Relationship with the U.S.
Hubbard Brothers, Philadelphia
The beaver ceremony begins the ceremonial season" (Catlin:
drew fifteen tipis around the perimeter of the camp,
including his own, the red one at the top. He shows
the sacred thunder tipi in the center and a number of
figures walking and carrying pipes. Between the tipis,
buffalo meat dries on racks. In the center of the circle,
he wrote in Lakota, "I have diagramed these tipis
as I remember them from living in the camp, my friend"
The Ceremonial Camp Circle of the Minniconjou, 1931,
Sioux History in pictures, courtesy of the Elwyn B.
Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester
Fritz Library, University of North Dakota.
views of Devil's Tower
Located in the Black Hills of NE Wyoming
Courtesy of National Park Service
Jeffrey G. Olson photo
|Pierre > Culture > Camp Life & Seasonal Round
|The habits of buffalo were especially
important to the Lakota's lifeway. The migratory movement
of the buffalo from spring to winter was mirrored by
the Lakota on earth, and by spirit beings in the heavens.
This reciprocal connection greatly influenced their
seasonal camp life. The knowledge and awareness of the
movements of the sun and stars, the passing of new moons
or months, led the Lakota through their cycles, culminating
with their primary annual event, the Sun Dance, when
the populations of the buffalo herds had reached their
Bison grazing near Missouri River
Jeffrey G. Olson photo
4-Direction Walk, elders carry staffs and lead
Courtesy of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe
In buffalo days, the Pipe Ceremony of the spring
equinox marks the time for small winter bands to move
into the Black Hills. During the Lakota annual ceremonial
journey, from spring equinox to summer solstice, the
sun travels through four of their constellations, while
the people move step by step to the Black Hills. Notching
the "moon counting sticks" allows the people
to keep track of time. The first notch is made in the
"moon of the birth of buffalo
calves," marking the end of winter
and the time to replenish the food supply.
The Lakota are happy to be moving once more. The
women and daughters go outside to view their tipis,
which need sewing from the winter winds' damage. The
children are ready to play different games with their
Finding a camp location with a good water supply,
sufficient wood for fuel, grazing and forage for horses,
protection from the wind, and security from red or white
enemies, is a major challenge for the Wakiconza, the
camp leader. Camp movements are decided
by the Wakiconza, who tells the "camp crier,"
who then tells the people.
Upon hearing the camp crier's call, the women get
to work immediately, dismantling and packing the lodges
and gear. Horses are made ready, travois are packed,
and everyone falls into line. As they walk or ride along,
the people can hear the stragglers being disciplined
by the Akicta, four men chosen to enforce the Woope,
the proper way to behave, according to the customary
laws of the Lakota. The Akicta use sticks to hurry them
In this matrilineal culture, the women are heads
of family and owners of the tipis. These they erect
in the order in which they march into camp. Each family
pitches their tipis in a circular formation with an
opening on the side of the circle facing east. This
camp circle is called a Wico-ti. The east is
the main entrance and it has two sides. These honor
places are reserved for those tipis of men who are of
great warrior status. The highest place of honor is
in the middle of the circle facing the east entrance.
Here the leader of the camp places his tipi.
Tipis erected outside the camp circle are reserved
for people who did not recognize authority of the camp
council and those that had committed crimes.
The camp leader is called the Wicasa Itancan,
who has the responsibility to protect the camp. The
people who live together called themselves a tiospaye.
Every tipi in the circle is subordinate to the law of
the camp and everyone is expected to help maintain law
and order at all times.
Any member of the camp can wander in and out of the
camp circle, with one exception. Any large group of
men has to come through the main entrance; otherwise,
they are considered to be committing an act of war.
This protects the people from a surprise attack.
|The Thunder Being in the west, the Wakinya,
is awakened as the ground is thawing during the "moon
of grass appearing," and it is time to move camp
again, moving closer to the Black Hills. The next month,
May, is the "moon when the ponies shed," signaling
time to move again.
Spring thunderstorm near Rosebud
Courtesy Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Bands unite during the "moon of thunder
storms," bringing together relations who have been
hibernating in their winter camps. This is a time for
celebration and happiness. The summer solstice brings
all the Lakota bands to Devil's Tower, Mato Tipila
Paha, for their mid-summer Sun Dance
ceremony. This is the only time that the camps are placed
upon large, open flats. Around the camp, children are
busy playing while the older boys break their colts.
Girls help their mothers repair old tipis and sew new
ones with sinew, to replace those that have worn out.
They make new moccasins and leggings from the "smoke
tops" of the worn tipis.
The men gather from all the scattered bands and select
a leader. After they smoke their pipes, they talk about
affairs of the tribe, in particular the annual buffalo
hunt. Lakota conversations lead to battle stories, but
these are not told in a boastful manner.
Racing of Sioux Indians near Fort Pierre.
An engraving by Rawdon, Wright & Hatch after a painting
by Karl Bodmer.
Courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society —
Cousins drying chockecherries.
courtesy Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Boys with timpisila braid (prairie
courtesy of Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
|Outside the camp circle, during the
"moon of ripe June-berries, the women gather vegetables
and pick berries in preparation for the Sun Dance. When
time allows, women and daughters paint their parfleches
and robes, while visiting and laughing with their relatives.
They enjoy this good company through the "moon
of making fat" or June when everything is blooming,
then the "cherry ripening moon"; and through
the "moon of ripe plums" or "moon when
the cherries turn black." Besides picking the fruits
of the season, and digging prairie turnips, Lakota women
are kept extremely busy with hide working as their men
kill buffalo. Buffalo are prime during the "moon
of ripe plums" and the hunters work hard to bring
in what they need.
|When the leaves turn yellow, the plums
turn scarlet, and the calf grows hair, it is time to
break up the large summer encampment. Bands separate,
and they move back to their familiar territories, led
by a camp leader who will determine where they will
set up fall camps. The Wico-ti are constructed
again, following all the same rules.
Girls riding, near Rosebud
courtesy Rosebud Sioux Tribe
During this season, the women are busy with their
daughters collecting nuts, gathering vegetables, and
drying buffalo meat or "papa" for winter
months. The men continue to hunt the massive buffalo
herds so there will be enough meat to last through the
winter. In October, or the "moon of falling leaves"
or "changing seasons," camp life is very active.
The men hunt and they search the valleys for good winter
camps where wood, water, and shelter will see them through
the winter moons. During the "moon of the hairless
calves" or November, when the buffalo cows are
butchered, women dress hides and make new robes and
other items needed for the cold winter months.
In winter, the people follow Mother Earth's example,
and they rest. Children learn the knowledge of the elders
as they sit around the evening camp fire, in the cold
darkness filled with the howling voices of animals and
the whining and moaning winds, listening to the oral
history of their relatives. Old stories are told, the
same that have been told since the beginning of time,
and new stories of warfare and other exciting adventures
are added to the litany.
In the morning, inside the warm buffalo tipi, the
family awakens to the smell of breakfast being cooked
by the women. While the women gather wood for the fire,
the children play outside in their winter clothing that
their female relatives have sewn for them.
The men, during the winter moons, made bows, arrows,
and other tools. An elder, the keeper of the calendar
sticks, is in his lodge teaching a younger man the sacred
lessons associated with this important responsibility.
They cut notches in his stick, counting the sunsets
to the winter solstice, which comes during the "moon
of frost in the tipi".
Frigid temperatures usually come after the solstice,
during the "tree popping moon," when the cold
causes trees to split with an intense noise. After weeks
of squinting against the sun reflected off the snow,
people suffered snow blindness, during the "Sore
eyes moon" or "moon of the dark red calf."
The "moon when grain pops up," March, marks the transition from winter to spring.
count" is drawn on the buffalo hide during
this month. The tiyospaye listen for the camp
crier to announce, once again, that it is time to begin
the journey to the Black Hills.
drawn by Oglala Chief Standing Bear (Standing Bear: