Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 24, 2001 - Issue 30



Lakota Thunder

"There was a time that to be Lakota was to be laughed at and scorned, but through those adversities there were men and women who cherished the Lakota ways and kept them for us so that we would never lose our identities. It is to these grandfathers and grandmothers that we dedicate this collection of songs."

No leap into the spotlight may have been greater than the one for this young group from the Standing Rock Reservation, straddling the North and South Dakota line. It plays mainly at Sun Dances and naming ceremonies in Lakota country. Courtney Yellow Fat, lead singer with his brother, Dana, says the group doesn't hit the pow wow circuit much. "Pow wows are getting too commercialized. There's too much money involved."

Its 13 members are primarily Hunkpapa Sioux, and its first record, "Veterans Songs" opens with a tribute to the tribe's great spiritual leader Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull). "Veteran's Songs" was nominated for the first Native American GRAMMY. Like much of their music, this song was preserved "underground," said Yellow Fat, who teaches Lakota culture at the Standing Rock Community High School in Fort Yates, N.D. "We learned it from our elders and we will eventually teach it to our children."

The group's album, produced by Makoche Records, is practically a history of the Lakota warrior tradition, from the fight against Pahin Hanska, "Long Hair," Lt. Col. George Custer, to distinguished service in two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. "We start back when we were fighting against the U.S.," Yellow Fat said. "Then we make a transition with the Flag Song to when we were fighting for the U.S."

Yellow Fat said he was puzzled at first that so many Lakota enlisted for World War I when at that point they weren't even citizens of the country. But then, he said, "an elder told me that we as Native Americans always felt we had a duty to protect this land from enemies."

Recording this tribute "to the elder people, the veterans, and their struggle" aroused deep emotions, Yellow Fat said. "You can hear it on the record."

"We remember the words of Tatanka Iyotaka, Sitting Bull, who said, "I was never the aggressor. I only fought to protect the children."

Lakota Thunder




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