Lakota Who?

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The time I spent with the Lakota Sioux tribe has given me significant insight into the intricate workings that bind their society, and how they integrated into the New World.  Members of this particular village used Lakota, or “allies”, as the term for their fellow tribe members.  The designation of Sioux described a large community that shared a common language.  This community was then divided into three sects, each of which was further broken down into a number of smaller bands.  Our primary contact was with the Brule band of the Lakota Sioux, who traveled to trade with Dakota and Nakota tribes once a year.  The Lakota lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle, relying on the resources of the area to provide them with enough food and other nutrients.  They hunted mainly buffalo, a species that provided a multitude of uses beyond food, and one that was used in the making of Lakota dwellings.

I observed Brule tribe members living exclusively in hut style dwellings known as tipis.  These structures ranged in height, but normally rise to a peak at roughly 14 feet.  The walls were made from buffalo skins tanned with the buffalo’s brains.  Construction and maintenance of these tipis seemed to be the primary duties of the women of the Lakota tribe.  I noticed that the women were left with the job of erecting the tipi, and despite their weaker muscular structure, they were able to complete the task in about 15 minutes.  Women were also responsible for the tanning and connection of tipi walls.  During this process, women joined together to sow the pieces into place, much like quilt construction from our society ("National Park Service").  I spent time inside various tipis and found them to be quite effective in resisting the elements.  Large furs hung from the ceiling and denied any cold drafts coming from the ground.  As in our culture, women of the Lakota tribe were resigned to duties of the dwelling and did not carry much influence in political matters.

Our contacts with the Brule band shed light on the political structure of this particular group.  It appears that there was one top ranking band, currently the Brule, and that there existed two lower rank bands below them.  Each band had its own chief, and these chiefs occasional vied for power and the position of the top band for the Lakota Sioux.  On our visit to Lakota land, the tribes met our party with wildly varying levels of hospitality.  It appears that there may have been a power struggle between the primary chief, known as Black Buffalo, and the secondary chief called the Partisan.  The tribe seemed intent on frightening and dissuading us, which likely arose from both chiefs desire to attain or keep the top position.  I learned that there was an intricate trade structure that governed the Sioux tribes Dakota Rendezvous ("National Park Service").  The Brule received manufactured goods from two bands of the Dakota and Nakota tribes, who in turn received manufactured goods from British traders.  The Brule then traded the goods to Arikara Indians, who supplied the Brule with enough food to properly supply their band members.  Our goal in the area, as ordered by President Jefferson, was to create an alliance with the Lakota tribe that would eventually allow for the creation of a fur trading network.  The Brule feared that we would undo their middleman position with the Arikara, depriving the Brule of much needed food.  This fear explains much of the strange hostilities we faced from the Brule band, which at the times made little sense to us.  The Brule demanded more gifts, even though we had recently favored them with choice items.  In retrospect it appears they were simply trying to frighten us and waylay our journey forward as much as possible.

Despite the band-based power struggles and trade networks, the family unit remained the most important social structure for Lakota Indians.  Families set their tipis up in circular patterns and hunted with their families as one unit.  I observed the judgment of a family’s worth and inferred that this worth was based on a family’s horses, hunting abilities, and involvement in both religious and political happenings ("National Park Service").  Unlike the religions of our society, a person's perceived religious power came from supernatural dreams and visions.  Bravery and generosity seemed to be the most important values for Lakota peoples, as I noticed these traits were expected of both men and women.  The Lakota were an interesting people.  Although our time with them was short and filled with turmoil, perhaps things could have gone differently if our translators were slightly better at their jobs.

Work Cited

"Lakota Sioux." National Park Service. National Park Service, 1 17 2013. Web. 23 Feb 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/jeff/historyculture/the-lakota-sioux.htm>.