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Cover Story January 18th, 2007

  Untitled Document

The Tatanka Panorama Sculpture


by lyle e davis


ShaneEvery now and then we meet someone in our lives in whom we develop a belief that ‘this guy has really turned his life around. He’s going to be somebody special.” Such a person is Shane Allen. Shane is a young man, age 16. In his short life he has had a few bumps and bruises, a few problems to overcome, some rough times. He’s bounced back and is doing quite nicely today. He’s a straight A student . . . he’s developed an interest in writing and in research.

Case in point: When Shane was only three years old he sat on his grandpa’s knee and watched the movie, “Dances With Wolves,” starring Kevin Costner. He was enthralled. He watched that movie, by his count, probably 30 times. Little did he realize what an important part the actor, Kevin Costner, would play later in his life.

He began to study the Lakota Sioux as soon as he learned how to read. He learned a great deal about the Lakota, about South Dakota, about the customs and traditions of this Native American Nation.

During one of many annual vacations, he and his mom visited South Dakota and got to know the Lakota people. They welcomed his genuine curiousity and helped him learn even more. While there, he saw the magnificent art work that Kevin Costner had commissioned, the panoramic sculpture known as “Tatanka,” the story of the Bison.

Several years ago, Shane’s father died. He asked his mom, Linda Allen, if he could scatter the rose petals from the floral covering on his dad’s casket at the site of Tatanka. Linda said they’d have to get permission from Costner, since he had commissioned the sculpture. Not only did Costner give permission but provided strong moral support as well. Costner thinks Shane is “just an awesome kid.”

For Shane, the Lakota performed the grief ceremony at which the rose petals were scattered at the site. A gentle wind blew the flower petals on to the Tatanka statues. Following Lakota tradition, there was a one year mourning period. Following this mourning period the Lakota Chief awarded Shane both a prized Lakota ceremonial blanket and a mentor, Sandor.

photo photo
a closeup of a brave killing a buffalo
Cliff Little Chief, son of Lisa Little Chief, who conducted the Tatanka ceremony for Shane Allen

Shanes Story:

photoThe plains were once an awesome sight to behold and the sacred bison were a part of those plains.

There were thousands upon thousands of North American bison grazing in vast herds. They roamed from as far east as Missouri to as far west as Montana.

The Native Americans who used to call this land their own believed the bison was put forth on this earth for food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of life. The Native Americans used every part of the bison.

They used the hides mainly for housing and clothing. They used the horns for drinking cups. They used the tail as a paint brush. Though perhaps gross to us, it is well documented that they even used the bladder of a bull bison for a drinking bag.

They used the sinew, or muscle, for their bows and to tie things in place. The skulls were used in special ceremonies. The meat and most of the organs were eaten. They used the ribs to make sleds for their children.

The importance of the bison to the Plains Indians cannot be minimized.
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota you will find, Tatanka: the Story of the Bison.
It is a 3,000 square foot visitor center including interior exhibits, a retail space, restaurant and outdoor bronze sculpture of a buffalo jump.

A buffalo jump was the means to gather meat for the tribe. A band of horse mounted warriors would chase a herd of buffalo toward a cliff, the buffalo would run over the cliff, and after they had been killed, the tribe would begin the butchering and storing of meat for the season.

Background of the Lakota
- The Dakota -

The original Dakota people migrated north and westward from the south and east into Ohio then to Minnesota. The Dakota were a woodland people who thrived on hunting, fishing and subsistence farming.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, armed with rifles supplied by the French and English, the Anishinaabe and Chippewa people from the east began to migrate and pushed the Dakota further into Minnesota and west and southward, giving the name "Dakota Territory" to the northern expanse west of the Mississippi and up to its headwaters.

The western Dakota obtained horses, probably in the 17th century, and moved onto the plains, becoming the Lakota, subsisting on the buffalo herds and corn-trade with their linguistic cousins, the Mandan and Hidatsa along the Missouri.

The Sioux Uprisings

On August 17, 1854, east of Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, twenty-nine U.S. soldiers were killed by Brule’ Lakota (Sioux) Indians.

The story behind the story: A hot tempered Lieutenant had gone to the village with orders to arrest an Indian who had killed a cow belonging to a Mormon emigrant. Second Lieutenant John L. Grattan, of the U.S. 6th Infantry Regiment, a recent graduate of West Point, was ordered to bring in the guilty Lakota cow killer. That was a fairly simple task and could likely have been accomplished by simply meeting and negotiating with the chief. There were 4,000 Brulé and Oglala camped near Fort Laramie in accordance with the terms of an earlier peace treaty.
Lieutenant Grattan approached the camp and its chief, Conquering Bear, in an openly hostile and aggressive manner. One of his soldiers shot the chief in the back and volleys of gunfire ensued. The Grattan fight (known as the Grattan massacre) was an early and significant event in the plains Indian Wars.

The U.S. press cited “the Grattan Massacre” as part of a campaign to stir up anti-Indian sentiment.

In present-day Garden County, Nebraska, on September 3, 1855, 700 soldiers under American General William S. Harney avenged the "Grattan Massacre" by attacking a Lakota village, killing 100 men, women, and children. Vengeance that would not have been called for had it not been for the hot-headed, and now dead, Lieutenant Grattan.

Other wars followed; and in 1862-1864, as refugees from the "Sioux Uprising" in Minnesota fled west to their allies in Montana and Dakota Territory, the war followed them.

In the 19th century, as the railroads hired hunters to exterminate the buffalo herds, the Indians' primary food supply, in order to force all tribes into sedentary habitations, the Dakota and Lakota were forced to accept white-defined reservations in exchange for the rest of their lands, and domestic cattle and corn in exchange for buffalo, becoming dependent upon annual federal payments guaranteed by treaty.

In 1862, after a failed crop the year before and a winter starvation, the federal payment was late to arrive. The local traders would not issue any more credit to the Dakota and the local federal agent told the Dakota that they were free to eat grass.

As a result on August 17, 1862, the Sioux Uprising began when a few Dakota men attacked a white farmer, igniting further attacks on white settlements along the Minnesota River. The US Army put the revolt down, then later tried and condemned 303 Dakota for war crimes. President Abraham Lincoln remanded the death sentence of 285 of the warriors, signing off on the execution of 38 Dakota men by hanging on December 29, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, the largest mass execution in US history.

There were 20,000 Lakota in the mid-18th century. The number has now increased to about 70,000, of whom about 20,500 still speak their ancestral language.

Because the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota, they objected to mining in the area, which had been attempted since the early years of the 19th century. In 1868, the US government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. 'Forever' lasted only four years, as gold was publicly discovered there, and an influx of prospectors descended upon the area, abetted by Army commanders like General George Armstrong Custer. The latter tried to administer a lesson of noninterference with white policies, resulting in the Black Hills War of 1876-77.

The Lakota with their allies, the Arapaho and the Cheyenne, defeated General George Crook's army at the Battle of the Rosebud and a week later defeated the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1876 at the Battle at the Greasy Grass or Little Big Horn, killing 258 soldiers and inflicting more than 50% casualties on the regiment. But like the Zulu triumph over the British at Isandlwana in Africa three years later, it proved to be a pyrrhic victory.

photoThe Teton were defeated in a series of subsequent battles by the reinforced U.S. Army, and were herded back onto reservations, prevented from hunting buffalo and forced to accept government food distribution, which went to 'friendlies' only. The Lakota were compelled to sign a treaty in 1877 ceding the Black Hills to the United States, but a low-intensity war continued, culminating, fourteen years later, in the killing of Sitting Bull (December 15, 1890) at Standing Rock and the Massacre of Wounded Knee (December 29, 1890) at Pine Ridge.

Today, the Lakota are found mostly in the five reservations of western South Dakota: Rosebud (home of the Upper Sic(Brulé), Pine Ridge (home of the Oglala), Lower Brulé, Cheyenne River (home of several other of the seven Lakota bands, including the Sihasapa and Hunkpapa), and Standing Rock, also home to people from many bands. But Lakota are also found far to the north in the Fort Peck Reservation of Montana, the Fort Berthold Reservation of northwestern North Dakota, and several small reserves in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where their ancestors fled to "Grandmother's [i.e. Queen Victoria's] Land" (Canada) during the Minnesota or Black Hills War. Large numbers of Lakota also live in Rapid City and other towns in the Black Hills, and in Metropolitan Denver, Colorado.

The Dream Catcher

photoLong ago when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and teacher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider.

Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language that only the spiritual leaders of the Lakota could understand.

As he spoke Iktomi, the spider, took the elder's willow hoop which had feathers, horse hair, beads and offerings on it and began to spin a web.

He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life ... and how we begin our lives as infants and we move on to childhood, and then to adulthood. Finally, we go to old age where we must be taken care of as infants, completing the cycle.

"But," Iktomi said as he continued to spin his web, "in each time of life there are many forces -- some good and some bad. If you listen to the good forces, they will steer you in the right direction. But if you listen to the bad forces, they will hurt you and steer you in the wrong direction."

He continued, "There are many forces and different directions that can help or interfere with the harmony of nature, and also with the great spirit and-all of his wonderful teachings."

All the while the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web starting from the outside and working toward the center.

dreamcatcherWhen Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the Lakota elder the web and said..."See, the web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the center of the circle."

He said, "Use the web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good use of your people's ideas, dreams and visions.

"If you believe in the great spirit, the web will catch your good ideas -- and the bad ones will go through the hole."

The Lakota elder passed on his vision to his people and now the Sioux Indians use the dream catcher as the web of their life.

It is hung above their beds or in their home to sift their dreams and visions.

The good in their dreams are captured in the web of life and carried with them...but the evil in their dreams escapes through the hole in the center of the web and are no longer a part of them.

They believe that the dream catcher holds the destiny of their future.





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