Oglala Lakota Headsman and Spiritual Elder Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand discusses Lakota values.

7 Lakota Values That Are Difficult to Adhere to Today

Christina Rose

Many tribal nations are suffering from outsiders who come in and appropriate spirituality and customs, and sometimes ceremony is sold by tribal members who should know better. According to Oglala Lakota Headsman and Spiritual Elder Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand, there is a right way and a wrong way to learn from the Lakota, and he explains it here.

At 75 years old, Hand is looking hard at the past, present, and future of Lakota culture. So much has changed in the last century, and Hand asks all people to honor the traditions that kept ceremonies sacred for thousands of years.

Born in 1939, Hand began learning Lakota teachings in the 1940s, and have continued since. As a descendant of the original signers of the 1868 Laramie Treaty, he is a member of the Oglala Lakota Black Hills Treaty Council, where recently a General Counsel meeting was attended by Lakota language speakers. Hand said, “Everyone who came spoke the language, and everybody sang.”

The meeting, held at the Mother Butler Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, was attended by at least 70 people with at least one member of the tribal council, Jacqueline “Jackie” Siers, in attendance. The treaty council delegates looked at Oglala Lakota Resolutions written in 1971, 1978, and 1982, which stated that only Oglala Sioux Teton Lakota Oyate could participate in the Sundance or handle eagle feathers in accordance with federal law.

Members discussed passing another resolution that would prohibit non-Natives from running ceremonies or holding sacred objects such as eagle feathers and eagle bone whistles. “We have to be trained by a spiritual leader and earn the rights to carry a sacred pipe. That sacred pipe does not speak the language of English,” Hand said.

As the spokesman for the meeting, Hand reported that even some tribal members are not familiar with leading ceremonies, and some people are bringing peyote into the Sundance. “That’s two separate ways of praying, they are not done at the same time,” Hand said. He added that some Native people are “going ‘round making chiefs, allowing Christian non-Natives to be chiefs and carry a pipe.”

Members of tribes from Arizona, Montana and North Dakota have expressed similar concerns. Marvin Young Dog, Oglala Lakota who lives in Arizona and returned for the meeting, said, “We went to express our opinion, and at the meeting a lot of things came out. There are a lot of rumors and a lot of facts that white people are holding eagle feathers, and some are paying a lot of money for them.  We are curious about what is going on,” he said.

“At that meeting, they all concluded that anyone who runs a ceremony, Sundance or sweat lodge has to do it in the language of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman,” Hand said.

Looking towards the future, Hand wonders who he will pass his knowledge, language, and history of the Lakota Oyate to. “It is really hard for any young man to dedicate themselves to our way of life because of this modern technology and that is what is hurting all our young people throughout North America.”

Hand said, even in immersion schools on the reservation, assimilation has affected the old ways of thinking, “and I don’t think I am wrong to say the European world does not have our custom values of life,” Hand said.

The Seven Lakota Values, given by the White Buffalo Calf Woman, have also suffered through the loss of language and today’s fast paced, technological lifestyle. The values include Praying, Respect, Caring and Compassion, Honesty and Truth, Generosity and Caring, Humility, and Wisdom.

“The White Buffalo Calf Woman did not bring the pipe in the English language, but she never taught to exclude anybody,” Hand said, adding that all people are welcome to come and pray, but only Lakota speakers can lead the ceremonies. For outsiders who come to the reservations, learning the values may be an alternative to practicing ceremonial traditions that take a lifetime to learn.

“There is a protocol,” Hand said. “Take your time. When I was chosen to be a buffalo chief, the first journey I made was nine years. The next journey was five years, the third was eight years, and the last journey was three [years]. I have taught non-Indians the simple language of praying. In my lifetime, I have witnessed two of them who walk with us and speak fluently, pray fluently, and respect themselves. They are giving people, they are helping people—they help the elders. They do everything that is required under the law of mystery.”

Non-Native veterans who come to pray with Hand receive instructions that take years to learn. “The third year we let them pray by themselves to find out who they are, where they are, and what their journey is about,” Hand said.

“These are the ways; but the New Age concept, they want to do everything one, two, three. It’s not like that when you follow the sacred way of the circle—it’s a lifetime. It is the supreme law of the circle of the universe brought by the three ladies: Mother Earth, Mother Moon, and Mother Sun,” Hand said.

“Our purpose is to educate, not to offend. I encourage all non-Indians to do their family tree. Who is their mother and father, and who was their mother and father? Find out where you come [from] and when you do that, you are going to feel a lot better about yourself. You’re going to be able to say, ‘I am a human being. I am part of the earth and the sun, and the water and the air, the four-legged and the winged,’ and you can say that because you know who you are,” Hand said. “If you are of Irish descent, or German, or Hispanic, learn the language and culture instead of coming to the Oglala Sioux and desecrating what is sacred to us. People are passing it around and charging money to run ceremonies—charging individuals $1,000 to dance. This is happening!” he said.

“There are no mistakes. Everything is equal on the journey, and what will happen in your path will happen. You will learn from it,” Hand said. “I cherish the language that was given to me from the spirit world and I will always stand by it. In your lifetime, you must give yourself to the people and if you look in any direction, at each color of skin, if you put all those colors into one, as my grandfather said, that is the color of blood. Black, red, yellow, white, we are all one blood; and we are all related.”

To hear more from Hand, watch this video:

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Why is it that people (especially New Age bimbos) feel free to appropriate Native religious customs? How would they feel if suddenly we began mimicking Catholic, Jewish or Protestant ceremonies? How would they feel watching us making a mockery of ceremonies like the first communion? There was a man who recently held Sweats for White people and charged them for the privilege. Small wonder people died at his hand - he didn't know what he was doing.

Mike Rodgers
Mike Rodgers
Submitted by Mike Rodgers on
I understand where you are coming from. I am of Irish and Cherokee heritage (although my coloring comes from the Irish), and I do my best to honor my ancestors from all branches of my heritage. What most white people, especially those who come from a "Christian" background is their expectation that all they have to do is read or hear a message and everything will change for them. They don't realize that the pursuit of the Sacred is a lifetime path, not something you can learn from reading a book. All a book can tell you is the writers perspective on the subject, but not only does true spirituality has to be experienced, but those experiences often don't lend themselves to easy written expression. May the Spirits of your ancestors be with you. Mike Rodgers

Jesse Hamilton
Jesse Hamilton
Submitted by Jesse Hamilton on
Michael Madrid posted Why is it that people (especially New Age bimbos) feel free to appropriate Native religious customs? At least 3 reasons. Because they work. All those examples you gave are just meaningless, flavorless rituals meant to fill the coffers of the religions in question. Because other religions are designed to control and enslave the masses. Native American spirituality is designed to free the individual. Because Native American spirituality satisfies a hunger in a way that other spiritual paths do not. People are dieing of spiritual diabetes or starvation. Some preachers don't give the people the real truth so people are starting for knowledge of how the Universe really is. Some preachers feed their people so much sugar they've developed diabetes of the soul. That's why those people die when real hardship strikes. People aren't interested in stealing fake jewelry. They would rather steal the real thing. That's why, over the centuries, when the other religions broke apart, they almost always swung as opposite of the original group as they could. They were trying to distance themselves from the fake, or what they saw as "fake." On the one hand, it's flattering that the Native American way is so sought after. On the other hand, it is never copied correctly. It always gets distorted. And once it's distorted it could become dangerous and wrong.

malisadantzler's picture
Submitted by malisadantzler on
I have a friend who lives in lake andes SD...I was shocked and ashamed when I was told...missy don't talk to me about about indian belief's or about ways ....I don't believe in any of it....is sad hearing that and hearing bout how the younger generation is beaking up the traditions and ways and ect. :(

IDG's picture
Submitted by IDG on
The main problem with most Europeans (and those of European ancestry) is having lost direct contact with their native roots after the introduction of Christianity and, later on, with the establishment of the current economic system. Still, much culture, philosophy and (native) religion and spirituality was preserved in a way or another. That is why many Europeans now can begin to take pride in our own native traditions, without having to "prey" on anyone else, thus re-discovering and walking our own path. From this perspective, we have to agree with everything that has been said here, but also point out that the values and knowledge encapsulated in Native American tradition is not that different from European pre-Christian heritage, and that is a good thing, and a good sign for the future :) english.durvate.org

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
To Jesse Hamilton: You are absolutely right, Jesse! It seems to me that a lot of people in the U.S. are always going on about freedom, but Native people in modern times have nearly always had freedom. What we lack that is other minorities also lack and that's respect. Being relatively invisible has the advantage that (for the most part) we're able to come and go without question (unless you're in the SW where Natives are often mistaken [ironically] for "illegal aliens). ____________________________________________________________ Certainly there were violent efforts taken by the government to STOP the spread of Native religions, but because we DON'T require elaborate and expensive churches or bingo halls we maintained our worship away from prying eyes. I think you were precisely correct in saying that our Native religions put the onus of "respectful living" in the hands of the worshipers. There is no Devil to threaten us, there are no rules that will condemn you to Hell, there is only the insistence that you treat everyone with respect and humility and fairness.