Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Lakhota: An Indigenous History, A Review


Lakȟóta: An Indigenous History, A Review
A Native History Up To Current Time

By Dakota Wind

Rani-Hendrik Andersson and David C. Posthumus

Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2022. xx + 415 pp. $34.95 (hardcover). Contents, illustrations, preface, pronunciation guide, afterward, glossary, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, and index.


“For writing the Lakȟóta language, we use the most current orthography, which was developed first by Indiana University’s American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) and expanded upon by the Lakȟóta Language Consortium (LLC).” So begins a narrative that employs a western institutional writing system. Like Pekka Hämäläinen and his “Lakota America,” Andersson and Posthumus craft a story that relies on foreign alphabet with international accents and glottal indicators. On the surface, LLC standardization works (ex. Wiyáka means “sand,” while wíyaka means “feather”), but so do the orthographies that have been developed by Lakxota people. 


Do these standard orthographies work for speakers? Certainly not for Lakota America. The audiobook version of that fine work is absolutely marred by the efforts of that narrator, who pronounces French terms with ease and familiarity. One only hopes for correct pronunciation of Lakxóta terms in Lakȟóta: An Indigenous History since so much effort has gone in to employ a standard orthography to ensure it. 


Andersson and Posthumus begin their work with the emergence narrative of the Títxunwaŋ Lakxóta people, which is followed by the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and her gift of the sacred pipe. The emergence narratives of the Eastern Dakhóta and Middle Dakhóta are excluded, though their place and part of the collective Ochéti Shakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires or Great Sioux Nation, is not. 


The authors understand how and why the pipe is important to the Lakxóta. They get it. This reader appreciates how respectful and mindful they are in their treatment of the covenant narrative. The Lakxóta place the appearance of the White Buffalo Calf Woman in many places on the Great Plains but the where and how of these stories is excluded. 


Equally important to understanding the story of place is the savior narrative of the Fallen Star cycle of stories. This reader laments that these stories are excluded. Where the White Buffalo Calf Woman story is one about peace and interrelationship it is also about how to greet others - with water; the Fallen Star story is about practice of virtue and about how to say goodbye - with proper affection and gesture. 


The strength of Lakȟóta is it’s inclusion of Lakxóta history drawn from the pictographic records known as winter counts. It is immensely gratifying that historians treat these primary resource documents as more than art pieces. 


Lakȟóta is neatly divided into three parts. Each explores themes of culture (part one), conflict (part two), and survival (part three). The authors’ work is heavily drawn from Oglála voices, though much indeed of spiritual or philosophical belief or practice is shared in common. For a work that is representative and inclusive of the Lakxóta, why draw so heavily from one of seven divisions? The answer might be that there is so much more material recorded of Oglála voices. Part one carefully constructs a window into the daily cultural life of nineteenth century Lakxóta. 


After expertly establishing the philosophies, spiritual beliefs, and organization of society, the authors pick up with the history of the Lakxóta at the turn of 1800. The Lakxóta encounter with the Corps of Discovery is only touched on; the Arikara War of 1823, the first punitive campaign against a plains Indian tribe, is passed over; the exclusion of these events minimizes the growing political, social, and military strength of the Lakxóta. 


The authors pick up the history of the nineteenth century Lakxóta in earnest in the 1840s with immigration on the Oregon Trail, but they describe it best as tension as the bison population begins to drop. Competition with cattle over water and grass? Bovine disease? The authors offer an excellent summary that it was all the above. In order to get the resources that the Lakxóta and their horses need to pursue the vanishing bison ganges and expand their ranges into other tribally occupied lands. 


There is little attention paid to the 1863-1864 punitive campaigns led by generals Sibley and Sully. The authors also split the Lakxóta into “northern” and “southern” divisions, but the Lakxóta people do this too in a manner of their own with the division coming from those who live north of the Cheyenne River and those who live south of the river. The authors construct the plains filled with rising tensions and escalating conflict that builds to a breaking point when they write of inevitable conflict. 


The authors stated that when they write of the Battle of the Little Bighorn they would write from the Lakxóta perspective, and they do just that. They also do not aggrandize this fight, rather it is merely an endcap to chapter seven. There are so many books about this fight already, this treatment of the fight describes real people in tension and worry. The outcome of the fight, a victory co-celebrated with the Cheyenne. 


The Ghost Dance, its origins, development, and practice by the Lakxóta is wonderfully broken down. The authors touch on the issue of syncretism in sharing not a Christian worldview that natives and nonnatives share a belief in one common god, but Sitting Bull’s own letter informing Agent McLaughin this very perspective. This doesn’t equate the Christian redemption narrative with sundance, rather, the Lakxóta have their own worship and tradition with the same god. 


The last third of Lakȟóta reaches past the tragedy of Sitting Bull’s death and Wounded Knee. Readers explore the Lakxóta world in the post-reservation era, deaths of the last great pre-reservation leaders, crushing poverty, ranching & farming, the legacies of the Dawes Allotment Act and the Indian Reorganization Act, and more. The struggle of Self-Determination brings the Lakxóta story up to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The authors take one step more as they wrap up their work and offer a look into life on the reservations during the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Lakȟóta does not have the same scope as Lakota America and it should not. The authors shine a bright light on the story of leadership in the twentieth century and most importantly, that the Lakxóta are present and active in the modern world. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

May You Emerge Safely On The Other Side

The First To Arise, a wetplate photograph by Shane Balkowitsch, 2016. 
Uŋmáčhetkiya Yakpáptapi Kta Héčha
May You Safely Emerge On The Other Side

By Dakota Wind

Tȟokéya Inážiŋla tókhi éyaye hé? Thíyata oníčilapelo. Uŋmá ečhíyataŋhaŋ iyáye. Waŋná Čhaŋkú Wanáǧi maní. Čhaŋkú Tȟó maní. Tókša akhé waŋčhíyaŋkiŋ kte. 


Where have you gone First To Arise? They have called you home. You have gone on to the other side. Now you walk the Spirit Road. You walk on the Blue Road. I will see you again for certain. 


Lekší Kevin Locke loved the land. When he was home he regularly ran on the prairie steppe above the floodplain of the Missouri River, overlooking Lake Oahe. His home, in the community of Wakpala, S.D. overlooks the water. Day or night, light from the sun or moon stretches across the water and illuminates his home. During the darkest nights and coldest days of winter, his home is filled with earnest love for family and land.


One of his favorite places to run was at an old Sahnish (Arikara) village site close to his home. He wondered if it would be a good place to camp in the old days and looked at the site as though for the first time. Lo! There, he saw the evidence of a village from days gone by. Depressions in the ground where once stood great earthlodges. Time, erosion, and development took much of the old village. Thereafter, when he ran there he imagined running through a living village filled with laughter and singing in the air. The wind that swirled about him at the same time when he ran there, was the same wind that swirled then and there in a different distant time long ago; this same wind carried the smell of joy and prayer across the water and into the sky. 


Lekší loved to dance. He refused to contest dance. The only one in competition for excellence he danced against was himself. He was renowned for hoop dancing, storytelling, and playing the traditional northern plains Indian flute. Kevin cultivated excellence in others too. When he saw the best in others he would say so, and further, he would tell others. 


Lekší would say he was not a singer, yet he frequently sang. He loved and shared the songs he heard and learned from the elders of his youth. He listened to the mystery of creation. Swallows would swoop by and let him know he needed to brush his hair. Western Meadowlarks perched outside his home and sang in the New Year each spring, and each fall fond wishes for a safe emergence on the other side of winter. We just have to stop and listen for revelation in the quiet moments of creation. 


Lekší believed that it was important to sing. Song renewed one’s identity and connection to the landscape. Song renews cultural identity. There is an exchange of energy, like electricity, between people who sing together. Long before Scientific American studied choirs and discovered that people who sing together their heartbeats synchronize, the Očhéti Šakówiŋ made this natural observation. Kevin explained it simply as: Lowáŋpi čhaŋná čhaŋtiyapȟa akhÍptaŋ hečhé, or “When they sing together, their hearts beat as one.” 


Lekší would say he was not a singer, yet he frequently sang. The singing voice is the most precious instrument of the Očhéti Šakówiŋ. As an instrument of the Great Plains, the singing voice is known to carry several miles and still be understood. In an arid landscape with the near constant presence of the wind, the Lakȟóta language was a language of the wind. The rattle is the essence of hail; the drum the essence of thunder; the flute the essence of the wind; the voice the essence of lightning. The Lakȟóta singer’s voice carries where English falls apart. 


Day and night. Equinox and solstice. Month and year. He saw the heavens and landscape in a constant state of renewal. In late summer of 2017, a solar eclipse washed over the Beautiful Country. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ last saw one in 1868. They believed that what was in the world here below was reflected in the heavens above. The Húŋkpapȟa lit sage and smudged. They brought out their pipes and prayed. The children of the sun and moon shone from their places in the heavens and life was wondrous and mysterious. The most beautiful thing about this moment was sharing this experience with family. For Kevin it was a profound moment of renewal. Even as the sun “died” it emerged moments later victorious. 


It was important for Lekší to experience the Beautiful Country. Looking out upon the landscape to distant summits gives one a sense of atmospheric perspective, that is to say, that from a distance sites and summits become like a dream and take on a blue color. That distance, that blue color reminds the Očhéti Šakówiŋ observer of a long abiding presence of Niyá Awičhableze, or the Enlightening Breath Upon Which All Life Returns. 


The Enlightening Breath is said to arrive on the Northern Plains in the spring, but all that lives and breathes draw upon it throughout the year. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ natural observation of atmospheric perspective is perceived thusly: Tȟéhaŋtaŋhaŋ táku tȟotȟó kiŋ tȟó atȟáŋiŋ, or “That which is green, from a distance becomes blue.” It is this sacred blue perspective that reminds the observer to treat the very land and air with the same respect as one treats home. 


Lekší Kevin’s favorite conversational topics were language, culture, land, and how these each serve as metaphor for renewal and must be cultivated each and every day. The Missouri River is central to life in the Beautiful Country. The Mnišóše, or Missouri River, begins at the confluence of three rivers. This great confluence is known to the Očhéti Šakówiŋ as Mnitȟáŋka, or “The Great Water.” This Great Water flows and becomes the Mnišóše, or “The Water Astir.” It grows and turns about the landscape south, until it concludes its long journey. There it once again becomes Mnitȟáŋka. The journey of the river and its flow south is reflected in the Spirit Road of the night sky. 


A favorite topic of traditional story was that of Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpáye, or “Fallen Star.” In the last narrative of the cycle of Fallen Star stories, this traditional hero heard his father’s voice in the heavens call out for him to take his place in the sky. The people were camped at Pahá Makȟásaŋsaŋ, what is today White Butte, and gathered in a great circle to send off their beloved hero. With his Kȟolá, Fallen Star ascended the White Butte and embraced his brother, lay down on the summit, and there he died. But his story doesn’t end there. He transformed into light and rose into the sky. From there he sends rays of light and hope to his people below. 


It is now fall. A Western Meadowlark flew by me and cried out, “Tókša akhé.” At that moment, the sun seemed to shine a little brighter, the air was filled with the intoxicating smell of spring or heaven, a breeze swirled and a little whirlwind danced and dissipated into the sky. In one breath I smelled and tasted sage. It was a holy breath. An Enlightening Breath, one filled with the promise of renewal. The Western Meadowlark said so. 


We may not see you in the here and now, but you are as close as our next breath, as close as our dreams, as close as shadow in the prairie grass, as close as reflection in the water. 


Akhé waníyetu ú. Akhé kičhíč’iŋpi kte. Ohómni wótheȟike ečhéča takómni uŋmáčhetkiya yakpáptapi kta héčha. Mitȟákuye Owás’iŋ.


Again, the winter approaches. Again, they will carry each other. Although surrounded by adversity, nonetheless, may you safely emerge on the other side. All my relatives. 


Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Red Road and Other Narratives of the Dakota Sioux, A Review

Mniyo, Samuel, and Robert Goodvoice. The Red Road and Other Narratives of the Dakota Sioux. Edited by Daniel Beveridge. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2020. Hardcover. $75. 304 pages + xxvi. Contents, photographs, figures, maps, appendices, glossary, notes, bibliography. 

I grew up on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation hearing about the Red Road. My lekší Kenny struggled with alcohol and chemical dependence issues for years, and when he was clean we had some of the greatest philosophical discussions about the purpose of life, existentialism, and even the Red Road. He frequently questioned “why” about life, church, and traditional ceremony. I learned about the Socratic method of argument and the introspective meditative philosophy from him long before ever hearing about Socrates or Descartes. 


When I heard about the Red Road, it seemed to be a spiritual philosophy for people recovering from chemical and alcohol dependency. It was inseparable from recovery. I’ve had more than few, but I never let it become a lifestyle. Talking about the Red Road always seemed removed and distant. Conversations in school with friends about the Red Road immediately became quiet or turned to a discussion about becoming holy. 


The Red Road and Other Narratives of the Dakota Sioux was published in February 2020. I knew I wanted to read it after reading the title. It’s costly, and I waited for my local library to get a copy in so I could read it, but that never happened. I turned to the North Dakota State Library and did an interlibrary loan request, and a copy came in a week later from Nebraska. I hope that the University of Nebraska Press publishes a softcover edition soon. 


The Red Road is a duology of Dakhóta narratives which serve as a spiritual history of the Dakhóta people and by extension, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. Samuel Mniyo and Robert Goodvoice articulate an oral tradition of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ that reaches back to a time when the Council Fires were not seven, but twelve. 


The Red Road is not a history book in the sense that it’s filled with footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography. It employs oral tradition that reaches into time beyond living memory, further back than winter counts can recall. It’s a pre-Columbian oral tradition without ever referencing that it is pre-Columbian. Historians who rely on the written record may struggle with these narratives. This reader suggests that this should be treated with the same respect and seriousness as one would treat the Holy Bible as history. 


The narratives in The Red Road takes readers to a time and place when and where the Twelve Fires traveled and occupied land that stretched from the eastern seaboard in the east, and the Gulf Coast in the south, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. The narratives don’t fully articulate why five of the Council Fires removed themselves, but it was during a time of great struggle when the people fought themselves over resources. 


The Seven Council Fires that remained united faced a great existential crisis in their search for ultimate truth. They searched for generations for the elusive Hill of Truth. Their travels took them across the great prairie steppe. Some stayed in areas to live their lives. Others remained nomadic in their generations-long pilgrimage. Mniyo goes so far as to suggest that this great quest was to prepare the Dakhóta to receive the biblical word of God when the missionaries arrived. “The promise of Oúŋ [Life] wasn’t really a lie. It was really the voice of God that spoke to our ancestors, but it was misunderstood. Oúŋ was not land [the Hill of Truth] but salvation in Jesus Christ, who went to Calvary Hill and paid for our sins.” (Mniyo and Goodvoice, 2020; 124). 


This retro understanding of Dakhól Wičhóȟ’aŋ (the Dakhóta Way of Life) removes the agency or sense of self-determination from the Dakhóta people and embraces pre-determinism, the very kind of thinking that colonizers and settlers embraced to justify missionizing the indigenous and taking their land. Mniyo’s philosophical approach to the arrival of missionaries is echoed in Pope Benedict XVI’s paternalistic statement in May of 2007 that the church had not imposed it’s will on the native peoples, rather, they were silently longing for Christianity [1].


The narratives include what one might call mysticism. Both Mniyo and Goodvoice recall stories of a person or people walking on water. Goodvoice includes a prophetic warning to the Council Fire people's encounter with people who speak a different language in the future.


One outstanding narrative retelling by Goodvoice recalls an encounter with Iŋktómi, a traditional folk character who causes mischief and oftentimes outsmarts his own self, in which he puts aside mischief and warns the Dakhóta that an epidemic will strike them in a forthcoming winter. He told them what medicines to consume and to sequester that winter and when spring came, they survived. (Mniyo and Goodvoice, 2020; 157-158). 


I have never read such a thought-provoking book. I picked this book up and set it down so many times over the course of a month. I don’t think that Goodvoice intended at all for readers to be provoked into relating a way of papel thinking - these narratives were recorded over forty years ago - but rather, Goodvoice perhaps wanted Očhéthi Šakówiŋ to consider that we are living in the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps in modern times, we will return to self-determination through the rediscovery of language and way of life. 


Goodvoice also provides an amazing narrative of the Dakhóta war effort in the War of 1812. The English gave the Dakhóta seven medals and a cannon. Goodvoice takes readers on a winding narrative of promises and betrayal worthy of an Indiana Jones film. Think, “It belongs in a museum,” as if that makes the appropriation of historic artifacts right. It doesn’t. 


The Red Road is a path of recovery and self-determination. The Mniyo and Goodvoice narratives inform us that one doesn’t need to be a holy person but an everyday common person. The existential journey that the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ took an age ago has come back around. Who are we? Where are we going? What does it mean to be Dakhóta-Lakȟóta? Like the relatives long ago, I as an individual, don’t know those answers. The book The Red Road has certainly provoked me to ask myself, “What can I do to cultivate Lakȟól Wičhóȟ'aŋ, the traditional way of life?” 


This deserves to be read by anyone who has an interest in indigenous philosophy. This book is history if one considers oral tradition to be history. It is philosophy. It might be religious studies. The publisher labeled this book anthropology. It's all these things. Buy it, read it, and maybe share it with a relative who can't afford it.


[1] 
 Raymond Colitt, “Brazil's Indians Offended by Pope Comments,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, May 14, 2007), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-brazil-indians/brazils-indians-offended-by-pope-comments-idUSN1428799220070514.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A 2021 Traditional Lakota Calendar

Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpaye (Fallen Star or Star Boy), the traditional hero of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, takes his place in the heavens with his father Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (North Star). 
Exploring the Traditional Calendar
Thirteen Moons In A Year

By Dakota Wind
The traditional calendar of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (the Seven Council Fires; Great Sioux Nation) consists of thirteen moons. A month begins with Wit'é (New Moon). The Winter Count Keepers kept track of the year with counting sticks. This was Haŋwí Yawápi, the Moon Counting Tradition. 

For many Očhéthi Šakówiŋ people the year begins in spring. Natural occurring events inform them when the New Year begins. When the ice breaks on the rivers and streams. When the geese return north. When the spring rain falls. When the bison bear their calves. When the trees bud. When Tȟašíyagmuŋka (the Western Meadowlark) sings. When certain stars appear too. 

In the winter count tradition, the year was referred to as Waníyetu (a Winter). The winter, or year as it were, was named after the year had passed. A year lasted from spring to spring. There were two spring moons, four summer moons, two autumn moons, and five winter moons. Since winter was the longest season on Northern Plains, it was natural to refer to the year as winter

In the moon counting tradition, the month was generally named for the natural events that occurred during that span of time. A month begins with the new moon. It is poetic to say that a month lasts twenty-eight days, but the winter count keeper with counting sticks knows the month is usually twenty-nine days or thirty days. 

The thirteen-month calendar overlaps the twelve-month astronomical by about twenty days. To reconcile the difference when the last month overlaps with the first month, the winter count keeper referenced the names of the last month and first month interchangeably. 

Last summer, a Lakȟóta educator contacted me about the possibility of creating a traditional calendar that was as faithful to the original calendar system as could be. I removed the names of the week because the traditional calendar did not have that, but I kept the seven-day week format. I removed western and American holidays and added several Wókiksuye (Memorial) Days. Blackened circles on each page demarcate where that month is in relation to the year (i.e. five black circles = fifth month, ten black circles = tenth month). Colors on the sides of the pictograph for each month correlate with the season (Blue = Spring; Red = Summer; Yellow = Autumn; White = Winter). 

This calendar includes the winter moons from the traditional year of 2020-2021. The new year for the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ begins on March 13, 2021, and runs through April 31, 2022. 

You can download this sixteen-month calendar RIGHT HERE. Its dimensions are 11" x 17". 

Here's a "white guy friendly" version too that is just 2021. Humanities North Dakota has beautifully redesigned each month and inserted my captions to explain the pictography for each traditional month. You can download that version if you want, RIGHT HERE. Humanities North Dakota will be printing a limited number of FREE calendars. Visit their website and sign yourself up for notifications and updates, or make a donation to them. 


















Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Challenge of the Winter Moons, Winter Solstice Time of Hope & Light

Above, "Snowshoe Dance at the First Snowfall, 1835-1837," by George Catlin.
The Challenge of The Winter Moons
Winter Solstice Time of Hope & Light

By Dakota Wind

Winter lasts five moons in the traditional Očhéthi Šakówiŋ calendar. 

The snow made hunting easier. When the first snow fell, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ men put on snowshoes and danced. They sang a song of Wópila (Thanksgiving) to Creator for sending snow. Snow may fall as early as Čhaŋwápe Ǧí Wí (the Moon when the Leaves turn Brown), or September, on the northern plains, but that doesn’t make it a snow moon. Generally, Waníyetu Wí (the Winter Moon), the first moon of winter is about the month of November.

Waníčhoka Wí (the Midwinter Moon) is about the month of December. According to Haŋwíyawapi Wičhóȟ’aŋ (the Moon Counting Tradition), each moon may be known by more than one name. The Midwinter Moon might also be called Tȟahékapšuŋ Wí (the Moon when Deer shed their Antlers). The Midwinter Moon may also be called Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí (the Long Night/Nights Moon).

The natural observation of the winter solstice was over the span of four days/nights. On contemporary calendars, this might be the nights of December 19-20, 20-21, 21-22, and 22-23. Astronomy informs us that the 2020 winter solstice will be on Monday, December 21, at about 4:02 AM CST. 

During these long nights, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ gathered together in their lodges in wóčhekiye (prayer). There was no universal special prayer. The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ didn’t have formal prayer together as Christians do. Rather, an individual fostered his or her own relationship with Creator. While there might not be collective formal observance there were some things they did together.

Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí él Pahá Makȟásaŋ, or The Long Night Moon at White Earth Butte. A watercolor pictographic representation of the midwinter moon. Appearing upside-down at the top of the image is a profile view of that summit from the south looking north. 

The Winter Solstice was a special time. The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ shared many stories, among which was the story cycle of the cultural hero Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpáye (Fallen Star, or “Star Boy”). Sometime during the longest night of the year his star, in the constellation commonly known as Auriga, rises above Pahá Makȟásaŋ (White Earth Butte, or “White Butte,” the highest point in North Dakota). In his last day among the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ he hiked to the summit with his kȟolá (his lifelong best friend; him who he did everything with as a brother) where Fallen Star lay down, died, and transformed into light. He rose into the sky to take his place in the heavens with his father Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (the Star that does not move), or North Star, and from there sends rays of light and hope to his people. Fallen Star broke the trail so that the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ may return to the sky after death.

I asked Lekší Virgil Taken Alive about winter solstice observations, and he shared this incite: they prayed. “When I was a younger man I heard that this was the start of preparation for the upcoming times of ceremony,” he said. They smudged their čhaŋnúŋpa (sacred pipe), čhaŋčhéǧa (drum), and such that they held sacred. “After Čhaŋnápȟopa Wí (the Moon of Popping Trees) they went out to gather Čhaŋšáŋšaŋ (the inner bark of the Eastern Dogwood, or ‘Red Willow’),” he concluded. 

Wiótheȟika Wí, or the Moon of Difficult Times. The rib lines demarcate the concept for hunger.

The month following Waníčhoka Wí was a challenging one. They called it Wiótheȟika Wí (the Moon of Hard Times). 

Lekší Kevin Locke offered this retrospective of the Midwinter Moon, “In most accounts of pre-reservation days it seems to be a time when folks could enjoy the success of their winter preparation.” Locke reflected on the following month, Othehike Wi (the Moon of Difficulties), had good reason for being thusly named. 

Indeed, the Moon of Hard Times is represented in Plains Indian pictography as a figure with rib lines (to denote hunger) above an inverted crescent moon (the month). It can even be represented with an empty meat rack (another sign of hunger) above the sign for the moon or month.

Further, winter counts recall the most challenging winters. The High Dog Winter Count recalls the summer of 1800 as one of the most challenging years to survive. The summer heat was unbearably hot. The great gangs of bison went away, and hunting was poor. Flowers disappeared from the landscape, and the wind drank up the water. The birds refused to sing too.

A punishing winter followed, as remembered in the White Bull Winter Count.


Winter came, snow and ice were everywhere. A group of Lakȟóta decided to move winter camp from the bottomlands of one river to that of another. As they moved over the high plains, a blizzard caught them. Gradually some of them began to succumb to the cold and fell. As one person fell, another lifted and carried him or her for the rest of their journey. Kičhíč’iŋpi keúŋkiyapi, “They say that they carried each other.” 


Thiyóȟeyuŋka Wí, or the Frost in the Lodge Moon. A view of the interior of the lodge looking up through the smoke hole as a few snowflakes enter.

In a communique with Dallas Nelson, an educator and second language learner of Lakȟóta, Nelson shared what he learned from his lekší and other relatives in his community, “Aŋpétu Wí kiŋ haŋbléčheyapi iyéčheča hečhé, it appears as if the Sun were on a vision quest. For those four days the sun prepares himself. Readies himself for the coming seasons. A medicine man may offer prayer or hold ceremony during the winter solstice. He prays for that season [winter].” Nelson noted that they “cleanse each other,” he said, and they smudge their hóčhoka (the ground upon which they have ceremony) and their čhaŋnúŋpa. 

“They tell traditional stories after sundown in the winter months,” said Nelson. He shared a traditional warning too, “they say if you tell stories at the wrong time you’ll get hairy!” As for the winter solstice, he concluded to me that observations during the winter solstice was a sacred time and that prayer was highly individual, concluding, “Many people pray at home.” 

Throughout the winter moons they sheltered in place, from about the time we call today November to about March or April. The men prepared themselves for the coming seasons. They worked on their bows, made arrows, and other needed tools. Hunting parties went out from time to time when their meat supply ran low. Severe winters brought starvation. The women kept busy too, they made and repaired winter apparel, gathered wood and water, and kept a kettle of soup ready. 

The late Harriet Skye informed me during the difficult times of winter the mothers and grandmothers reached into a pouch containing Haȟúŋtahu kiŋ Sú (Blue Flax Seed) and drew forth a handful. “They added that to their soup to make it go further. When unexpected company came they did this too. Where the grandmas were prepared to feed all within their lodge, a moment later they could feed many more. They were prepared to share.” The harsh winter taxed their supply of precious seed. 

Ištáwičhayazaŋ Wí, or the Sore Eyes Moon. The last winter moon on the traditional calendar. The name for this moon and the pictograph represent the concept of snowblindness.

The Flame Winter Count recalls the winter of 1845-1846, as a winter feast. That winter took a toll on the people and there wasn’t enough food to go around. A young man they called Curley Hair (he would later be known as Crazy Horse) rode through camp calling the people to his family’s lodge where they had food. 

The Battiste Good Winter Count recalls the winter of 1720-1721 as a starvation winter. Three lodges of people died. The pictograph for this year denotes a man standing next to a lodge, his ribs are showing. Going out in the winter, whether to make war on an enemy or to hunt, could prove disastrous; a later entry in this same winter count for 1738-1739 informs us of a war party that went out and perished in the cold. 

Starvation in the winter moons made the people consider eating things that they wouldn’t normally consume. Drifting Goose recalled the winter of 1689 as the winter that they ate their own with great difficulty. White Cow Killer recalled the winter of 1839-1840 as the year they ate horses they captured from the Pawnee. In a later entry of his winter count, Drifting Goose recalled the brutal near-starvation conditions of winter internment at the Fort Snelling prison camp in 1865. 

The Blue Thunder Winter Count recalls the winter of 1788-1789 as a deadly cold winter. It was so cold the birds fell dead from the sky. A dead crow bird represents the concept for this year’s entry. 

Winter took its toll on the horses too. The Cloud Shield Winter Count recalls the winter of 1865-1866 as the year they lost many horses to starvation. 

The fourth moon of winter, Thiyóȟeyuŋka Wí (the Moon When Frost Enters their Lodges), informs us of the lingering cold. The long winters took a toll on the people. Long cold nights, short gray days. Today that emotional toll is known as Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), but long before the medical diagnosis the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ this winter stress as Čhantípiskiče (Something pushing against his/her/their heart/s). 

Wíačhéič’ithi, the Sun makes a fire for himself. This winter feature in the sky is commonly known as a "Sundog." In this image, it appears above the Little Apple Creek Fork in the Missouri River valley.

Regarding the cold gray that settles into one’s heart during the winter, Lekší Cedric Good House shared the story of Wíačhéič’ithi (the Sun makes a fire for himself). Long ago during a bleak seemingly endless winter. Many days had passed since they last saw the sun. The people called for council in the middle of winter camp. After prayer and deliberation, they built two fires east of camp. As they prayed for a break in the weather, the sky began to lighten and the clouds dissipated, the winds calmed, and the sun broke through. As the sun ascended into the sky, the two fires east of camp rose up into the sky on each side of the sun. I vaguely recollect lalá Innocent sharing this with me as a young boy. Lekší Cedric remembered lalá Ed Good House (Innocent’s older brother) sharing this story. Iná Carmine Good House (my mother’s sister) recalled that the winter gloom caused the people to have bad dreams, which was the impetus for calling a council in the middle of the camp.

The end of winter was marked by natural signs. When the ice broke. When the first flower Hokšíčhekpa, what settlers call the Pasque Flower, blossomed - often when snow was still on the ground. When the geese returned. When the meadowlarks sang out, “Oíyokhipi! Omákȟa tȟéča,” or “Take pleasure! The world is anew!” 

Lekší Kevin thoughtfully shared a benediction, the kind of prayerful and hopeful philosophy that is embraced by the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ during difficult times. He said, “Although surrounded by adversity, nonetheless, may you safely emerge on the other side.” I inquired with both Lekší Kevin and Lekší Virgil how I might best articulate this Lakȟól’iya. 

Akhé Haŋyétu Háŋska Wí ú. Akhé kičhíč’iŋpi kte. Ohómni wótheȟike ečhéča takómni uŋmáčhetkiya yakpáptapi kta héčha. Mitȟákuye Owás’iŋ.  Again, the Long Night Moon approaches. Again, let’s carry each other. Although surrounded by adversity, nonetheless, may you safely emerge on the other side. All my relatives. 


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Stringing Rosaries, A Review

A little girl kneels in prayer on the cover of Lakimodiere's "Stringing Rosaries." The title takes its name from one of the sixteen narratives within this book that recalls a story doing just this. 
Stringing Rosaries, A Review
A Must Read For Church Leaders
By Dakota Wind
Lajimodiere, Denise K. Stringing Rosaries: the History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors. Fargo, ND: North Dakota University Press. 2019. $42.95 (hardcover). 277 pages + xiii. Preface, acknowledgments, photographs, fold-out map, appendix, bibliography, index. 

Lajimodiere shares the post-reservation Native American parochial boarding school experience of the Great Plains in an absolutely powerful and heartbreaking narrative that is certain to provoke a sense of loss, anger, sadness, and hope. This is not an easy read. 

Stringing Rosaries begins with an introduction to the methodology of militarized education that was developed by Capt. Richard Pratt following the Civil War. Pratt was the superintendent of the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA where he subjected “new recruits” to an exhausting regime of corporal punishment to any who exhibited indigenous identity, namely that of speaking their language. 

Lajimodier’s research informs us that many children were stolen from their homes if their parents didn’t obey the mandate to send their children to school. Her work focuses on the boarding school experience of survivors from a variety of reservations, mainly in North Dakota, but all genuine and moving, and for this reader, close to home. 

Pratt’s model became the standard for native education. Lajimodiere takes readers through sixteen firsthand accounts of assimilation. Each account recalls a dehumanizing experience. Children were coldly stripped, washed, and deloused with powder regardless if they were clean on arrival. Hair was cut or shaved entirely. Children were excessively and cruelly punished mainly for disobeying authority and speaking their language. 

It would be easy to read only one or two of the survival narratives. In a sense, reading one is very much like reading them all. There is a general sameness of story, each school could be the same one but for location and name, but reading each one is part of the reader’s witness to understand the survivor’s journey. 

Boys were taught manual labor skills like carpentry and farming, girls were taught domestic skills like cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Boys and girls were strictly kept apart from each other, even in play or prayer. They were all awakened in the early hours for morning prayers. They were served coffee at every meal to keep them awake. Most disturbing of all, at any hour of the day or night, some children were sexually assaulted by both men and women of the cloth. 

Some of the first-person accounts are recalled under a pseudonym. Others employ their everyday names, and I am profoundly grateful that Dr. Ramona Klein (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) and Dr. Erich Longie (Spirit Lake). I know both through their work and have met both on occasion; Dr. Klein when she was employed at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND; Dr. Longie in his work with the tribal historic preservation office at Spirit Lake. 

Lajimodiere brings her work to a powerful close. She gives voice to her understanding of her father’s experience, of the native experience in assimilation: “...I came across terms I had not heard of before, terms such as historical trauma…[which] is conceptualized as a collective complex trauma.”

A year before her father took his last journey, Lajimodiere watched the documentary In the White Man’s Image with him. “The video documented the use of whistles, bells, bugles, military-style punishment and daily regimen, the building of guardhouses on school campuses, kids dying of homesickness, disease, and poor nutrition...that boarding schools left a legacy of confused and lonely children.” 

Part of Lajimodiere’s testimony is forgiveness. This is not the same as reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen there has to be an acknowledgment of wrong-doing on behalf of the Church. Lajimodiere tells us in her closing pages of well-being and story of the White Bison Wellbriety Journey of Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness, in this sense, is a deep sense of being wronged, something buried deep inside one’s soul, and a profound relief of releasing that tightly wound bundle of anger and loss. This isn’t something light or easy, nor is every person ready to forgive when neither the Church nor clergy has acknowledged these dark sins. 

Lajimodiere’s Stringing Rosaries isn’t a read for everyone, but it needs to be read by Church leaders and clergy. It should be read by people who call themselves Christian. Get your copy, or tell your minister to get one through the North Dakota State University Press.