thought.


Sibley's arm of the punitive campaign. Big Mound, Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake are depicted towards the end of his campaign.

Still unconvinced that the pictograph is showing the Whitestone Hill conflict altogether, I followed the Sibley branch of the Punitive Campaign of 1863. There were two lakes south of University Drive in present-day Bismarck, ND. One of them is still round. The other lake developed into a wetland area, which was drained and filled in the past ten years. The two lakes together could be encompassed by a large tipi village.

Sibley's Campaign by Clell Gannon. See the original fresco in the atrium of the Burleigh County Courthouse in Bismarck, ND.

On Sibley’s campaign, he followed and a harassed a group of Sioux he assumed had something to do with the Minnesota Dakota Conflict. The people he chased led him on a sinuous path back and forth across the Apple Creek. They did so because soldiers with their wagons and supplies had a difficult time fording the creek.

Sibley caught up to the Dakota-Lakota people on July 28, 1863. Only he didn’t catch up to them. The Dakota-Lakota people he encountered were warriors who took the high ground, where present-day University of Mary sits today. The people he was hoping to capture, according to the war theory practiced by the Union army, the elders, women and children had already forded the Missouri River at the confluence of Apple Creek. Apple Creek then used to converge with the Missouri right below Pictured Bluff.


A map by the Missouri River Commission, published in 1894. The map is based on a survey of the river in 1889 and a topographical survey in 1891.

The warriors on Pictured Bluff used trade mirrors to share flashes of sunlight with their families across the river, then readied themselves for a fight which lasted until August 1, when Sibley withdrew his command from the field, unable to determine how many Indians his soldiers killed, or even if they killed any at all.

Sibley’s objective was to meet and engage the Sioux. He filed the Apple Creek Conflict as a victory in his report. He named the camp site “Camp Slaughter” but not for the perceived victory. Instead it was named for a doctor whose last name was Slaughter.


I noticed after the fact that I forgot to mark where the two lakes once were located, which was south of where Bismarck is delineated in the map, about at the bend of the two parties. The vision quest hill is east of the University of Mary on privately owned land.

In all, Sibley lost nineteen men over the course of the campaign. Not all at the Apple Creek Conflict.

There is a vision quest hill near Apple Creek, located perhaps a half-mile east of the Pictured Bluff. No one has been there to pray in years, and with the development of the University of Mary, Highway 1804, and some residential housing, no one will likely ascend that hill to pray again.

The central figure wearing a red shirt may be Gall. At that time he was known as Walks-In-Red. Historians like Robert Utley (The Lance and The Shield) and Robert Larson (Gall) treat the conflicts at Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake as losses for the Dakota-Lakota. Sitting Bull’s own personal account of his counting coup on Sibley’s mule team show not only that the Hunkpapa Lakota were in these conflicts and the last conflict at Apple Creek, but that the warriors met their objective to protect and buy time for their people to escape.

If Sitting Bull was present, it is safe to assume that so was Gall. They were very close at this time in their relationship, and they were in the same tiospaye, the same tribe of Lakota, the Hunkpapa. The lance which is depicted in the hand of the central most figure, is the lance of a war chieftan, the kind once carried by Gall, or Walks-In-Red.

Who was the victor in this conflict? Sibley met his objective to meet and engage the Sioux. The warriors had a duty to protect their people. The Dakota-Lakota people in this conflict may not have wanted the fight which was brought to them, but they ended it on their terms.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Sanctuary of Killdeer Mountain

The Killdeer Mountains
Living History And Sacredness
By Aaron Barth, The Edge of The Village
KILLDEER, N.D. - The Killdeer Mountains in Dunn County, western North Dakota have been getting a lot of attention lately, especially after theNorth Dakota Industrial Commission decided to, well, industrialize the area, and allow the Hess Corporation to follow through with signed leases and drill and frack for oil there. The Grand Forks Herald reported on it here, and The Bismarck Tribune here. The Industrial Commission is composed of three individuals, including Jack Dalrymple, Wayne Stenehjem, and Doug Goehring. They have scheduled meetings with the Department of Mineral Resources and Lynn Helms, the sitting Director. It is important to remember that this was a public hearing, and at public hearings the public ought not to be shy about attending. This experiment America has going, our Democratic-Republic, necessitates these local meetings that have global implications.

On January 24, 2013, at 1:00pm (CST) the public hearing for the Killdeer Mountains was held in the capitol of Bismarck, North Dakota. It was Industrial Commission Case Number 18618 concerning sections 25 & 36, T. 146 N., R. 97 W, this about 30-35 miles north of Dickinson, North Dakota. Originally the hearing was scheduled in the Governor’s meeting room, a rather closed-off and secluded place. Because of the public turn-out, though, the hearing was relocated to the larger Brynhild Haugland room in the western wing of the capitol. I drove over from Fargo to Bismarck to attend the meeting, and while there scribbled down some notes and took some audio-video as well. The high-points, I thought, were in capturing two Native voices from two disparate cultures.

The first is a video from Theodora Birdbear of Mandaree, North Dakota (Mandaree is Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara territory). The microphone on my Canon PowerShot SX260 HS captured the audio a bit, and just in case there are those of us hard-of-hearing, I provided transcript of Theodora’s testimony below.

Theodora Bird Bear explains the spiritual significance of Killdeer Mountains.

Transcript:
…and he expressed the impact of oil and gas development, the industrialization of an area, which impacts the quality of that spiritual experience. I guess it’s kind of equivalent to having an oil well right beside your Catholic church or something. It’s parallel to that. So I wanted the commission to know that Fort Berthold does have a living connection to that area, and to consider that in your decision making. As people have said prior to this, technology is evolving, and to keep it [oil] in the ground is not wasting it. They are going to be after it in the future. What’s the rush? The rush is quick decisions, unplanned decisions, and unplanned impacts. So I just wanted to make a comment about our relationship with that area. It is still living today.

Theodora remarks on how the Killdeer Mountains are a sanctuary, as sacred and sacrosanct as a Catholic Church, and to carry the analogy further, as a Lutheran or protestant church, a Synagogue, a Mosque, a Buddhist monastery, a Hindu temple, a Confucian temple, and so on. These spaces are sacrosanct in the sense that when an individual goes to the area to pray, they are really interested in having it as quiet. A library could also be considered a sacred space by this definition (libraries carry on that monastic-academic tradition of the deliberate contemplation of texts — this is arguably the antithesis of our hyper-industrial, full-throttle, 21st century world).

The hearing about opening up Killdeer Mountain for oil drilling was open to the general public. The Industrial Commission graciously opened the hearing to listen to concerns from the general public.

I explained that the Killdeer conflict was far larger than the delineated core, the designated North Dakota State Historical Site and involved a running battle from Killdeer Mountain west to the Little Missouri River.

There is estimated to be about 3 to 3.5 million barrels of oil under Killdeer Mountain, worth about $250 million. By not developing and extracting that mineral and oil deposit it is defined by the state of North Dakota as waste.

You, reader, can read about the Industrial Commission's decision to allow Hess Oil to drill within three miles of Medicine Hole and the Killdeer conflict site, at the Bismarck Tribune.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Green Lantern, Batman Begins and Iron Man In Lakota

Here's a few more movies with imagined movie titles:


Green Lantern becomes "Green Dangling Light." "Dangling light" is how the Lakota refer to a lantern. I had thought of just "Green Light," but I wanted it to stay as lantern.


Batman Begins becomes "Man Animal-With-Little-Leather-Wings When He First Did It."


Iron Man actually stays the same, Iron Man.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Taĥċa Wakutėpi: Where They Killed Deer

A golden eagle at sunset at the place where they killed deer.
Taȟčá Wakútepi: Where They Killed Deer
Sacred Site Also Historical

By Dakota Wind
KILLDEER, N.D. – Killdeer Mountain is hardly a mountain, but it is a beautiful and majestic plateau nonetheless as it rises gently above the steppe of the Northern Great Plains. In the summer, native plants and flowers dot the hillside and grow in the cracks of shattered sandstone. Short and middle indigenous grasses sway in a wind that has been present since creation.

The song of coyotes hauntingly fills the air on a gentle midsummer’s eve. The trees, a mix of ash and cottonwood grow in clusters, but it’s the cottonwood trees which sway and shush the world. Crickets take up their hum in the twilight where the cicadas left off theirs in sunlight.

Aeries of golden eagles and hawks remind the meadowlarks and rabbits to keep a wary eye on the skies. One golden eagle circles lazily above me and I take it as a good sign, my prayers will be carried, and I pause a moment to remember my grandparents.

The sunset, from the plateau of Killdeer Mountain. At the bottom of this image is the entrance to Medicine Hole. The wind exhaling the cave created a faint whistle.

At the very top of the plateau is a cave, an entrance into the heart of grandmother earth. Medicine Hole. Since the days of warriors and legend the Nu’Eta (Mandan) have called the mountain Bah-eesh, the Mountain That Sings. By day, like a great inhalation, the wind rushes into the deep embrace of the earth and at night like a long sigh the wind comes out with a whistle, and if one listens carefully, the song of the earth.

The breathing earth. The singing earth. To the Lakota what has breath has spirit, and the earth is a living breathing being, a grandmother. It is a reminder that we human beings belong to the earth. The earth doesn’t belong to people. In the Lakota language, Lahkol’iya, the earth is called Makoċė, grandmother. And she is honored as such.

"We estimated the natural gas flame had at least a 30' vertical from where it exited the stack," said Aaron Barth, Great Plains historian and archaeologist. Photo courtesy of Aaron Barth.

At dusk, when the sun’s fire has gone below the far horizon, true night no longer arrives. The moon no longer spreads her ebon robe over the land, and her embrace becomes a memory. In the distance are oil rigs. One can literally hear the fires of industry and human ingenuity humming across the land. The unnatural firelight smothers the land in perpetual gloomy twilight.

The site known today as the Killdeer Battlefield near Killdeer, ND, is known primarily for the conflict which occurred on June 28, 1864. On that day, General Sully led a command of 4000 soldiers in the last days of his Punitive Sioux Campaign in retaliation for the Minnesota Dakota Conflict of 1862. The village of Lakota and Dakota which Sully attacked had little to nothing to do with the 1862 conflict. The Teton and Yanktonai who were present had actually fought under Colonel Leavenworth’s command in the Arikara War of 1823.

General Sully’s assault continued into the evening and night with a hail of cannon volley.

The attack on the Lakota and Dakota camp from Sully's perspective.

Killdeer is designated a North Dakota State Historical Site and is valued for its contribution to the story of the state. The signage on site reflects the value the state has placed on the conflict. While there is nothing wrong with valuing, protecting, and interpreting the site as a battlefield, the story of the site as a hunting place, the story of the site as a spiritual place goes largely untold, and maybe that’s how it should be. But these are different days and the site should be preserved for more than the tragedy that occurred there.

The site was maintained by the North Dakota Department of Parks and Recreation at one time and shows it. Like Whitestone Hill, old picnic tables and a weathered playground await visitors. It’s an odd sight and it’s something that wouldn’t be seen at places like Gettysburg. A visit to a battlefield should be for reflection, not recreation.

Killdeer, or Taĥċa Wakutėpi, was more than just a place where they killed deer. Young Lakota and Dakota men would ascend the hill for prayer and reflection in the ceremony called Haŋblėċiyė, Crying For A Vision. They would mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually prepare far in advance for their spiritual pilgrimage. The site for their quest also determined long in advance. Their quests generally lasted four days on the hill or mountain, standing, kneeling or sitting while they prayed through cold rain, blistering heat, and desperate thirst to humble themselves before the creator. Killdeer was and still is a special place for prayer and reflection.

For the Lakota, ceremonies began a long time ago. “Ceremonies are forever,” says Cedric Goodhouse, an Uncapa Lakota on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, “We live a life, and all the negative statistics associated with that, are the direct result of having a void of our spirituality, being denied a right to practice where and when our ceremonies are done, appropriately.”


The Nu’Eta (Mandan Indians) have the tradition that the bison entered into the world from Medicine Hole.

They also have the tradition that the mountain was once solid and unbroken stone until the son of Foolish One was killed. The spirits who were present at the death of Foolish One’s son entered the mountain. When Foolish One took up the lifeless body of his son, he smote the mountain with his staff and clove it in two leaving the two parts broken and cracked as we know it today.

Medicine Hole is where some of the Lakota and Dakota people fled into when Sulley began his unwarranted assault. The story goes that some of the people wound their way through the labyrinth and came out west of the mountain. It’s possible. A landslide, however, now marks the western exit.

The entrance to Medicine Hole. 

Medicine Hole splits into three passages. In 1973, a spelunker named Earle Dodge, determined that one passage went west for about 120 feet, another was too narrow for exploration, and a third went east about 120 feet. Another spelunker made a descent of eighty feet before extreme cold made the exploration difficult to continue.

The following day after Sully’s assault, his command destroyed all that was left behind, even the dogs, of which over 3000 were put to sleep. Children who were left behind in the hastily abandoned camp were killed.

Sully executed total war theory. Up to the Battle of Antietam, the Confederate States of America were winning the Civil War. The Union needed to win and subscribed to the total war theory of treating the civilians of the enemy as enemies. This meant the capture and imprisonment of innocent women and children, if they weren’t killed outright on the battlefield.


The success of the Union in the Civil War is directly related to the success of total war theory as demonstrated in the Punitive Campaigns of 1863 and 1864. If the site should be protected and preserved for its tragic history, then it must be argued that Killdeer holds a key to the victory of the union and must be protected.

In the summer of 1998, Isaac Dog Eagle officiated the Releasing Of The Souls ceremony at the Killdeer conflict site. The following year, he conducted the Wiping Of Tears ceremony to facilitate the healing process of people who lost family in the conflict.

Several private landowners and ranchers in and around Killdeer Mountain, many of them non-native but who have fostered a relationship with the land and want to preserve the site for its natural history, are gathering together to protect the site. A group of interested individuals are coordinating efforts to enlighten oil industry officials, and hopefully preserve the integrity of a natural site worth saving for its aesthetics as it is for the cultural traditions surrounding it.

There will be a public hearing about the preservation of Killdeer Mountain at 1:00 PM on Thursday, January 17, 2013 (or January 24, 2013) with the North Dakota Industrial Commission in the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capital. Visit http://www.nd.gov/ndic/ or call (701) 328-3722 to inquire about the correct time and date.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wi'ace'iciti: The Sun Makes For Itself A Campfire

"There are two constants on the Great Plains: the wind and long winters."
The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself
Keeping The Tradition Alive Through Story

By Dakota Wind
STANDING ROCK, N.D. & S.D. - On the Northern Great Plains there are two constants which shaped the natural landscape throughout the ages: the endless wind and the long cold winter.

The wind is always here. From the summer breezes which carry only the oppressive heat of summer to the cutting sting of winter, the wind has shaped the land as much as it has touched the souls of the native sons and daughters and left its mark on their character and spirit.

The Lakota call the wind tatė (tah-TAY). In the days of warriors they had another term for the spirit of the wind, Taku Wakanskanskan (dah-KUU wah-KAN-shkahn-shkahn). I’ve heard the term as used to mean “Something Holy Moving.” I like Albert White Hat’s translation of the word Wakan, in his efforts to cleanse and revitalize the Lakota language, in which he interprets it as “with-energy.” Something with great energy moving across the land perfectly describes the respect for the mystery of creation the Lakota held for when the clouds raced across the sky, the wind blowing across a vast ocean of native grasses, the very power of the wind. Today, scattered across the prairies are wind farms, taking the momentum – the energy – of the wind and convert it into electricity.



In the days of warriors, the Lakota believed that there lived a great giant in the far north, Waziya (wah-ZHEE-yah), who blew his cold breath out across the land and visited frost on the grasses, leaves, and trees in the fall and spring, but as the rivers and streams froze, true winter tested the people with cruel stinging cold and pure white snow. Winter was a test of character.

The winter became a part of the culture for the indigenous. Many tribes marked the passing of seasons by the passing of winter. The new year began when the geese returned, when the trees began to bud, when the river ice broke, and when bison calves were born. In this observance of nature did the Lakota elders, holy people, and leaders gather together and name the previous year, or winter.

On the longest night of the year, the Lakota would reflect and pray in the way of the ancestors. Some still do this with a mid-winter Inipi, a cleansing ceremony.



There is another natural phenomenon, the sundog, which is revealed to the world each winter. For the ancient and medieval Christian it was regarded as an omen, of God’s impending judgment. Maybe a long ago priest interpreted the sundog as evidence of the Living Presence of the Holy Trinity appearing in the sky. For the Lakota, the sundog held the promise of the sun.

I saw a sundog recently. I had seen them as a child and had never once felt them as a sign of ominous peril. I remember being entranced by the halo of light, the arc from one sundog to its twin on the other side of the sun. Without possessing the language for what I felt then as I do now, I can truly tell you that even then I felt an overwhelming respect for the mystery of creation. Seeing a sundog recently rekindled the curiosity of youth that I asked my leksi (lek-SHEE, uncles) about the sundog.

One said to me, the sundog was simply a natural sign which meant that the Lakota could expect cold weather. Another gave me the honest reply that he had not heard of a story associated with the sundog event.

The Lakota call the sundog Wi’ace’iciti (we-AH-chay EEE-chee-dee), which means the sun makes for itself a campfire. The Plains Indian sign language, a mutually intelligible gesture language in use for communicating among the many tribes, articulates the sundog with the sign for sun (thumb and index finger making nearly a closed circle, tracing the sun’s arc in the sky) and the sign for fire (one hand, back down above the palm of the other, fingers of the top hand wiggling to and fro mimicking dancing flames).


The design above is most often regarded as an example of what is called the Black Warbonnet Society pattern. The very center pattern and the inner track of abstract feathers is certainly the Black Warbonnet pattern. The daystar, or sun, Anpo, was said to have worn a brilliant flaming headdress. It would seem that this particular execution of the Black Warbonnet pattern should be reexamined. The execution of the pattern with three medicine wheel centers, and arc of the second track of abstract feathers bears a striking semblance to the sundog phenomenon.

My leksi Cedric listened patiently to my petition for traditional knowledge regarding the sundog phenomenon. This is what he shared with me:

Being short with it, there is a story that my Uncle Ed told us when we were little guys. It occurred probably at a time when there was a severe cold time and there were lots of clouds, or the sky was grey. Many days had passed when the people went and had council with the elders of the camp.

It was directed after prayers and careful deliberation, that two fires were to be made in the east gate or opening of the camp circle. One of the elders then prayed to the east and asked for a break in the weather. As prayers were had, the sky began to light up and the clouds dissipated, winds calmed, and the sun rose.

As the elder prayed, the sun (wi) was on the horizon with the two fires on each side. Many witnessed this. Praying in the time of purification of the earth is sacred, especially in the morning, when the air is calm and your voice can be heard to the horizon.

The animals will let you know also when it is time to do these things.

This is what I remember of the story.


I share this short story with you. It’s not something that is in a book. Paul Goble hasn’t made a children’s book out of this story. It is living culture. It is tradition. There is more to learn and I’m a lifelong student.