Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Homeland of the Lakota
All My Relations
Camp Life & Seasonal Round
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Arts and Artists
Tribal Government
Tribal Colleges
Self-Determination and Sovereignty
Recommended Web Sites and Bibliography

  Relationship with the U.S.
  Fur Trade
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Francis Whitebird
Linguistics Specialist, Lower Brule, SD
Francis Whitebird speaks about kinship and relatives.

"The Hand constellation (nape), which was identified for us by Mr. William Red Bird of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in 1986, occurs in Orion, and represents the hand that the Chief lost when he lost his arm. The belt of Orion is the wrist. The sword of Orion is the thumb. Rigel makes the index finger. The star for the little finger is the northernmost star in Eridanus, Eridanus beta" (Sinte Gliske University: n.d.).
He also speaks of respect.

He describes three ways to acquire relatives.
Umbilical amulet ca. 1875. Peabody museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 13-48-10/85447. The President and Fellows of Harvard College.
"The dried umbilical cords of infants were saved and placed in an amulet case as a protective medicine during the child's early years. Girls had amulets in the form of a turtle because of the turtle's important role in women's medicine" (Maurer: 1992).
Visit this page for Sweat Lodge: Cosmos:: Microcosm: Macrocosm

Pierre > Culture > All My Relations
mitakuye oyasin
Lakota Wedding. Gouache on muslin by Tom Haukaas, 1998.
Courtesy of Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. Acc. # 1998.260.1. NS 22230.
"As Above, So Below"

In the days when buffalo still roamed the plains, the Lakota had to heed the teachings of celestial events in order to survive. They learned through observation, day after day, year after year. It gave the Lakota knowledge to guide their annual food gathering and production cycles, and knowledge of the celestial calendar served their religious need as well. Ritual activities marked the cycling of the stars. It gave the Lakota greater power to participate fully in their environment.

The Lakota learned about the sacred order of all things, in both realms of earth and sky, and about their own place in the vast universe. Through their careful observations of the star world, they came to understand that their world of the plains was a microcosmic reflection of the star world. These worlds are mirroring each other - what is done below is the same above. This sacred knowledge still guides the Lakota people.

Lakota Star Knowledge - this origin of wisdom is connected by the belief in the macrocosm (star world) and microcosmic world of the plains. They are mirroring each other: what is done below is twin above. This mirroring attests to an understanding of many levels of reality. First, the vortex above is a star and the vortex below is earth; second, the vortex above is the sun and the vortex below represents Sun Dancers; third, the vortex with its apex pointing up is also the shape of the tipi, a replication of the creation of the world.
Lakota Symbol

The stars are called, the Woniya of Wakan Tanka, "The Holy Breath of the Great Spirit". The sun, the Great Spirit, was giving them spiritual guidance that they translated as to where, what, and when to perform their sacred ceremonies.

The Black Hills are the spiritual center for the Lakota people, viewed as the microcosmic hoop out of which new life is born, each and every year. As the sun travels its long journey through the Lakota constellation so do locations of ceremonial sites in the Black Hills change.

"The Black Hills is the home of our heart, and the heart of our home".
David Blue Thunder

In buffalo days, the spring equinox brought small groups from several Lakota bands into the Black Hills. The summer solstice brought the western Lakota and other Lakota bands to Devil's Tower for their mid-summer Sun Dance ceremony.

During this annual ceremonial journey from spring equinox to summer solstice the sun travels through four of the Lakota constellations. The Lakota were following the sun's path on earth.

Sun Dance

The Lakota follow the sun's path on earth, through the microcosmic hoop out of which new life is born each year. The sun leads the people in their cycle of food acquisition and ritual activities. This knowledge gives the Lakota great power to fully participate in their environment.

The first creation was accomplished through self sacrifice and the shedding of one's life force: blood. As Inyan sacrificed his blood to create the world, the Sun Dancers voluntarily sacrifice their flesh and shed their blood in order to re-create the world and renew life on earth each year.
The Sun Dance is not a celebration by man for man; it is an honoring of all life and the source of all life, that life can go on. Only in sacrifice is sacredness accomplished. The power to generate life is gained, lost and regained each year, but only through sacrifice.

The Sun Dancers vow to recover the lost arm of "The Chief Who Lost His Arm." This Chief is selfish and his selfishness threatens to interrupt the cosmic cycle. Because the continuation of life depends upon self sacrifice and the chief refuses to make an offering of himself, divine intervention becomes necessary. The "Thunders" (Wakinyans) tear off his arm and hide it. Fallen Star (who has a human mother, and a spirit father - a star) must complete the process by struggling with the Thunders to regain the arm. This symbolically implies how not to behave. The Dancers' vow to recover the lost arm symbolizes overcoming chaos, death, and the earth's infertility. By voluntarily sacrificing their blood, they recover the lost arm of the Chief.

(Background courtesy Sinte Gleska University)
Medicine Women
Lakota women are powerful and highly respected by their men. This connection is based in the connection of women to White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Winyan Wakan of the Lakota.

In the traditional matrilineal Lakota society, women were the heads and owners of their tipis and camp belongings. They possessed powers beyond men, gave birth, gathered food, and were understood as equals to men.
The women raise the children in accordance with the "Four Great Virtues of Life;" fortitude, generosity, bravery, and wisdom. The children are to sit quietly and absorb the teachings, following the expectation of respect for the teachings and, in turn, respect for the elders. The Lakota woman's greatest gift for the tribe is the birth of children.

White buffalo calf
from the Heider farm in Wisconsin
Link to white buffalo site
White Buffalo Calf Woman: Lakota people have a prophesy about the white buffalo calf. It originated approximately 2000 years ago by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. She appeared in the cloud to be a white buffalo calf, but turned into a beautiful woman. The two warriors, who were at that time hunting buffalo in the sacred Black Hills, saw her and one knelt down to pray ,while the other had bad thoughts about her, died. The girl told the warrior to go back to camp and in four days she would bring a sacred bundle...
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Martin High Bear tells the story of Buffalo Calf Woman. Use 28k for all connection speeds.

image Martin High Bear
Courtesy of Gordon Bird, Featherstone Productions
Lakota women play an essential role in religious ceremonies. They are involved in three areas of religious life; first, a woman can become a dreamer, through a gift by the Wakan Tanka, or Great Mystery, to have dreams of clarity and regularity in order to warn people of danger or where game can be found; second, medicine women acquire the power to heal, either by the work of the "Spirit-Calling Women" (Wapiye' Win) or by the "Herb Woman" (Pejuta Win), or both (St.Pierre 1995).
Sweat Lodge- Inipi

The cosmology of the Lakota is mapped in the layout of the sweatlodge. Lakota prayers are directed first in the east, sun-wise, then facing each direction acknowledging the spirits in that direction.

The Lakota sweat lodge is constructed with flexible willows and during its construction at different stages prayers are offered to the Wakan Tanka, or Great Mystery. After the sweat lodge is erected, it is covered with buffalo skins or blankets. Today, sweat lodge doorways can be found facing to the west or toward the east, the direction of light and wisdom, which is determined upon the leader's spiritual direction. In this ritual, the smoke from the pipe and the heat and steam from the rocks release the guilt, burdens and evil from the participants, bringing them closer to Wakan Tanka.

The sweat lodge has different healing and spiritual teachings. The sweat lodge is used for spiritual purification as well as body-toxin cleansing. Just like a child beginning to walk their life's path, first they must learn how to crawl. Crawling into the sweat lodge entrance on all four limbs of your body is showing respect. The darkness of the lodge is similar to that of our daily lives, which is full of negative energies. After the fourth round of songs and prayers to the Great Mystery the people leave the lodge. The crawling out represents the exiting "Mother Earth's Womb" and, along with it, a spiritual rebirth has just begun. The rebirth is one of wisdom and the light guides the "newborn" out of darkness. Lakota cosmology and spirituality is represented within the structure and rituals of the sweat lodge.

(Background courtesy Sinte Gleska University)
" First known drawing of the American bison. This crude but nevertheless quite recognizable representation of the bison was printed in Gomara's Historia de los Indios Sargossa, 1552-1553" (Garretson: 1938).

Background: From portion of painting by Tom Haukaas, "Lakota Wedding".
Used with permission from Missouri Historical Society and the artist.