While the role of Lakota men has been documented in stories, paintings, and songs, one must ask “What about the women?”
What was their role?
If they were not on the buffalo hunts and war parties, what were they doing?
The truth is they were in fact on the buffalo hunts and they did prepare for and recover from war. They followed the hunters and processed the buffalo in the field. They worked the hides that would cover their lodges and they dried the meat that would feed their families. They passed down knowledge to their children in the songs and stories they shared while working side by side.
The stories told by these women spoke of love, devotion to family, visits by animal spirits, and the gifts from Creator. The children listened and learned about their place in the Sacred Circle.
As time passed, the children grew into elders and continue still today to share the stories of their ancestors with people from all walks of life. For those out of earshot, the stories have been documented in literature and song.
For instance, the book Waterlily written by Ella Cara Deloria was recommended to me as a good title in terms of understanding some of the basic attributes of Lakota/Dakota life.
I found the book to be much more than that!
The story pulled me into Waterlily’s life, her illness as a child, the ceremonies she went through, and the raising of her own family. I walked away from this story with a deeper understanding of the spiritual, practical, and often humorous side of Lakota women.
Another favorite (and I might add a recent read for me) is The Spirit of Indian Women edited by Judith and Michael Oren Fitzgerald.
This is a collection of stories, songs, and testimonies as told by the women who lived a whole other life time ago that pull you into the hearts of Native American women.
Accompanying each page are black and white photos of little girls, young women, and dignified grandmothers from all different tribes. Their intense gazes speak of experiences and wisdom gained by hard, but fulfilling lives. Their finely honed skills and deep spiritual devotion are proudly displayed in the regalia they wear decorated with the gifts from Creator and his many creatures. Pick up this book and you will spend hours trying to count the elk teeth and dentalium shells on their dresses.
I cannot in good conscious talk about Native American stories without mentioning my absolute favorite, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses as re-told by Paul Goble. I checked this story out of the bookmobile when I was in the third grade and have loved it ever since.
This story talks about a young girl who gets caught in a stampede of her people’s horses during a storm. She awakes in the morning to find herself in the middle of a wild herd surrounded by unfamiliar territory. As she grows into a woman, she forms a deep spiritual bond with the herd and they adopt her as a part of their family.
If you have a special woman in your life and she loves horses, this book must be in her collection.
There are literally thousands of titles describing the role of women in Native American culture. These are just a few of my personal favorites, and I invite you to enjoy them as I have.