Monday, March 27, 2017

New Moon, New Year In The Moon Counting Tradition

Settlers called the first flower of spring "Prairie Crocus" or "Pasque Flower," but the Lakota people know it as Hoksicekpa, A Child's Navel, or "Wanahca Unci, Grandmother Flower. 
Moon Counting Tradition
New Moon, New Year: 2017-2018

By Dakota Wind
Great Plains, N.D. & S.D. (TFS) – Waná wétu ahí, Spring as arrived. Maǧá, the geese, have returned over the past month from their sojourn in the south, Wakíŋyela, the Mourning Doves, greet the mornings in the Missouri River valley with their queries of possible snow, and Škipípila, the Chickadees, whistle their queries into the wind if spring has indeed returned. Tȟašíyagmuŋka, the Western Meadowlark sings to all, “Oíyokiphi! Ómakȟa Tȟéča yeló!” “Take Pleasure! The New Season [Year] is here!”

The Lakȟóta moon counting tradition calls for incising a notch on a willow switch, a stick would suffice, with the passing of each moon (month). At the end of the year, one should have thirteen notches. The new month in this new cycle is known by a few names: Pȟeží Tȟó Alí Wí (The Green Grass Moon), Maǧá Aglí Wí (Moon When Geese Return), or Wakíŋyaŋ Aglí Wí (Moon Of Returning Thunder).

The 2017 spring equinox occurred on Monday, March 20. Many Lakȟóta journeyed to a special place in Ȟesápa, the Black Hills, to participate in an annual tradition reaching back thousands of years to welcome the Thunder. Some Lakȟóta call this special place Hiŋháŋ KáǧA Pahá, the Making Of Owls Peak. For many years, this highest peak of Ȟesápa, was known as Harney Peak, which some now call Black Elk Peak, in honor of the Oglála holy man.

When spring arrived, not all Lakȟóta made the journey to Ȟesápa. When winter camps broke, many took to the open Great Plains to engage in the first big game hunt of the Ómakȟa Tȟéča. This kind of hunt is called WanásA. Spring was also the time when the Húŋkpapȟa journeyed east to Čaŋsáŋsaŋ Wakpá, Creamy White Tree River (White Birch River; the James River), to trade with the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai). One rendezvous point was where the Íŋyaŋ Iyá Wakpá, Talking Stone River (the Cannonball River) converges with Mníšoše, another rendezvous point where the Oglála met with the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ (Yankton), where the Čaŋsáŋsaŋ Wakpá converged with the Mníšoše.

In the Lakȟóta calendar tradition, the year is referred to as Waníyetu, or Winter. It was called such because winter was the longest season of the year, typically lasting five moons. Wétu, or Spring, lasted two months. Blokétu, or Summer, lasted four months. Ptaŋyétu, or Fall, lasted two months. The Lakȟóta calendar tradition may need to be revised in the future to reflect a change in weather. Deny climate change or acknowledge it, the growing season in North Dakota since 1879 has lengthened twelve days.

Since the equinox, a light rain fell, even as blankets of snow still linger on the landscape. Some might even say that the Thunders stayed on over the winter. Indeed, lightning and thunder was present at Standing Rock. The Mníšoše, the Water A-Stir (the Missouri River), has been breaking for a month now. Geese gather on and around the sandbars to feed before taking flight north.

This morning, in Heart River country, where the Heart River converges with Mníšoše, light wisps of clouds stretched across the eastern horizon and caught fire in the first rays of morning. Fog enveloped the Missouri River valley over a still Mníšoše, so still as to be a perfect mirror. The air is cool and crisp enough to leave whorls of frost on car windows, and a wind so light as to be barely a whisper.

One more sign by which the Lakȟóta know and celebrate Ómakȟa Tȟéča is by the blossoming of Hokšíčhekpa, A Child’s Navel (Prairie Crocus; Pasque Flower), also called Wanáȟča Uŋčí, Grandmother Flower. It is the first flower to appear and the first to take her journey. She sings songs to the other flowers, that their time will come, and not to worry when it does, for their spirits come together to make the rainbow. The entire flower is medicine, used to treat dry skin and arthritis. Her petals are purple and furry like a bison robe, and her heart is golden like the sun, though once in a while Wanáȟča Uŋčí emerges with a white robe which indicates a spot where a bison breathed his or her last breath.

I hiked the rolling hills in Heart River country over the weekend searching for Wanáȟča Uŋčí, but my search bore no results. I found dried and weathered prairie aster from last summer, hard and wrinkled prairie rose hips my grandmother would have called SákA, and lichen ranging from grey and green to brilliant orange and bright red on sandstone jutting out of the hillsides. The 
Lakȟóta call lichen Ziŋtkála Ipátȟapi, which means "Bird Embroidery." I’ll check again in a week’s time.

The Lakȟóta waníyetu, year, will last until March 16, 2018, which is 354 days. Or, as some would have it, the new year began on Monday, March 20, 2017. Ómakȟa Tȟéča yeló!

Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout.

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