I'm a Plains Indian from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. My tribe is the Oglala Lakota Sioux. My native ancestors can be traced back to Chief's Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, who were both great leaders in the 1800's. They fought very hard to keep their land and sustain their Indian way of life. Both of these great chiefs organized and put together the famous "Battle of the Little Big Horn" where the Sioux defeated the seventh Calvary and where General Custer was laid to rest. This was one of the biggest victories in Sioux history.
At the center of this tribe is the buffalo. We use the buffalo for many different things. To name a few: the teepees that we live in are made out of stretched buffalo hide, the blankets we use are also made out of this hide, and we use the bones of the Buffalo for traditional ceremonies like the Sundance ceremony that occurs each June. We even use the buffalo skull to hold peace pipes while the sundancers dance. In other words, we never waste any part of the buffalo; to us it is our brother and is there to help us. So we show it as much respect as possible. See, in my culture, we treat the earth and all of its animals as our brothers and sisters.
Every culture has a story about its origin. My tribe's origin story is that we came out of the Black Hills with our brother, the buffalo, by our side and that's why these animals are so abundant throughout the plains. It's also why the Sioux Nation was so big. We had plenty of food and resources with which to live. Because of their importance to our survival, the buffalo hunt was a very sacred experience. The warriors would go out in hunting parties and would paint their faces. The face-painting was primarily to give them encouragement, but it also was a tradition. They wouldn't come back to the village until they came back with food. When they arrived back at the village, everybody would circle around them and have a huge feast. In my tribe, we treat women with tons and tons of respect, as they also play a very important role in the tribe. For example, women cooked, took care of the children, were always involved and sometimes led the ceremonies of the tribe.
The buffalo was also included in the ceremonies for becoming a man. In my tribe to have the respect and be considered a man, you had to go through a series of ceremonies. First you would catch a fish and feed it to the whole tribe and you couldn't eat any until everybody had some. This symbolized the fact that being a man of the tribe meant that you were a provider and that you had to make sure that all of the elderly, women and children had something to eat first. After you caught the fish you would hunt a buffalo and if you succeeded at this, you would be accepted as a man and treated with as much respect as the other men in the tribe. You would also be the provider of food and safety for the tribe. Since we were one of the most powerful tribes of the Great Plains, we also had to be prepared for battle. The Lakota were feared by all other tribes on the Great Plains. It was said that the Lakota would paint their faces and prepare for battles, whereas their enemies would paint their faces and prepare to die. However despite their dominance among the Native American population, my ancestors' way of life began to change rapidly because of the westward movement. The building of the Union Pacific Railroad resulted in the deaths of millions of buffalo and eventually killed them all off. This event and the forced move of my tribe onto reservations, devastated the tribe. The railroad didn't only kill off the buffalo, it brought settlers west who brought with them diseases that killed off many Indians. This transformed the Lakota way of life for good and is directly related to the way of life that the Lakotas live today.
Currently the Pine Ridge Reservation (were my tribe lives) is the poorest county in America and is in need of financial assistance. My tribe is something that I'm very proud to be a part of and I welcome any questions about the tribe or any aspect of its culture, both historical and modern. I have played a role in trying to help my tribe survive these hard times. The Oglala Lakota College is a college on the reservation, for which I have done mailings, and talked to people inside the Occupation that started in January of 2000. I've also collected and written many letters to President Clinton about the pardoning of American Indian Activist Leonard Peltier. Leonard Peltier was arrested in the 1970's during intense times on the reservation. He's been accused of killing two United States FBI agents in the famous Oglala shootout. There is evidence that proves his innocence, and yet Mr. Peltier continues to be in prison, as he has been for over 20 years.
The other side of my culture comes from my dad's side of the family, the Jewish side. Although I'm not a strict Jew, I do celebrate Passover and Hannukah with my family back in Minnesota. My dad's side of the family consists of lawyers, a judge, a bookstore owner, music managers, computer scientists, teachers, writers, tons of high school and college students, and now... a US Trekker! Even though I take a Native approach to life, I proudly accept the Jewish side of my culture. After all, each side has had its share of oppression, that's for sure! What I mean is that throughout history, both the Jews and the Native Americans have been exploited and oppressed. However, I don't hold it against the people who did it, mainly because I don't want the hate to carry on. It's time for peace, and if we hate each other forever, that time will never come. Our country is full of people from all different backgrounds, regions and cultures. We have to all work together to find peace. We all must accept every culture and every way of life, why shouldn't we? This holds true for the way we treat the environment as well, because without the environment, we humans can't sustain life on this planet.
"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Everything we do to the web we do to ourselves. All things connect."
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