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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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Buffalo and Lakota are Kin

by David Melmer / Indian Country Today
credits: A two-year-old bull was harvested from one of the Pine Ridge herds and brought to the Piya Wiconi Center of the Oglala Lakota College pow wow grounds to undergo traditional butchering during the Pte Waste, or Good Buffalo Festival on April 2. The kids wondered how they got the buffalo into the bed of the pickup truck. (David Melmer / Indian Country Today)

A two-year-old bull was harvested from one of the Pine Ridge herds and brought to the Piya Wiconi Center of the Oglala Lakota College pow wow grounds to undergo traditional butchering during the Pte Waste, or Good Buffalo Festival on April 2. The kids wondered how they got the buffalo into the bed of the pickup truck. (David Melmer / Indian Country Today)KYLE, S.D. - Students from local schools peered at a recently-killed buffalo and waited for the butchering process to begin. Some wanted to taste the liver, a cultural tradition with the Lakota.

For those that stayed long enough to sample the liver -"it’s sweet, just a small piece or uh … no thanks" were the common responses.

The event was the Pte Waste, or Good Buffalo Festival held April 12, which was organized to educate young students about the importance of the buffalo in Lakota culture. A two-year-old bull was harvested from one of the Pine Ridge herds and brought to the Piya Wiconi Center of the Oglala Lakota College pow wow grounds to undergo traditional butchering.

"How many of you want to eat some of the liver?" asked Jay Red Hawk. Many hands of the young men from Rockyford went up. However, as the day progressed and the buffalo was brought in later than expected most young people had to leave before the liver was extracted. But as tradition requires, the liver was passed around to the elders and those who witnessed the activity.

"The buffalo is the center of the Lakota Universe. It’s like the sun to the planets. The Lakota circle the buffalo," Red Hawk said.

This was the first phase of a two part Pte Waste (Tay Wash-tay) festival. The first gathering was to take people through a buffalo kill and ceremony, the second was the learning part. The spirituality of the buffalo culture was emphasized along with the understanding of the relationship between the Lakota and the buffalo.

Visitors was treated to stories, traditional buffalo preparation, singing, crafts and arts demonstrations.

Phase one of the festival gave many students a chance to hear from people who live with and teach traditional values and who have practiced ancient ways of hunting and work-related activities of the society.

Many of the young people at the gathering just happened to be studying the 1868 treaty, the treaty between the Lakota and the federal government that reduced the Lakota lands to western South Dakota.

"If you lived a long time ago, you would be riding your horse behind the men. You would learn to make your bow and arrows - that would be your school day. You would be a good archer by age 13," Red Hawk said. He told the young men they would be encouraged by the community as they learned how to hunt and ceremonially butcher the buffalo.

"My son is four-and-a-half years old, and he has used a bow for half of his life," Red Hawk said.

Red hawk, while on horseback with a bow he made of Ash and sinew killed and processed a buffalo using the ancient methods. He said he went scouting and did a buffalo dance and a pipe ceremony, as was done hundreds of years before.

On this festival day, he used a small, sharp flint stone to start the butchering process of the young bull by creating a cut just through the skin of the animal to start removal of the hide.

Daynetta Bald Eagle wore a dress with accessories that were period correct for the mid-1800s. Detail such as the pennies at the ends of her long hair-braids were from 1843. It was traditional to tie the pennies into the hair, because, as Bald Eagle explained, there was no place to spend them, "There was no Wal-Mart."

The women weren’t always dressed so fancy, Bald Eagle wore a special dress used only for ceremony or special occasions. She had all of her personal possessions attached.

"I learned about myself in the past eight years. And I’m teaching my daughters that they are beautiful because they are Lakota," Bald Eagle said.

Women had a strong role in society. Bald Eagle explained that women worked so hard and long they had little time to gossip. It was the women who assembled the tipis, prepared the buffalo after a kill, made the clothing and cooked.

"Women were known for their work. They did it with pride and with such beauty," she said. And when the husband was too successful as a hunter, and the work was overwhelming his wife would recommend he take on another wife, the first wife’s sister was the one most suggested.

"They all worked together, it was not like today. Because you are Lakota, you have it in you to be a great person," Bald Eagle said.

The women were looked upon as sacred because they gave birth to the children, Red Hawk said.

"Do you love your moms? Do you love your grandmothers?" he asked the students, who all raised their hands.

"Grandmas are above cool. Grandmas can talk as long as they want because they have been through life," Red Hawk said.

Before the buffalo was butchered it was blessed by Dave Bald Eagle, Lakota elder from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He mentioned in his prayer that the buffalo and American Indians were kin. "We will be here together until the end of time.

"The buffalo will nourish the people back to health," he said.

The young people, who were somewhat overwhelmed by all the information said it was a good day and that they learned a lot.

The students said, based on what they learned, they would encourage their families to eat more buffalo and eat healthier. Out of a group of seven or eight youth, all said there was diabetes somewhere in their families.

"It wasn’t what we expected. I learned that even the little bones are used," said one Rockyford student.

And as Red Hawk explained to them, one of the students said, "I learned that we can hunt, because this area is ours." Red Hawk told them that the treaty of 1851 and 1868 retained the right for the Lakota to hunt and fish and gather in all of the region.

"But today, Wal-Mart is the new hunting ground," he said. Clothing, food, tools and accessories are purchased, not made from buffalo or available materials on the prairie any more.

"You can hunt and get real food like antelope, elk, deer and buffalo. The Lakota owned the prairie. Some tribes gave up on hunting buffalo because the Lakota were so good. Other tribes were asked why they wouldn’t hunt; they said because the Lakota were there," Red Hawk said.

And just as a reminder to the students, Red Hawk said the buffalo, which numbered between 30 and 50 million at one time were reduced to nearly 500, not by American Indians hunting them, but by government orders.

"Gen. Sheridan said that to exterminate the Indian we must eliminate their food source, the buffalo."

Today tribes and private ranchers are breeding buffalo, a natural for the prairie. Buffalo are good for the prairies, Red Hawk said.

The Pte Waste gives students and others a chance to participate in a traditional activity, listen to the language in prayer and in lectures and learn by observation and hands-on experience.

"Many times the kids don’t understand. I’m troubled with some Indian activities. Like announcers at pow wows who understand the dances and culture but don’t think it important enough to explain them, it’s concerning to me," said David Bald Eagle.

"They need to explain in Indian and interpret in English so people will understand and be interested."

To Bald Eagle and other elders the loss of the language is disturbing and more events such as the Pte Waste Festival will help to alleviate that, he and Bald Eagle said.

The process of mending the hoop is under way with activities such as the Pte Waste festival. Red Hawk told the students that according to prophesy the hoop was broken, he said, it was first broken when humans and animals stopped communicating.

"We used to speak to animals," he said. The return of the buffalo to the Lakota is a strengthening of the culture, nations and kinship.

"You could have been born in China or anywhere, but Tunkasila picked you to be Lakota, because you are special," Red Hawk told the students.

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