Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Review, Red Cloud, A Lakota Story of War and Surrender

A Review, Red Cloud 
A Story Of War And Surrender
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND (TFS) – “I was born a Lakota and I have lived as a Lakota and I shall die a Lakota,” said Red Cloud. So opens S.D. Nelson’s Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender, a first-person narrative of the Lakȟóta leader Maȟpíya Lúta, Red Cloud, and the history of his people before his birth, through his life, and death in the confines of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in what became South Dakota.

Similar to Nelson’s Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People, Nelson tells this story by rendering a beautifully and fully realized world in the historic Plains Indian style of art reproduced here as though on a ledger book.

Red Cloud’s story breaks down the complexity of inter-tribal conflict, and the great struggle for resources and tribal sovereignty on Makȟóčhe Wašté, the Beautiful Country (Great Plains; North America). The two Fort Laramie Treaties are touched on, an agreement between nations, and how both were broken by the United States.

Red Cloud’s War is retold with this new pictography, and first-person narrative. The evolution of Plains Indian warfare grows from personal conflict and honor to organized military strategy. Red Cloud’s War is one of the wars the United States lost, a concession of the war was that the Lakȟóta shut down the Bozeman Trail and retain control of Powder River Country, but this was short-lived.

The decision for Red Cloud to sign the 1868 Fort Laramie must have caused a great internal struggle for the Lakȟóta leader and the people who followed him. The first-person narrative captures this struggle, “For the sake of my own people, those who followed, me, I accepted and signed the new treaty papers. But of course I did not represent the desire of all the people. Opinions were divided.”

The story of Red Cloud is taken up to his death, followed by a reflection on the journey of his people. Red Cloud’s story isn’t finished because his life came to an end, his story continues because his people continue.

There are books that deserve to be taken apart, but Nelson’s book literally deserves to be taken apart if only to frame the pages. Such pages are 4 (men astride their horses in water), 16 (meeting at Fort Laramie in 1851), pages 20 & 21 (the pipe dance), pages 29 & 29 (Red Cloud’s challenge of the Bozeman Trail), page 33 (a war party), and page 49 (the post-death reflection).

S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. His traditional name is Maȟpíya Kiŋyáŋ (Flying Cloud) He is an award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books. His books have received many accolades, including the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award, a place on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Nelson lives in Flagstaff, AZ. Follow him online at sdnelson.net.

Nelson, S.D. Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender. First ed. New York, NY: Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2017. 64 pp. $19.95. Hardcover. Photos, illustrations, timeline, notes, bibliography, index.

North Dakota Content Standards
Grades 4 and 8
Resources: 4.1.4; 8.1.2
Timeline: 4.1.5
Concepts of time: 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.2.4
People and events: 4.2.5
Colonization: 4.2.9
Expansion: 4.2.10
Physical geography: 4.5.3; 8.5.1
Human geography: 4.5.5, 4.5.6; 8.5.2, 8.5.3
Culture: 4.6.1, 4.6.2; 8.6.2
US History & Imperialism: 8.2.4, 8.2.9, 8.2.10, 8.2.11

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Review: Sitting Bull, Lakota Warrior And Defender Of His People

A Review: Sitting Bull, Warrior & Defender
Beautiful Book About Great Leader
By Dakota Wind
Fort Yates, ND (TFS) – In 2015, SD Nelson published his Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People, a first-person historical narrative through the eyes of Sitting Bull. His people's struggle to survive manifest destiny in the late nineteenth century is told through historical photos and Great Plains pictography.

Nominally a children’s book, but much more, Nelson beautifully illustrates a carefully researched and composed historical narrative. Each page is a work of art rendered in the historic Plains Indian style on a ledger book background. Every piece of art is lovingly constructed with a contemporary feel without sacrificing style or story.

Nelson acknowledges the oral traditions for Sitting Bull’s childhood name, Jumping Badger, from the direct lineal descendant, the great-grandson of Sitting Bull, Mr. Ernie LaPointe.

Sitting Bull touches on the last greatest conflict in the American West, Little Bighorn. Nelson takes readers on the journey to Fort Walsh in Canada, where Sitting Bull and his people remained in exile for a few years until the overwhelming call to return home pulled the Lakota back to Missouri River country. Nelson thoughtfully reconstructs the “surrender” of Sitting Bull at Fort Buford, which was actually an exchange of one lifestyle, a hunter-gatherer one, for another, an agricultural one. Imprisonment at Fort Randall is mentioned too.

Sitting Bull’s time as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is also touched upon, then Sitting Bull’s return to his first and last home on the Grand River, SD. Agent McLaughlin is rendered in a confrontation with Sitting Bull about the Ghost Dance, and Sitting Bull is simply but beautifully rendered as Ikčé (common) in wrapped braids and a robe.

Nelson brings Sitting Bull to a conclusion with the death of the great spiritual leader at the hands of his own people. Nelson illustrates Sitting Bull falling, but not quite on the ground. Two police officers are depicted firing at Sitting Bull in the side and head. The images are suggestive, not graphic in their depiction, truly rendered in the historic Plains Indian style of art.

Nelson’s book is a beautiful tribute to one of the great leaders of the Lakota people. His vibrant use of color enhances a traditional art. This isn’t a typical childhood read, and it shouldn’t be. This is based on a living, breathing first nation man and his struggle in the post-reservation era. If your bookcase has any work by Paul Goble, this one earns its place front and center on that shelf. Get it for yourself and your family if you love art and history.

S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. His traditional name is Maȟpíya Kiŋyáŋ (Flying Cloud) He is an award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books. His books have received many accolades, including the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award, a place on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Nelson lives in Flagstaff, AZ. Follow him online at sdnelson.net.

Nelson, S. D. Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People. First ed. New York, NY: Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2015. 64 pp. $19.95. Hardcover. Photos, illustrations, timeline, notes, bibliography, index.

North Dakota Content Standards
Grades 4 and 8
Resources: 4.1.4; 8.1.2
Timeline: 4.1.5
State Symbols: 4.2.1 (Western Meadowlark, Red Tomahawk)
Concepts of time: 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.2.4
People and events: 4.2.5
Colonization: 4.2.9
Expansion: 4.2.10
Physical geography: 4.5.3; 8.5.1
Human geography: 4.5.5, 4.5.6; 8.5.2, 8.5.3
Culture: 4.6.1, 4.6.2; 8.6.2
US History & Imperialism: 8.2.4, 8.2.9, 8.2.10, 8.2.11

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Grandmother Flower, First Flower Of Spring

The Prairie Crocus opened her petals as the sun broke through the overcast. 
First Flower Of The Spring
Grandmother Flower Returns

By Dakota Wind
Mandan, ND (TFS) – I awoke to the distinctive call of Tȟašiyagmuŋka, the Western Meadowlark, outside my window this morning. Last weekend I went out looking for what the settlers called the Pasque Flower, or the Prairie Crocus. The Lakȟóta have two names for the same flower: Hokšíčhekpa, or A Child’s Navel; Uŋčí Waȟčá, or Grandmother Flower. My search was unsuccessful until today.

I hiked on a trail located at a recreation area in the rolling hills of Heart River Country. The sky overhead was overcast with gray clouds and teased the possibility of rain. A light wind blew in from the west and picked the cold up off a lake yet frozen. Last year’s grass was matted from the weight of this winter’s snow; banks of snow lie scattered about the prairie steppe in protest of the coming spring. 

It's easy to see the Prairie Crocus against last year's brown grass.

I stepped off the trail and ascended the north face of a hill, stepping between brush and broken sandstone outcroppings, until I stood on the top. The scree of Čhetáŋ, a hawk, and the honking of a lonely Maǧá, a goose, echoed off the icy lake. I imagine their conversation for a moment, the solitary Maǧá honked, “Tuktél huwó?” and Čhetáŋ screed out into the sky, “WótA!” Maǧá asking where his flock was, Čhetáŋ replying that it’s time to eat.

Škipípi, Chickadee, flitted among the trees and brush whistling, “Alí,” an inquiry if spring has indeed arrived. Wakíŋyela, Mourning Dove, cooed an announcement to all that surely a rain was due. Ištáničatȟaŋka, the Horned Lark, sang out, “Optéptečela, optéptečela!” thinking that perhaps another snow was coming instead. Of all the birds to sing in the spring, it is Tȟašiyagmuŋka whos whistle rises above all, “Oíyokiphi! Ómakha Théča!” or, “Take pleasure! The new year [season] is here!” 

I had to manually focus my camera on the Prairie Crocus' golden heart. 

I reached the top of the hill and fell into step with another trail that took me along the plateau edge and straight to Uŋčí Waȟčá. Her purple robe is outstanding amongst last year’s brown grass and shattered sandstone. Last year’s prickly pear shown bright red against the grass, little bulbs of Missouri Pincushion sat in little round clumps, barbs from both still sharp, but it wasn’t cactus that brought me to the hills.

They say, a long time ago, that a young man went to pray on the hill at the end of winter. It was cold, lonely, and dark, and the young man drew his robe tight about himself. As he did so, a little voice called out in gratitude for the extra warmth. Over the course of the young man’s time on the hill, the flower assured him that he would have his vision. The young man eventually left after his quest was finished, and the flower shivered in the cold. Creator looked down on the flower, and offered gifts of her choice. She wanted a robe of her own, and said that she enjoyed the colors of the mornings and the warmth of the sun. 

From the side, one can see the "fur" of the Prairie Crocus. 

Creator bestowed upon Uŋčí Waȟčá a purple robe and painted her heart gold. She’s the first flower of the new year and as the first moon passes, her robe opens less and turns gray. The first flower sings courage to all the other flowers of the new season and reminds them not to fear their time, but to rejoice because their spirits will go on to color the rainbows. Once in a while, however, the robe of Uŋčí Waȟčá is white, which indicates that a bison drew its last breath in that spot.

The urge to pluck the soft fuzzy flowers is strong, but I can’t take from the earth without leaving a gift in return, so I leave all the Uŋčí Waȟčá as I found them. Long ago, the Lakȟóta gathered and used the whole flower from root to petal in treating arthritis. Someday, as the pain increases in the knuckles of my hands, I may return for these gentle flowers. 

One of many Prairie Crocus growing on a south-facing bluff.

The sun broke through the clouds as I prepared to leave the south-facing hillside, and the flowers began to open. I snapped a few more pictures as I made my way back to the trail. A Kaŋǧí, or Crow, let loose a raucous laugh I felt was at my expense. I was dressed as though it were a summer day, and it was still spring. Kaŋǧí laughed out, “Kȟá!” as if to say, “[You] should have [dressed for the weather]!” I stood and stretched, stiff from the cold, and walked back to my car wishing for my coat.

I thought I was by myself this morning, but in the midst of creation, Makȟóčhe Wašté, the Beautiful Country, was laughter, whistles, and songs that filled the air, and even the wind let up when I passed by the frozen lake.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Badlands Or Bad Lands

A view of Painted Canyon at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Badlands Or Bad Lands
Little Missouri Country

By Dakota Wind
Great Plains, ND (TFS) – The landscape is beautiful. Beautiful in the sense that the renaissance poet might say it was beautiful because it required a balance of placement, light, color, and time. It’s beautiful in the sense that the Lakȟóta looked at it and saw that it was inherently good, because good is beautiful. Creation is good.

Over at The Prairie Blog, author and moderator, Mr. Jim Fuglie, features a breakdown about the Badlands, or Bad Lands, if you prefer. There are readers, North Dakota citizens, and out-of-state people who are drawn to one way it's written or the other. In his article, Mr. Fuglie draws on the Lakȟóta place name for the Badlands National Park about this kind of landscape:

Why is it called the Badlands?

The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”

“Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of badlands topography.”

The Lakȟóta word for land, country, or earth, is Makȟá. The Lakȟóta word for bad is ŠíčA. When the word Makȟá is compounded with ŠíčA, it becomes Makȟóšica. It would seem then, that the written proper name if one needs proper, is Badlands. ŠíčA doesn’t mean bad in the sense that the land isn’t productive, the land was/is quite good for hunting deer, elk, bison, and at one time the bighorn sheep, and might serve as a descriptor of how the landscape appeared, but the land itself wasn’t “bad.” There was something there that was malevolent and dark.

A Tyrannosaurus Rex, as featured at Dinopedia

The erosion of the landscape in the various badland formations tends to reveal fossilized dinosaur remains. The Lakȟóta refer to the great serpents as Uŋktéǧi, a twisted creation of Uŋčí Makȟá (Grandmother Earth). In the early days, after creation, they say these Uŋktéǧi ate people or caused people to mysteriously disappear. Íŋyaŋ, Stone, created WakÍŋyaŋ, the Flying Ones, to do battle with the Uŋktéǧi. WakÍŋyaŋ fly in from the west, terrible lightning flashes from their eyes, and wind gusts from each stroke of their wings, as they cleanse Makȟóčhe Wašté, the Beautiful Country (Great Plains; North America).

The Lakȟóta also name the regions of Makȟóčhe Wašté by the name of the stream which flows through it. The Little Missouri River is known to the Lakȟóta as Čhaŋšótka Wakpá, or Charred Woods River. The Badlands, by this place name method, is called Čhaŋšótka Wakpá Makȟóčhe, meaning Charred Wood River Country. They might call it this if born in that country. In everyday speech, however, the Lakȟóta would call it Makȟóšica.

Mr. Fuglie knows that it isn’t worth the energy to argue about the semantics of Badlands vs. Bad Lands (he prefers two separate words). The better question to ask, and perhaps argue over, would be, “what does the Badlands mean to you?”

See also:
The Sheyenne River Or The Cheyenne River

How To Pronounce Oahe


Theodore Roosevelt National Park


Čhaŋšótka Wakpá (chahn-SHOHT-kah wahk-PAH): Charred Woods River

Íŋyaŋ (EEN-yahn): Stone

Lakȟóta (lah-KHOH-tah): lit. “Affection.” Friend or Ally

Makȟá (mah-KHAH): Earth

Makȟóčhe Wašté (mah-KHOH-chay wash-TAY): The Beautiful Country, Great Plains, North America

Makȟóšica (mah-KHOH-shee-chah): Badlands

ŠíčA (SHEE-chah): Bad

Uŋčí (oon-CHEE): Grandmother

Uŋktéǧi (oonk-TAY-ghee): Serpents, or Dinosaurs

WakÍŋyaŋ (wah-KEEN-yah): Winged Ones, Thunder

Wakpá (wahk-PAH): River

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Moon, New Year In The Moon Counting Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lakota Courtship: Catch Her Wrap, Sing Her Songs, Steal Her Moccasins

The Plains Indian flute is featured in Paul Goble's "Love Flute."
Lakota Courtship And Marriage
Catch Her Wrap, Steal Her Moccasins

By Dakota Wind
The Great Plains, ND (TFS) – Long ago, young Očhéthi Šakówiŋ men would court their sweethearts with spoken words and by serenading them with song. Courtship was public, in full view of the wičhóthi (the village, or encampment). How a man pursued his love, and how she returned or didn’t return his affections was known to all. This public courtship was known as Wiókhiyapi, or “To court a woman.”

One of the tools men used to court women was the Plains Indian love flute. The Lakȟóta call the flute Wayážo, which simply means, “To play the flute.” The Plains Indian love flute has its origins in a variety of stories, but the common elements include: a young man who is in love with a young woman and has an inability to express himself to her, supernatural assistance (how he acquires the flute), and then how he wins the affections of his sweetheart. The young women were never expected to respond, but if they did, the young man might craft a song from her words to him.

Regarding the flute and the nature of serenading, the late Ella Deloria had much to share about this subject. “To have a love song sung about one was shameful. This was the only kind of love song that existed and it was no compliment,” Deloria said in her work The Dakota Way of Life. The Dakota call these love songs Wiílowaŋpi, Singing About A Woman. The Thítȟuŋwaŋ term for the same is Wióweštelowaŋpi, which Deloria interprets as, A Singing In Mockery Of Woman.

Deloria said the Wiílowaŋpi was like a public report on a young woman’s courtship behavior. From the love song, two things are implied: that she had yielded herself outside of marriage, or had promised to marry with no intention of doing so. The Wiílowaŋpi had a rule for its composition: young women were not outright named. Her identity had to be guessed. There's always an exception, and Deloria recalled on one occasion that a jilted lover actually named his obsession, which was shameful to him and intolerable to her.

From inside Goble's "Love Flute," which shows young men singing past sunset and into the night.

The traditional courting hour, according to Deloria, was towards evening when the sun hung low and men took their horses to water, when the women went to gather fuel and water to last the night.

Deloria called courtship WióyuspA, or To Catch A Woman, in reference to catching hold of a woman’s wrap to detain her. The alternate term in Dakota is WiókhiyA, To Talk To A Woman. Once caught, it was proper for a young woman to free herself or pretend a false resistance if she liked her suitor, but not too much resistance lest her efforts dampen his pursuit of her. When her suitor spoke to her, she would affect disinterest in him. It was the man’s role to pursue and the woman’s role to be pursued. A highly romantic young woman might be seduced into an indiscretion and then abandoned after once yielding herself. Deloria called this Maníl Éiȟpéyapi, Abandoned In The Wilds.

"Courting In A Blanket," by Evans Flammond.

Another tool men employed in Wiókhiyapi was the bison robe or blanket. A young man would wear a blanket about his shoulders, there might be other suitors too, all politely ignoring each other, waiting for their intended to appear. If a man was able to catch his sweetheart for just a moment, he’d wrap his blanket around himself and her, and share his feelings with her. The Lakȟóta have a phrase to describe this situation: Šiná Aópemni Inážiŋpi (lit. “Robe Wrapped-up-in Standing-they”), or Standing Wrapped In A Blanket. The blanket tradition is still seen in modern times, late night, on the pow-wow trail, but only the blanket itself is referred to in colloquial terms as a “snagging blanket.” According to the late Albert White Hat, they stood under the robe and spoke, the blanket was means of providing a moment of privacy.

Courtship Scene with Umbrella. A beautifully executed example of quillwork. Prairie Edge, Rapid City, SD.

Lastly, the umbrella was used in the traditional courtship as a supplemental tool to provide not just shade, but additional privacy from wary eyes. The umbrella was a popular trade item long before the reservation era. They were decorated with feathers, ribbons, bells, thimbles, and beadwork. Some were even painted.

The primary usage of the umbrella was for shade, which is reflected in the names for the umbrella. The New Lakota Dictionary has an entry for umbrella as Íyohaŋzi, or To Cast Shadow On. The Dakota call the umbrella Óhaŋzihdepi, which refers to any constructed shade against the sun (a pow-wow bowery, an awning, a light branch with the leaves still on, and even an umbrella). Buechel’s Lakota Dictionary entry for umbrella as Oíyohaŋzi, which refers to a shelter providing shade from the sun, but Buechel’s entry says this referred to a wagon covering.

Tipis at Fort Yates, ND. Photo by Frank Fiske.

A woman didn’t draw attention to herself, but she could announce her availability for suitors by affixing a pair of rabbit ears to one of the lodge poles when camp was established.

The woman was not without authority in her suitors’ courtship. If a man held no interest for her at all, she might say, “Héčhe šni (Don’t do that),” or more simply make a sign of negation, which is holding one’s open hand up, fingers together, palm facing inward, and waving one’s hand in and out a few times.

It was not unheard of for a young woman to demonstrate her affections to a young man by secretly gifting him with her work (ex. a decorated pair of moccasins), but this was considered improper. Deloria calls this “man buying,” and that this was cause for private ridicule and suspicion among the women. When a gift, as such, was given, the young woman hoped that the young man cared enough not to reveal from whom he received it. As she gifted him, she might whisper, “Wíyukčaŋ,” or “Think about this [us],” which Deloria freely translates as, “Perhaps this will help you think.”

Lakota moccasins, ~1910 CE. The wear on the soles indicate that the wearer walked on the balls of his feet. Fully beaded moccasins with beaded soles were actually worn. Eiteljorg Museum.

Haŋpa, or moccasins, played a role in courtship and marriage too. When a young man pursued his sweetheart, he might ride his horse in front of her mother’s lodge. Doing so, he usually plaited his hair, dressed his best, and even painted his face. If his mother or sisters were so inclined, they would make a pair of fully beaded moccasins. Not just the moccasin tops were beaded or quilled, but the very soles as well. This would indicate that his female relatives thought highly of him, a good sign for his intended.

Some men might offer a young woman’s father a gift of fine fleet horses, guns, blankets, or another special gift. He did this not to “buy a wife,” but to demonstrate his ability to provide for her. If her parents approved of his match to their daughter, they accepted these gifts and presented some of their own, this formalized and recognized the marriage. If his gifts were refused, it wasn’t a slight to the suitor, rather, they thought highly of their daughter that they wanted a man who could provide better. This demonstration of gifts to “buy” one’s wife is called Wíŋyaŋčhiŋ. When the marriage was recognized, the bride’s family presented her and her new husband with a lodge of their own to start their family.

In the tradition of giving gifts to “get the girl,” young lovers might announce their intention to marry concurrently. A young man might urge his parents to prepare gifts and a feast, then his family took horses and clothes for the young man’s intended. The young woman would dress in the clothes her lover’s family made for her, and her Hakátaku, or brothers, would set her upon one of the horses her fiance gifted to them, and escort their sister to the feast. There were no speeches or formal rite to observe. He wanted her, and she wanted him. This kind of marriage was called Wíŋyaŋ Hé Čhiŋčák’upi, or They Gave Her To Him.

Sometimes a man captured a woman from another tribe for his wife. This was called YúzA, or To Hold Something or Somebody Tight. This word is never used in reference by men or women to take a man.

A Yanktonai man and a Mandan woman elope.

It happened from time to time, that a young couple might elope. Elopement wasn’t unknown to the Lakȟóta. They called it WiínaȟmA, or To Run Away With Somebody (a woman) and marry in secret. The reasons vary. Perhaps she didn’t like any of her suitors and loved only one suitor.

When a young woman made her choice, the other young men assumed an air of nonchalance. It was laughable to show resentment of her choice, there were other women. If more than one young woman showed interest in a man, neither would they deride the man’s choice. A woman might say, “Is he the only man?”

The 1824-1825 entry of the Swan Winter Count portrays a single horse, but the entry recalls the death of twenty of Swan's horses killed by a jealous person. wintercounts.si.edu.

Now and then, there was a jilted man who demanded retaliatory satisfaction. Deloria recounted a story of a man who made lame a rival’s horse. Deloria couldn’t find an informant who knew of this incident, but this did happen. According to the Swan Winter Count in 1824-1825, when Swan, an Oóhenuŋpa (Two Boilings; Two Kettle), had all his horses killed. Once, an angry young man threw dirt in the face of a woman who married another. This demonstration served a grievous insult meaning that she was a liar and now all would know of it. Deloria said of this particular incident, that no one felt sorry for the new bride and that she “had it coming.”

Jilted women sometimes demanded satisfaction too. Deloria recalled the story of a woman who cast her knife at a man who had betrayed her (two-timed her perhaps?) and took out one of his eyes. In another incident, a place called Chateau Creek in south-eastern South Dakota, known in Dakota as Nawízi Kičhízapi, or The Jealous Ones Fight Each Other, was where two women cast dignity aside and fought over a man.

A young man removed her moccasins to prevent her from running away. Photo of pictograph by Holly Young.

If a young man captured a woman or eloped with her, he pulled her up on to his horse behind him, removed her moccasins, and held onto them so she wouldn’t run away.

Mature men and women courted politely and respectfully. An older man didn’t serenade his woman with song or flute, neither did he try to grab her wrap or wrap her in his blanket, not did he steal her moccasins. That was behavior for young men. No. The mature man might call on a mature woman and visit politely for a while before saying something like, “You seem to me a woman I could live with harmoniously.” A mature woman might say, “I have no one to hunt for me (or my father).” The mature man and woman never dared to elope either. They were adults, and elopement was for the young.

Divorce isn’t a topic focused on here, but it certainly happened and it could be initiated by a woman as easily as a man. The general causes for divorce were unfaithfulness and laziness.

Kevin Locke. 

Deloria, Ella Cara. The Dakota Way Of Life. Sioux Falls, SD: Mariah Press, 2007.

White Hat, Albert, and compiled and edited by John Cunningham. Life’s Journey - Zuya: Oral Teachings from Rosebud. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Utah Press, 2012.

Goble, Paul. Tipi: Home of The Nomadic Buffalo Hunters. Lanham: World Wisdom, 2013.

Belitz, Larry, and Mark Belitz. The Buffalo Hide Tipi of The Sioux. Sioux Falls, SD: Pine Hill Press, SD, 2006.

Ullrich, Jan F. New Lakota Dictionary: Lakȟótiyapi-English/English-Lakȟótiyapi & incorporating the Dakota Dialects of The Yankton-Yanktonai & Santee-Sisseton. Bloomington, IN: Lakota Language Consortium, 2011.

Buechel, Eugene, and Paul Manhart. Lakota Dictionary: Lakota-English/English-Lakota. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Waggoner, Josephine, Emily Levine, and Lynne Allen. Witness: A Húŋkpapȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song of The Lakotas. Lincoln, NB & London, England: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Clark, W.P. The Indian Sign Language. LaVergne, TN: General Books, 2009.

Hassrick, Royal B. The Sioux: Life And Customs Of A Warrior Society. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Swan Winter Count (Oóhenuŋpa). wintercounts.si.edu. Accessed on March 19, 2017.