Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The New Year Begins In Spring


Western meadowlark, by Gregg Thompson, Bird Note.
O’iyókiphiyA Ómakȟa Théča Yeló!
Joyous Season Of The New Earth Is Here!

By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - In the span of a few weeks, the ice has broken on the Missouri River and melted away, the song birds have returned, the first rainfall has cleansed the air and earth, and the trees have begun to bud new leaves.

The wind has changed too. It smells somehow different, warm and clean. The Lakȟóta call this spring wind Niyá Awičhableze, the Enlightening Breath. It is the first spring wind upon which the tȟašíyagmuŋka, western meadowlark, returns.

“O’iyókiphiyA Ómakȟa Théča Yeló! [The joyous season of the new earth is here!],” sings the western meadowlark. This is the song that starts Wetú, the Spring season. The meadowlark has been singing in the new year for about a month, and has been recently joined by the cooing of the Wakíŋyela, the mourning dove. 

 
The horned lark sits atop some snow, North Dakota Birding Society.

The ištáŋičatȟanka, or horned lark, also returns in the spring, and its songs often compete with the meadowlark to announce spring's arrival. "Optéptečela, Optéptečela!" sings the horned lark. They say that it thinks there is going to be another freeze and hurries to lay its eggs. The horned lark is known the Lakȟóta by a second name, Maštékȟola. They called it so when it sang and flew straight up into the air. They say that good weather soon followed. 

This is the start of the Lakȟóta new year. According to Leroy Curley, “The meadowlark is the forerunner who announces a new season, a new earth and the beginning of the Lakota New Year.”

Curley believed that the meadowlark was the smartest bird, “Tȟašíyagmuŋka, the smartest bird stays within the regions where it is always springtime, and that is why, without the meadowlark, there would not be quite the same Ómakȟa Théča.”

 
The Northern Flicker in flight, courtesy of Butch Thunder Hawk. 

Another bird sings in the new year and fair weather. The Suŋzíča, or Northern Flicker. According to Lekší Butch Thunder Hawk (Standing Rock Sioux), this bird heralds the arrival of thunderstorms and hail, and is an associate of the moon as well. When the Northern Flicker sings, it is said to say, "Aŋpétu wašté, aŋpétu wašté," or "Its a beautiful day, its a beautiful day."

The Black Capped Chickadee, about to land. Photo by Blobber.

The Lakȟóta say that the Škípipila, or Chikadee, has a seven-cleft tongue. They say its tongue begins to split in the springtime and by fall has split seven times. When spring returns, its tongue has just healed. Each spring the Škípipila asks the He
čá, or Turkey Vulture, "Glí huwó," or, "Are you returning?" The Lakȟóta would respond on to the Škípipila on behalf of the Hečá, "Glí yeló!" or, "Return indeed!" They say that the Škípipila is satisfied with this response and remains silent for a long time. When the Hečá does return, they say, there will be no more snow.

In the Lakȟóta calendar there are thirteen months, each numbering about twenty-eight days. This month, or moon, is called Maǧáksiča Aglí Wí, the Moon When Geese Return.


According to Joseph Marshall III (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) the day of the new moon in the month the 
Lakȟóta call Mağáksiša Aglí Wí (Moon When Geese Return), April 18, 2015, marks the beginning of the new year for the Lakȟóta. The Lakȟóta record their history on waníyetu wówapi, the winter count. Each spring, the thiyóšpaye, extended families, who kept winter counts, would gather and determine how to remember the year with a name and an image. The Waníyetu Wówapi tȟa Wapȟóštaŋ Ğí, the Brown Hat Winter Count, a record of pictographic history, reaches back to AD 901.

But how far back does the archaeological record of the Lakȟóta reach? Ask any Lakȟóta, and he or she will be quick to tell you, “We’ve always been here.”

In 2010, Curley offered this wonderful summary on his thoughts about how long the Lakȟóta have been here: "In verbal and symbolic Thítȟuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta history, the medicine wheel built of large boulders in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and the other sacred circle built near Sioux Valley, Manitoba, Canada show carbon-dating at 20 to 40,000 years old of man-made structures. Thus this new year is Lakȟóta Year 40,010 as most nearly the correct annual record of our Thítȟuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta history in this region of the world."

"In the alternative star knowledge and in the sacred Lakȟóta language, the Lakȟóta people and the tȟašíyagmuŋka have always been here," Curley concluded.