Friday, August 29, 2014

The Origin Of The Hunkpapa Lakota

Sitting Bull is probably the most recognized Huŋkphápȟa, seen here in this photo from his days in Buffalo Bill's western show.
The Origin Of The Hunkpapa Lakota
Different Stories And Pronunciations
By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. – When I was in the eighth grade, the teacher dedicated about an hour to North Dakota Studies. She didn’t focus so much on non-native history, but developed her own curriculum and content. At the time, I didn't appreciate the effort and energy she poured into our native identity and culture.

I distinctly recall one day how she told the class that we were Teton. If I turned in homework with “Sioux” on it, she wrote in that threatening blood red script way that only teachers can, that we were Teton and I had better use that word.

My grandparents told me we were called Huŋkphápȟa, and pronounced it with a clear distinction from my pronunciation of Hunkpapa. In the culture club at school, I remember being told that Huŋkphápȟa translated as “Head of The Circle,” “End of The Circle,” and “Camps At The Entrance” in reference to how this band camped at the entrance of the Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton) councils. The Huŋkphápȟa were the first to arrive and the last to leave.

According to Mary Louise Defender-Wilson, a traditional arts scholar and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the historic etymology of Huŋkphápȟa is that the tribal name was once Henúŋpapȟapha, and related to a time when this particular group of Thítȟuŋwaŋ people were camped near Matȟó Thípila (Bear Lodge; Devil’s Tower).

Josephine Waggoner’s “Witness: A Huŋkphápȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song Of The Lakotas” another word history is offered. It’s as different in the telling as it is comes from a different Lakȟóta tribal perspective, the Oglála. The Oglála historian, Makhúla (Breast), recounted that “in the earliest days, the Huŋkphápȟaya were of the Oglála band, who wandered far north and roamed on the upper part of the Missouri River and further up into Canada. They were called the upper river Indians – Íŋkpapaya, afterwards called Huŋkphápȟaya.

In a discussion with Jerome Kills Small (Oglála) in September 2012, Kills Small related much the same story as recounted in Waggoner’s book, that the Huŋkphápȟa were once Oglála whose country was the Upper Missouri River. He was deliberate in his explanation too in the pronunciation of Hunkpapa as Huŋkphápȟa, and offered no variation of the name.

The traditional territory of the Huŋkphápȟa is of course the Upper Missouri River, which ranges from the Wakpá Wašté (Cheyenne River) in the south, along the Mníšoše (Missouri River) to the Čhaȟí Wakpá (Powder River) and Heȟáka Wakpá (Yellowstone River) in the north and west. Naturally, this territory was contested by other tribes.

Today the Huŋkphápȟa can be found on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation with some at the Fort Peck Sioux Indian Reservation and the Wood Mountain Reserve in Saskatchewan – not to mention many more who live off the reservations throughout the country.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Origin Of Fire

The jacket of the book features ledger book art by Black Hawk titled, "Sans Arc Lakota."
The Origin Of Fire
Pȟéta Ohútkȟaŋ

By Dakota Wind
Standing Rock, N.D. & S.D. – The following is an excerpt from Josephine Waggoner’s wonderful book “Witness: A Húŋkphapȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song of the Lakotas,” which is published by the University of Nebraska Press, available now. Get your copy today.

The origin of fire as it is remembered in the traditions told by the old men of the tribe of the Sioux is that there had been no fires used by them in the times past. Fires may have been seen but not used. It was feared by the Indians as a destructive element.

Pȟóğe (Inside-Of-Nose) was the first to discover fire. He was an active man, was always examining and noticing everything about him. One day Pȟóğe went to the woods to look for hardwood knots. Those days, men looked for knots in decayed wood. The fallen logs were rotten, but the knots were hard. These were picked up, scooped out, and used for dishes. The dishes were sometimes sort of sandpapered or filed on sandstone till they were the shape they were wanted.

Pȟóğe found a rotten stump. He scooped it all out; he worked with it for quite a while. He tried to work a deep hole in the center. He got a stick. He sharpened it at the end, and with this stick placed sharpened side to the heart of the stump, he rolled it fast between his hands, trying to deepen the hole. It started to smoke, but he kept on twirling the stick. A fire started where it was smoking.

Pȟóğe has been sitting on a knoll and when the fire burnt in earnest, he started toward the camp, toward the center of the village where some of the village had gathered. Everyone was watching Pȟóğe as he walked along with the burning stump. From camp to camp it was spoken of. “Look at Pȟóğe, look at Pȟóğe. He is coming home in a strange way.” The burning stump was taken to the council lodge. Men ran and got wood. Wood was brought from all sides of the camp. Excitement ran high about this new thing that had been discovered. People carried lighted sticks home from the council lodge to start fires in their homes. Meat that had always been cured and dried before using was now cooked – that is, it was roasted.

It was decided that the fire must always be kept up in the council lodge so that those who wanted it could go and get it. After this, the fire was never extinguished. At each council the sacred fire was kept, till there were seven fires among the Sioux.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Painting Tradition: Black War Bonnet Pattern

Painting the Black War Bonnet Society motif. The pattern is penciled in, then painted. 
Wičhóȟ’aŋ Itówapi
The Painting Tradition

By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – The Black Warbonnet Society of the Thíthuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta people was an elite warrior society in the late nineteenth century. Members and especially the leader of this group would paint a special symmetrical and geometrical pattern that represented birth, the road of life, and death, within two concentric patterns of “feathers.” Owners, and sometimes wearers, of these extravagantly painted robes, believed that the pattern – even the execution of the pattern – was good medicine and protected the owner.

The major color scheme of the Black War Bonnet Society pattern is almost overwhelmingly black for a reason. Black represents west, the thunder beings, bravery, and death. Placing black patterned with white represented feathers in this headdress, but also a balance of life and death.

Members of this warrior society would also paint their pattern upon bison skulls and shields. Variations of the Black War Bonnet pattern could be found on the robes of other tribal nations too. 


The bison robe measures about 38 feet square. It is a winter bull hide; the fur side is full of soft thick fur. 

In the pre-reservation era, the pattern was associated with Woóhitika, the traditional Lakȟóta value of bravery. After the post-reservation era began, and into contemporary times, the pattern became associated with Wóitȟaŋčhaŋ, the values of leadership and service, though these values often went hand-in-glove with bravery.

The most popular execution of the Black War Bonnet design today on bison hides was featured in Thomas E. Mails’ “Mystic Warriors Of The Plains,” which in itself is based on an actual painted robe. It is often recreated in almost clinical detail on shields, bison skulls, and bison robes with little to no variation. 

This sundog appeared above the Missouri River on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D.

Early last year, my lekší Cedric, shared the wonderful story of the sundog, which the Lakȟóta call Wíačhéič’ithi, or “The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself.” The Lakȟóta word, Wíačhéič’ithi, also refers to the ring that sometimes appears around the moon, which signifies a change in weather. 


"...a new interpretation of the Black War Bonnet design, one of hope and light..."

The story of the how the sundog came to be and the stories of the sun, who wore a fiery headdress, bring to mind a new interpretation of the Black War Bonnet design, one of hope and light, and I decided to paint one.

The Black War Bonnet Society design is nearly finished. 

The pattern calls for a "road" running between three medicine wheels. The medicine wheel represents the four cardinal directions, the four winds, four stages in life, and the four great Lakȟóta values: Wóohitike (Bravery), Wówačhaŋtognaka (Generosity), Waúŋšila (Compassion), and Wóksape (Wisdom). There are, of course, more than four virtues, and this is just an example. 

The three medicine wheels in this case represent birth, life, and death. The Black War Bonnet Society motif is arranged around the center wheel. The popular execution of the pattern involves using yellow. I've substituted red in place of yellow in this case. 

White has been added to the pattern. White is said to represent anything from purity of spirit to life, or the north direction. 

The two concentric tracks of feathers represent the headdress. In this re-examination of the pattern, the center medicine wheel represents the sun, the two flanking medicine wheels represent the campfires.

The painted hide is finished after a red border accents the edge. 

The entire pattern is flanked by eight "fans." A red border represents the life and wisdom. The entire project was carried out and finished over the summer of 2014. Each time I set up and painted in the back yard, I was blessed to hear songs from Tȟašíyagmuŋka (the Western Meadowlark) and Wakíŋyela (the Mourning Dove), and one morning in particular, a Tȟašíyagmuŋka landed next to my paint and sang, as if to ask, "Tȟaŋháŋši, taku huwo [Cousin, what are you doing?]?"

My experience of painting this bison robe is varied, from sitting at an improvised table in the golden light of an early summer morning, watching my paint dry on a hot mid-summer afternoon, to enjoying a cool cloudless windy evening under a dark azure sky. Through it all, birds shared their songs, and no matter the day or time, I was never once pestered by mosquitoes. I would do it again. 

Support an enrolled member of a federal tribe, support an artist. View it in person for yourself. It is on display at the Five Nations Arts in Mandan, N.D.