Lakota Culture, Part I: Language and Family

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 15

Lakota Culture, Part I: Language and Family

“That night, Winona cut three thin strips of leather from the bottom of one of Chumani’s dresses that was too small for her. She braided the leather, carefully weaving it around the rattlesnake rattle and adding some black and gold colored beads. When she gave me the rattle bracelet, she said, ‘This is to keep snakes away from tall cousin Tomas’.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

Her Know (Dakota Sioux Girl), 1899. Photographer Heyn Photo, Omaha, Nebraska
Her Know (Dakota Sioux Girl), 1899. Photographer Heyn Photo

Winona and Chumani are faster to accept Tomas as part of their family than he is to accept them. As Lakota children, the girls would have been raised to think of everyone as a relative (“Students Immersed in Lakota Culture“). Beyond the general term of “cousin,” which is also a term of respect, the Lakota names for specific circles of kinship are complex and specific (learn more).

Learn some other Lakota words and phrases from the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center’s “Lakota Phrase of the Week.” This week’s phrase is “I really like you, very much!”: Lila waste chi lake (pronounce: lee la wash tay chee la kay).

Winona’s gift of a beaded bracelet  is another way that she shows Tomas both respect and affection:

“Lakota women were partners with men in the work of raising children and supporting a family, although they had separate spheres of activity. One way Lakota women cared for their families was to make and decorate beautiful clothing for all members, including their brothers to whom they had a lifelong obligation. Fine apparel for their families was and still is a sign of affection and honor from wives, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers.” (Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

What does Lakota artwork look like today? Watch this video from the National Museum of American History that shows how young Lakotans today depict ideas of family and tradition (preview before showing to younger children):

Then listen to Tiana Spotted Thunder sing “Amazing Grace” in English and Lakota.


Part II of Lakota Culture will appear later in the month.

Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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