Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Lakota, the Black Hills, Bear Butte, and Bear's Lodge

View from Harney Peak, South Dakota, by Trevor Harmon, 2006. Posted by Vocaro at the English language Wikipedia, CC.

The Black Hills, Bear Butte, and Bear's Lodge offer one of the best illustrations of the convergences of lifeways and sacred lands and places across North America. The Paha Sapa/Black Hills, together with the outlying Mato Paha/Bear Butte and Mato Tipila/Bear's Lodge (Devils Tower) are strongly linked together in Lakota lifeways and so are considered here as a whole because of that linkage. They also face contemporary threats of destruction and desecration, and they have emerged as high profile battlegrounds in the Native activist movement for sacred lands and places. 

The nature of the sacred there is profoundly complex and interwoven with the lifeways of many of the plains tribes.

These sites have also been well documented recently through the battles to defend them. Development and noise have moved closer to Mato Paha/Bear Butte; it also became an issue because of the Sturgis bikers rally. Rock climbers and Native activists have struggled over access to Mato Tipila/Devils Tower; rock climbing interferes with Lakota Sun Dance ceremonies performed there in June. The Black Hills have long been the target for development, resource extraction, and commercial exploitation, including tourism.

According to Albers, "[M]uch of the land area that makes up the Black Hills and its outlier formations is under the jurisdiction of federal or state agencies" (2003, xiii). Bear Butte includes a National Wildlife refuge. The Black Hills include Mt. Rushmore National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. Devils Tower is a National Monument.

Physically, the Black Hills are a mountainous oasis, surrounded by prairie flatlands. They straddle the state lines of South Dakota and Wyoming. The area is 65 miles by 125 miles, roughly 8,125 square miles. The two outliers mentioned are outside the national forest perimeter; Devils Tower is 60 miles to the northwest, and Bear Butte is a shorter distance to the northeast.

Google Earth

The Black Hills were known and meaningful to the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ponca, Omaha, Arikara, Mandan, and Lakota Sioux.

They are especially revered by the Lakota, the Kiowa, and the Cheyenne. The Cheyenne culture hero and his female companion received the sacred arrows on Bear Butte. Lakota creation and emergence, and the stories told about them, took place there. Other stories were located there as well. Charlotte Black Elk (Lakota) told the story of a race between the "four legged and the moving and growing things" and the two legged to decide who would destroy the other, buffalo or human. The race was around the Black Hills, and it was won for the humans by Magpie. The blood shed in the running of the race colored the clay track around the hills; the shaking of the Earth caused the Land to rise in places (quoted in Goodman 1992, 44-45). The red clay race track still exists, and races are still run there by the Lakota.

Public Domain,

The Lakota refer to the Paha Sapa, Mato Tipila, and Mato Paha as the Heart of Everything That Is. David Blue Thunder (Lakota) said, "The Black Hills is the home of our heart, and the heart of our home" (14). Chief Arvol Looking Horse described the Black Hills, 
Our ancestors never saw a satellite view of this site, but now that those pictures are available, we see that it is in the shape of a heart and, when fast-forwarded, it looks like a heart pumping (2006).
To some, it is also the head of an immense buffalo, and Mato Tipila and Mato Paha are its horns.

This area is also considered to be center of the land, where the people have lived and where the ancestors are buried. 

To understand more fully the relationship of the Lakota to these lands, it is important to understand some of what the Buffalo, Sun, and Stars were and are to them. Their interconnection was pervasive within traditional Lakota lifeways.
        The buffalo was . . . the most important of all four-legged animals, for it supplied their food, clothing, and even their houses, which were made from the tanned hides. Because the buffalo contained all things within himself, and for many other reasons, he was the natural symbol of the universe, the totality of all manifested forms. Everything is symbolically contained within this animal . . . [his four legs] represent the four ages which are an integral condition of creation (J. E. Brown 1989, 6, n. 8).

Goodman indicated that 
among the animals, the buffalo is the embodiment of the power of the sun, that in following the buffalo, the Lakota were following the sun on earth, that following the sun and the buffalo was part of living in harmony and balance with the sacred powers of the universe (1992, 1).

Through Wohpe, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who was the daughter of the Sun and also the embodiment of the Buffalo, the seven ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, were given to the Lakota. Albers stated, "The spiritualized essence of the earth is usually represented in the figure of a bison woman whose home of origin is a cave or a spring" (2003, v).

The home of the buffalo was considered to be Wind Cave in the Black Hills; they emerged from its subterranean depths, just as humans had emerged from the same place. As such, Wind Cave was considered the site of genesis for the Lakota, as well as being associated with "the wind power responsible for the breath of life" (v).

Goodman provided a comprehensive examination of how these paces function within what he calls "Lakota stellar theology" (1992). 

Goodman, 1992.

The Lakota constellation Can Gleska Wakan, the Sacred Hoop, is a 
circle of stars inscribed by Auriga Beta, Capella, the Pleiades, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Polux, and Castor [that] rings the Milky Way and part of the constellation of Orion. This circle is known as The Race Track and The Sacred Hoop (7).
Goodman identified a constellation within the stellar hoop as Tayamni, an animal emerging or being born, "perhaps the buffalo" (8). These are the stars of the Pleiades as the head, Orion's Belt as the backbone, Betelgeuse and Rigel as feet, and Sirius as the tail (7).

Charlotte Black Elk referred to this entire constellation as the "Black Hills Sacred Ceremony of Spring." These star patterns are an appointment calendar, a Land map, "a mirror-image stellar ceremony," and a spiritual relationship between the Lakota and the Black Hills (Goodman 50). The stellar hoop is mirrored in the Landforms of Paha Sapa, Mato Tipila, and Mato Paha; the Earth is equivalently mirrored in the stars. The correlation is particular; stars and constellations were correlated to particular Places. Stanley Looking Horse reported to Goodman, "what's on the earth is in the stars, and what's in the stars is on the earth" (17).

For example, the Sacred Hoop in the Sky corresponds to the red clay Race Track around the Black Hills, and the constellation is also known as the Race Track (7). Harney Peak was associated with the Pleiades (1). As an exception, the constellation mirroring Mato Tipila is located within the circle of stars, in Gemini, rather than outside it (9).

According to the celestial movements, the Lakota would time their annual ceremonial activities at Places that corresponded to these movements. Goodman reported, 
Each spring, a small group composed of especially devoted members from several Lakota bands journeyed through the Black Hills synchronizing their movements to the motions of the sun along the ecliptic. As the sun moved into a particular Lakota constellation, they traveled to the site correlated with that constellation and held ceremonies there. Finally, they arrived at Devil's Tower at midsummer for the Sun Dance where they were joined by many western Lakota bands (2).

In mid-May, a triangle formed by three Sites became a great buffalo's head, and the Sites changed their names. Mato Tipila became one horn of the buffalo, Inyan Kaga, in the Wyoming Black Hills, became the other horn, and Mato Paha became the buffalo's nose. The Buffalo's Head, thus formed, became spiritually alive until after the performance of the Sun Dance (13).

Mato Paha, Bear Butte, by Stefan Fussan, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Sun Dance was the culmination of the cycle of ceremonial activities:
The Sun Dance was a national event, religious, social, and legal in its character. Because matters which concerned all the People were decided on at that time, all western tribes, wherever they were in early spring, would . . . converge on Devil's Tower as the sun moved toward the constellation related to that site. After Sun Dance was performed at Devil's Tower around summer solstice, the People then traveled to Bear Butte where important national councils were held (14).

The correspondence between Earth and Sky was imaged in a graphic fashion. A star was drawn as a vortex of light, a downward-pointing cone. This was repeated and reflected on Earth by mountains, valleys, and by the shape of the tipi as upward-pointing cones:
The traditional tipis were made of buffalo hides. The buffalo is the embodiment of solar power in the animal world. Physically and metaphysically when the Lakota lived in tipis they were living inside the skin of the sun, of a star (18).

The building of a tipi was similar to the building of a hogan, above, where the ritual process of building replicated a World and its order (17).

When the Star/Sun vortex was joined with the Earth/tipi vortex at their apexes, they formed a shape known as kapemni, or "twisting" (16): 
  Dancing around the holy tree, that is, sacrificing and praying, the Sun Dancers create a vortex of power with its apex pointed up. They create a tipi of praise, which also means they are re-creating the world: they are rebuilding the primal star; re-establishing the directions, re-incorporating the cosmic laws as well as re-affirming the stellar world which expressed the divine will implicit in all motion and thus, finally, the dancers draw spirit into the life they have helped to renew (17).

These ceremonies have been performed this way for a very long time. Goodman calculated from the Sun's movement historically that the ceremonial journeys were first performed between 1000 and 100 B.C. (2a12). Albers stated that her research summary demonstrated that "beliefs and practices related to the Hills . . . have deep historical roots" (2003, ix).

Charlotte Black Elk affirmed the Lakota's relationship with these sacred lands and places:
        Wakan Tanka intended that we must always hold the Black Hills special to our hearts, so we are reminded every night that we have a sacred home. And, all one has to do to be in the Heart of Everything That Is, is to look at a star pattern and be spiritually with the Black Hills. A constant renewal of relationship by traveling home, to that special place, with the stars.
  So, tonight, walk outside and look up. See the Black Hills Sacred Ceremonies of Spring, and you will understand and know why this place is special and stands first among all places of Maka [Earth] (quoted in Goodman 1992, 52.).

For the Lakota, the interconnections of the spiritual and physical, Earth and Sky, cosmology and ritual, and peoples and lands and paces are strongly exemplified in the Paha Sapa/Black Hills, Mato Paha/Bear Butte, and Mato Tipila/Bear's Lodge/Devils Tower. There it is possible to understand the profound Lakota relationships with sacred lands and places and the natures of the sacred. 

First published in Lou-Anne (Luan) Fauteck Makes-Marks. 2007. Natures of the Sacred: On Native North American Sacred Lands and Places. Dissertation. San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies.


Albers, Patricia C. 2003. The Home of the Bison: An Ethnographic and Ethnohistorical Study of Traditional Cultural Affiliations to Wind Cave National Park. 2 vols. Digital file. Report submitted in fulfillment of Cooperative Agreement #CA606899103 between the U. S. National Park Service and the Department of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota.

Brown, Joseph Epes, n ed. 1989. The sacred pipe: Black Elk's account of the seven rites of the Oglala Sioux. 1953. Reprint, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Goodman, Ronald. 1992. Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology. Mission, SD: Sinte Gleska University.

Looking Horse, Arvol. 2006. Message from Chief Arvol Looking Horse. Western Shoshone Defense Project. 12 October. arc_whatsnew_dex.htm#arvol101906.