Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Ancient Stories of Emergence

"The Seven Sisters Above,"a watercolor by Dakota Wind.
Ancient Stories of Emergence
Research, Tribal College Journal

by Dakota Wind
Note: This article originally appeared in Vol. 35, No. 1 of the Tribal College Journal. Access the original article as it was seen in print here, or visit the article as it appears online on the TCJ.

Historians studying Lakxóta history in recent years have begun to treat the pictographic record, winter counts, as primary source documents. Two recent publications by non-Native historians do this, but aside from establishing the oral narrative of the White Buffalo Calf Woman as the starting point of Lakxólkichiyapi, the story itself is not presented as history. In this article we will look at stories of the great Plains which argue the case for a long cultural occupation that challenges the established date of 1682 as marking the Lakxóta arrival to the region.

In regard to length of occupation, traditional Lakxóta people would inform their interviewer that they were here since the beginning, or for a very long time. Archaeological evidence informs us that the flute or whistle has been present on the northern plains since circa 1100 AD. Oral tradition about this musical instrument tells us that the flute has been with the Mandans since about the same time (Goodhouse, 2002a). Beginning in the 1980s, ethnomusicologists have been investigating the role of music in defining a sense of place. This does not inform us how long people take to develop a sense of place but it does indicate that this art signals a people’s place “in terms of social boundaries” (Lipsitz, 1986, p. 5).

The late Kevin Locke made his research into the North American Indian flute a lifetime study. For nearly 50 years, Locke studied flute music and found that there is a standard formulaic composition structure that transcends the many languages and cultures of the northern plains. In fact, said Locke, “Over the plains or woodlands, you see the same rules of structure . . . it has a meaning that goes beyond the individual tribe or their geographic area” (Locke & good Feather, 2015). Regarding the biological history of bison, the animal originated on the Siberian steppe about 2.6 million years ago. Eventually, the animal migrated across the Beringia land bridge to North America (Sorbelli et al., 2021). Once there, it evolved into the many bison species in our natural historic record, eventually becoming Bison americanus that we recognize today (Wilson et al., 2008). The Lakxóta call the bison simply pté, which also refers to the female of the species. The term txatxáŋka existed long before the film Dances with Wolves (1990) or before WWE wrestler Chris Chavis (Lumbee) put the term into popular vernacular. Txatxáŋka literally means “the great ones,” and refers to the male of the species. Bison calves are called ptehíŋcha, meaning “small bison,” or ptehíŋchala, which translates as “beloved” or “familiar small bison” (Goodhouse, 2012b). The creation of bison is closely associated with the emergence story from Wind Cave located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Lakxóta refer to Wind Cave by many names, including Washúŋ Niyá, which means “breathing cave”; Txatóye Oyúxlokapi, which means “where the wind has made a hole” and refers to the opening of the four winds; Txaté Washúŋ, which is literally “wind cave”; Oníya Oshóka, or “where the Earth breathes inside” (Weddell, 2022); Makxá Oxlóke, or “earth cave.” The Lakota Language Consortium’s New Lakota Dictionary Online lists an entry for Wind Cave as Wašúŋ-Tȟáŋka, which means “the great cave” (Ullrich, 2021). Wilmer Mesteth, a tribal historian and spiritual leader on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, employed other terms in reference to Wind Cave, including Txukáŋ Típi, meaning “the [stone] spirit lodge,” and Makxá Oníye, meaning “the breathing Earth” (Wind Cave National Park, 2022).

A long time ago, Iŋktómi the trickster and Anúŋg Ité (Double Face Woman) tricked the people into emerging into the world without the consent of Txuŋkáshila. Anúŋg Ité sent her wolf with a pack of dyed quills, various berries, meat, and fine clothes to entice the people into following her wolf into the world above. A few people were lured after eating the food and wearing her fine leather clothes and followed the wolf into the world through Wind Cave there in the Black Hills. Some refused to be tricked by the wolf, and so they stayed behind in the world below.

When the people emerged later, they were amazed at the vast blue sky above, the scent and sight of all the flowers in bloom. The wolf led them to the lodge of Anúŋg Ité where she taught them how to hunt and gather, prepare food, and make clothing for themselves. Summer became fall, and fall soon became winter, but the people had very little prepared to survive the seasons. They returned to the lodge of Anúŋg Ité for help, but then she unwrapped her shawl, revealing the other side of her face—the scarred disfigured half of her face—and she laughed at the people. The people ran in fright from her, and she set her wolf on them. They sought to return to the world below at Wind Cave, but the way was covered, leaving them trapped on the surface of the world. They didn’t know what to do or where to go and fell to the ground in anguish. Creator heard their cries and came to them. They explained how they emerged before they were ready to do so. This angered Creator and he told them they must be punished. He took them and gave them a new form and purpose, transforming them into bison. They became the first great herd.

Eventually, the world was prepared for people to live on. Creator instructed Txokáhe, meaning “the first,” to lead the people into the world through Wind Cave. On their journey towards emergence, they stopped four times and prayed, their last stop being at the entrance of Wind Cave. On the vast open plain they saw bison tracks. Creator instructed them to follow these tracks, as they would acquire food, tools, and clothing from bison. Eventually they crafted their homes, too, from bison hides. Creator informed them that the bison would lead them to water (Wind Cave National Park, 2022). The seven ancestral leaders of the seven divisions of the Títxuŋwaŋ, the first seven to emerge at Creator’s instruction, became the Wicháxpi Shakówiŋ, the Seven Stars (or the Big Dipper). There they carry new souls into the world to begin their journey, or they carry the souls from this world back to the heavens to begin their journey to the ancestors (Goodhouse, 2020). But not all the people were ready to emerge into the world. Some chose to stay. That was their choice. Creator turned his attention to Wind Cave and the entrance contracted until it was too small for the people to re-enter. Wind Cave thereafter served as a memorial so that the people would never forget where they came from.

According to master ledger artist Donald Montileaux, a holy man called Txatxáŋka warned the people not to ascend to the surface. He saw the people in a vision. They lost their language and had to invent a new one, becoming known as Ikché Wichásha (the ordinary or common people). It was Txatxáŋka the holy man who came into the world and transformed into a great bison bull. He was willing to give up his life so that the Ochéthi Shakówiŋ (the Seven Council Fires, or great Sioux Nation) would have food, shelter, and clothing (Montileaux, 2009).

The Ochéthi Shakówiŋ do not limit the narrative of the bison and people’s emergence to one single moment in linear time. Indeed, emergence and revival are a continuous cycle. Each spring, for example, bison, as well as wamákxashkaŋ owásiŋ (all the animals of each kind), emerged from the world below. The cycle of renewal begins with Niyá Awíchableze (the enlightening breath upon which all life returns) (Goodhouse, 2022). The bison left evidence of their long presence across the great Plains in the vast and uncountable buffalo wallows. The Lakxóta call these depressions Oshkókpa Txatxáŋka and like to say about them, “This is where the bison dance.” Further, emergence is not limited to one single location. Different stories tell of different locations (see full article with sidebar).

Washú Niyá. “On their journey towards emergence, they stopped four times and prayed, their last stop being at the entrance of Wind Cave.” Photo by Lennie Ramacher/NPS.

The Baptiste Good Winter Count, a pictographic mnemonic device in which images recall outstanding events for a year, places the arrival of the Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, at 901 AD (Mallory, 1893). Prior to her arrival as Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ, the Thítxuŋwaŋ fought amongst themselves as much as they fought against their enemies. The gift of the sacred pipe established a relationship amongst the Ochéti Shakówiŋ and with bison. After her gift, the people took to calling themselves Dakhólkichiyapi, or “They who speak to each other with affection” (Goodhouse, 2022a). According to Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th keeper of the sacred pipe, Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ brought the pipe to the people at Matxó Típila, Bear Lodge (Devils Tower) (Hancock, 2015).

The Lakxóta refer to the pipe as chaŋnúŋpa. The sacred pipe represents unions of air and stone, sky, and earth; the masculine and feminine; and the here and now. Before the pipe, the people prayed at sacred sites with stone elements like summits, caves, and stone arches. They called themselves Ikcheya, or “common.” They also called themselves Pté Oyáte, or “People of the Bison” (Goodhouse, 2022b).

The story of Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ bringing the gift of the sacred pipe is set at Matxó Típila. The story features the song of Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ and her arrival. The song contains elements of place in social boundary, similar in scope and meaning to the biblical story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai, as the messenger arrives at a sacred place with a covenant for the people to live a way of life according to the divine.

The Mnikxówozhu, or “Planters by the Stream,” (a division of the Títxuŋwaŋ) were experiencing hard times. Hunters returned with little or no game and fighting among their fellow people. They selected two scouts to search for any sign of bison. The scouts arrived at a hill and saw a figure advancing in their direction. When it came close enough to distinguish features, they discerned it was a beautiful woman wearing a white buckskin dress, white leggings, and white moccasins. In her hair on the left side of her part she wore a tuft of bison fur, her hair hung loose otherwise. She carried a fan made of sage in her right hand. Her face was painted with red vertical stripes. It seemed to the two scouts that she was floating rather than walking. They realized she was wakxáŋ, which means literally “with-energy.” Some say that braids of sweet grass hung from her belt.

One of the scouts looked at her and was overcome with impure thoughts and, seeking to have her for himself, went to her. A cloud suddenly enveloped them. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. The cloud dissipated and at her feet were the bones of the lustful scout. Some say that snakes writhed among his remains.

She spoke to the remaining scout: “Return to your people. Tell them to prepare a special lodge in the middle of camp for my arrival at daybreak.” He left her to prepare his people. She came to them at dawn and as she approached sang:

Niyá txaŋíŋyaŋ (With visible breath)
mawáni yé (I am walking)
oyáte waŋ (this nation [this bison nation])
imáwani (I walk toward)
na (and)
hó txaŋíŋyaŋ (my voice is heard)
mawáni yé (I am walking)
niyá txaŋíŋyaŋ (with visible breath)
mawáni yé (I am walking)
walúta waŋ (this scarlet offering [this pipe])
imáwani yé ([for it] I am walking) (Goodhouse, 2002b)

The chief of the community dipped a braid of sweetgrass into a bison horn cup full of rainwater and offered it to her. She gave them the pipe then, with instructions as to its care. She said to them, “Behold! With this you shall multiply and be a good nation. Nothing but good shall come of it. Only the hands of the good shall take care of it and the bad shall not even see it.” Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ then added, “I give you this pipe. Keep it always!”

Baptiste Good’s account of Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ includes another gift: four colored grains of corn. She informed them that this gift would feed the world. She offered words of encouragement to the women, reminding them that they sustain the people with their gift of life. She offered words to the children, telling them it would be their turn someday to make careful decisions for those not yet born and to learn the way of the pipe. To the men she offered minding words to use the pipe for good purposes, that the tribe depends on them, and that they should revere the world and sky. She promised them all that someday she would return (Mallery, 1893). She took her leave of them then and as she stepped away, she transformed into a bison calf. Some say that she rolled or turned, and with each roll or turn, her bison coat became a different color before at last turning white. The calf then ran, crested a hill, and disappeared. The people ran after her and discovered a herd of bison on the other side. According to Lame Deer, as they prayed with her, bison surrounded their community (Erdoes, 2006). In either instance, she brought the bison with her.

In another story of Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ, the people were close to starvation when she came and brought them bison-calling songs. The Blue Thunder Winter Count and all its variants begin: “Waníyetu eháŋna saúŋ wiŋ kiŋ ú,” or “Long ago, a woman in white came to them.” Interpretation of the images offers only a basic understanding that is remembered in these primary source documents. Blue Thunder never had children of his own. He married Íŋyaŋ Pahá Wiŋ, or Rocky Butte Woman, in the early post-reservation era and passed the tradition down to her and her daughter and sonin- law. The story of the Woman in White is remembered as one of the times that Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ came with songs.

In yet another story, the Títxuŋwaŋ were camped on a flat by a little stream that flows into the Mnishóshe, or “the water-astir” (the Missouri River). There, neither fish nor fowl sustained them. In their desperation they cried out for aid and Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ heard them. She came to them at their camp, bringing the gift of bison-calling songs. She instructed them to use this medicine at once. She guided them to an overlook on the Mnishoshe where they set up camp below the high plain. At her instruction, they selected two scouts who sought out the lead bison cow and startled her. She ran and her herd followed her. At the instruction of Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ, the people waved bison robes at the herd, continuing the bison’s startlement and in effect guiding them to the overlook where they leapt over the edge. Below the high plain waited the women with their knives.

This buffalo jump where they brought the bison to them with song and ran them over the high plain is called Akáŋlya Washté, or “the beautiful high plain” (Goodhouse, 2010). According to Txuŋwiŋ Evelyn Buckley, a good Dakhóta woman could butcher a bison by herself in four to six hours (Goodhouse, 2011). And according to Txuŋwiŋ D’Joyce Kitson, a good Lakxóta could tan a bison hide by herself in the same amount of time (Goodhouse, 2018). There are many sites associated with the Ptehíŋchala Sáŋ Wíŋ, including Matxó Típila (Devil’s Tower); Chaŋnúm Ok’é, or “pipestone quarry” / Chaŋdúhupa Shá K’ápi, meaning “where they dig red pipestone” (Pipestone National Monument); Íŋyaŋsaŋ Pahá (Whitestone Hill North Dakota State Historic Site); Akáŋlya Washté, which translates as “beautiful high plain” and is the high plain overlooking the west bank of the Missouri River between Huff and Fort Rice, North Dakota.

The Lakxóta have many names for their homeland, and North America by extension. One of these names is Makxóche Owánase Txáŋka, meaning “the land of the great hunt.” The hunt was communal and involved several days of preparation. The Ochéti Shakówiŋ call the period before the introduction of the horse “dog days.” During this time, the people and their dogs pulled the travois. Kevin Locke shared three terms relating to travel in those times: hupáwaheyuŋpi, meaning “they pack things up to travel”; waŋzhíkshila, which is a travois that was pulled by a person; and shúŋg’ok’iŋ, a dog travois.

There are many stories of first contact with the horse. All of these stories carry a deep regard for the mystery of creation and serve as reminders to the Ochéti Shakówiŋ that even as the horse was reintroduced to the great Plains after a long absence, it is a sacred gift. The Drifting goose Winter Count, a pictographic record in which a single year is remembered by one outstanding event, recalls the earliest record of the Ochéti Shakówiŋ encounter with the horse in 1692. Waniyetu ehaŋna shuŋg nuŋi ota kiŋ, meaning “a long time ago they saw many wild horses,” recalls the Drifting goose Winter Count (Howard, 1976). More recently, Mary Louise Defender Wilson tells a story of two scouts who crested a hill and saw horses emerging from a swirl in the Mnishóshe (Missouri River) as a thunderstorm was approaching. The horse was invited back to camp and became inseparable from daily life (Defender-Wilson, 2001).

Pete Looking Horse recalled the first horse encounter with a song called “Thunder Horse,” which commemorates how the Dakhóta people saw the horse as it emerged from the water:

Waŋkátaya txokéya ichágxe ló (Above, the first time we saw it, it changed, it is so) Waŋkátaya txokéya ichágxe ló (Above, the first time we saw it, it changed, it is so) Shúŋka Wakxáŋ waŋ txokáhe kech’úŋ (A horse, it was the first, even so) Maxpíya ichágxeya, ichágxe ló (The clouds grew, it changed, it is so) (Locke, 1996)

The pictographic record, oral tradition, and song inform us this was in 1692 at Chaŋshásha Wakpá Ozháte, which is the confluence of the White Birch River or James River and the Missouri River, near presentday Yankton, South Dakota.

S.D. Nelson illustrated the mystical pre-contact story of the first horse. The Lakxóta were camped in midsummer at Spirit Hill near the confluence of the grand and Missouri Rivers where long ago, before ever seeing a real-life horse, they saw a thunderer on a creature that didn’t yet have a name. The thunderer, a figure of a giant of a man, came down from the sky during a thunderstorm riding what might be described as a giant horse. It had four legs. It made a three-point landing, that is to say it landed on its hind legs and one front leg. It then leapt into the sky and disappeared. The hoof prints left by this giant thunder horse are imprinted into the landscape and viewable from the top of Spirit Hill. Historians might be inclined to categorize this story as apocryphal, occurring after the reservations were established, but this story predates the reservation (Nelson, 2018).

Hokshíchekpa. “When the pasqueflower blossoms today, her stem, petals, and leaves are like the fur of a bison robe. Her petals are the purple color of an early spring sunrise. . . Her heart is the gold of the sun.” Photo by Dakota Wind.

Besides the horse, there are cultural narratives that seek to explain the appearance of spring’s first flower. There is a lovely little narrative about the bison and the hokshíchekpa, which literally means “a child’s navel,” but is known more commonly as the pasqueflower or prairie crocus. Long ago, according to the Lakxóta people, the pasqueflower bloomed white. One day, a young man went to the hill to pray. As often is the case, men go the hill in a vision quest to pray alone, usually for three to four days. This young man took a bison robe with him on his quest. As night fell, he drew his robe around him. Unbeknownst to him, as he wrapped himself, he included a pasqueflower in his embrace. The flower was grateful for the warmth.

As the days passed and the young man received no vision, the flower spoke to him, offering words of encouragement and informing the man that his vision would come and that he should be patient. Eventually, he received an answer to his prayer and left the flower behind. After he left, Creator, pleased with the flower, visited her and asked her to name a gift. She declined but said instead that she enjoyed the warmth of the bison robe, that she loved the colors of twilight, that she loved the color and warmth of the sun.

Pleased with her undemanding answer, Creator gifted her with a robe of her own, took his paints and colored her dress like the petals of the flower and colored her heart. When the pasqueflower blossoms today, her stem, petals, and leaves are like the fur of a bison robe. Her petals are the purple color of an early spring sunrise or sunset. Her heart is the gold of the sun. When the pasqueflower blossoms white, the Lakxota say that is where the bison drew its last breath.

Depending on who’s work one reads, the bison population dropped to less than a thousand. Andrew Isenberg’s estimate places the bison at about 500 in Yellowstone National Park at the turn of 1900 (Isenberg, 2000). The disappearance of bison was part of the American agenda. The “Wasicu seemed to expect the bison and Lakotas to promptly vanish from the plains,” writes historian Pekka Hamalainen (Hamalainen, 2020, p. 224). Indeed, the U.S. Census estimate of the Native U.S. population at the turn of 1900 was fewer than 250,000 (Calloway, 2012, p. 435). Today, bison are no longer endangered, as their population has recovered. According to the National Park Service, 14 federally recognized tribes and some federal agencies came together for a “bison treaty,” an agreement to best serve and manage the bison population (NPS, 2018). These stories of bison and place have survived too. As archaeological methods and technology have improved, and as long as oral tradition is maintained, cultural resource properties must continue to be reexamined.

Dakota Wind Goodhouse (Lakota/Dakota) teaches Native American studies and U.S. history at United Tribes Technical College.


Blish, H.H., & Bad Heart Bull, A. (1967). A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Calloway, C.G. (2012). First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History (4th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Curtis, W.E. (1874, July 6). Curtis Dispatch: In Camp at Cannonball River, July 6, 1874. The Inter-Ocean.

Defender-Wilson, M.L. (2001). The Dakotah Have Had Horses for A Long Time. My Relatives Say [CD]. Bismarck, ND: Makoche Music.

Erdoes, R., & Ortiz, A. (2006). The White Buffalo Woman. In American Indian Myths and Legends (pp. 47–52). New York: Pantheon Books.

Garcia, L. (2017). Dakota Place Names. Unpublished manuscript, North Dakota State Archives, Bismarck, ND.

Goodhouse, D.W. (1995, August). Personal communication with Joe Flying Bye.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2002a, August). Personal communication with Keith Bear.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2002b, August). Personal communication with Kevin Locke.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2010, October). Personal communication with Thelma Winters.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2011, April). Communication with Evelyn Buckley.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2012a, June). Personal communication with Charles Walker.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2012b, December). Personal communication with Joseph Marshall III.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2014, November). Personal communication with McDonald family.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2018, June). Personal communication with D’Joyce Kitson.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2019, July). Communication with Victor Douville.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2020, June). Personal communication with Kevin Locke.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2022a, June). Personal communication with Kevin Locke.

Goodhouse, D.W. (2022b, October). Personal communicaiton with Virgil Taken Alive.

Hämäläinen Pekka. (2020). Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hancock, L. (2015, July 12). Tribes Seek to Change Name of Devils Tower. Argus Leader. Retrieved from https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2015/ 07/12/tribes-seek-change-name-devils-tower/30063421/

Howard, J. H. (1976). Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count. Plains Anthropologist, 21(73), 1–64. https://doi.org/10.1080/2052546. 1976.11908760. For a reinterpretation

Isenberg, A. (2000). The Wild and the Tamed. In The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, K., & good Feather, D. (2015). Lightning and Wind: The Voice and Flute of a Nation [Album]. Bloomington, IN: Lakota Language Consortium.

Lipsitz, g. (1986). Cruising Around the Historical Bloc: Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Los Angeles. Cultural Critique, 5, 157–177. https://doi.org/10.2307/1354360

Locke, K. (1996). Thunder Horse. The Open Circle [CD]. Bismarck, ND: Makoche Music.

Lower Brule Elder Adviser Committee and the Rosebud Mni Wiconi Elder Committee. (2017). Map of Lakota Place Names. Lower Brule, SD: Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

Mallery, G. (1893). Picture-Writing of the American Indians. Washington, DC: government Printing Office.

McLaird, J.D., & Turchen, L.T. (1974). Exploring the Black Hills, 1855-1875: Reports of the government Expeditions. South Dakota History, 4(3), 280–319.

Montileaux, D.F. (2009). Tatanka and the Lakota People: A Creation Story. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

Nelson, S.D. (2018). Lecture. United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND.

Sorbelli, L., Alba, D.M., Charin, M., Moulle, P.E., Brugal, J.P., & Madurell- Malapeira, J. (2021, June 1). A Review on Bison Schoetensacki and Its Closest Relatives Through the Early-Middle Pleistocene Transition: Insights from the Vallparadís Section (NE Iberian Peninsula) and Other European Localities. Quaternary Science Reviews, 261. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.quascirev.2021.106933

Ullrich, J. (2021) Wind Cave. New Lakota Dictionary Online. Bloomington, IN: Lakota Language Consortium. Retrieved from https://nldo.lakotadictionary. Org

U.S. Department of the Interior. (2018, November 1). People and Bison. Washington, DC: National Parks Service. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bison/people.htm

U.S. Department of the Interior. (2022, August 11). The Lakota Emergence Story. Hot Springs, SD: Wind Cave National Park. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/wica/learn/historyculture/the-lakota-emergencestory. Htm

Weddell, W. (2022, May 6). A History Lover’s guide to the Breathtaking Black Hills of South Dakota. Wide Open Roads. Retrieved from https://www.wideopenroads.com/black-hills-south-dakota/

Wilson, M.C., Hills, L.V., & Shapiro, B. (2008). Late Pleistocene Northward- Dispersing Bison Antiquus from the Bighill Creek Formation, gallelli gravel Pit, Alberta, Canada, and the Fate of Bison Occidentalis. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 45(7). Retrieved from https://cdnsciencepub.com/ doi/10.1139/E08-027

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

2023 Lakota Calendar

The Lakxóta say that there is a woman in the moon. They call her Hokéwiŋ. When she stirs her spoon vigorously light spills out about her lodge. Image by Dakota Wind. 
New 2023 Lakota Calendar
December 2022 to January 2024
By Dakota Wind
Hau mitakuyapi. Greetings relatives and friends. I've been producing more arts and post with far more regularity on instagram or FaceBook. You can follow me @thefirstscout. I'll share a bit of news or a book reviews here, or anything that I feel fits what I've shared here over the years. 

Here's what I've come up with for the coming year. You can access this calendar for FREE. Here's the link. It will print out at 11"x17". 

If you are inclined, and want to, you can help this graduate student out. Help me get my books or grab a tea (I don't drink coffee). Venmo me: @Dakota-Goodhouse. 

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.

 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.