Oglala Lakota

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Oglala Lakota
Total population
(46,855 enrolled tribal members (2013)[1])
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( South Dakota)
Lakota, English[2]
traditional tribal religion, Sun Dance,[3]
Native American Church, Christianity[4]
Related ethnic groups
other Lakota peoples, Dakota, Nakota[5]

The Oglala Lakota or Oglala Sioux (pronounced [oɡəˈlala], meaning "to scatter one's own" in Lakota language[5]) are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota people, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, make up the Great Sioux Nation. A majority of the Oglala live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the eighth-largest Native American reservation in the United States. The Oglala are a federally recognized tribe whose official title is the Oglala Sioux Tribe (previously called the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota). Of note, however, some Oglala reject the term "Sioux" because it was a name give to them by the Chippewa Nation, who were historically enemies of the Lakota. The term means "snake" and, as such, is seen as a slur.


Oglala elders relate stories about the origin of the name "Oglala" and their emergence as a distinct group, probably sometime in the 18th century.

Expansion West[edit]

Conflict with the Americans[edit]

In the early 1800s, whites passed through Lakota territory in greater and greater numbers. They sought furs, especially beaver fur at first, and later buffalo fur. The trade in fur changed the Oglala economy and way of life.

1868 brought the Fort Laramie Treaty, and in its wake the Oglala became increasingly polarized over this question: how should they react to continued American encroachment on their territory? Some bands turned to the Indian agencies—forerunners to the Indian reservations—where they received beef and other rations from the U.S. government. Other bands held fast to traditional ways of life. Many bands moved between these two extremes, coming in to the agencies during the winter and joining their relatives in the north each spring. These challenges further split the various Oglala bands.

Early Reservation[edit]

After being moved several times during the 1870s after the Great Sioux Reservation was broken up into five portions, the Red Cloud Agency was relocated in 1878 and renamed the Pine Ridge Reservation. By 1890, the reservation included 5,537 people, divided into a number of districts that included some 30 distinct communities.

Indian New Deal[edit]

World War II[edit]

21st Century[edit]

Kevin Pourier is an Oglala Lakota jeweler and sculptor whose medium is buffalo horn.[6]
The Wake Singers, band of Oglala Lakota musicians

Social Organization[edit]

The respected Oglala elder Left Heron once explained that before the coming of the White Calf Woman, "the people ran around the prairie like so many wild animals," not understanding the central importance of community. Left Heron emphasized that not only did the White Calf Woman bring the Sacred Pipe to the tribe but she also taught the Lakota people many valuable lessons, including the importance of family (tiwahe) and community (tiyospaye). The goal of promoting these two values took priority, and in the words of Dakota anthropologist Ella Deloria, "every other consideration was secondary — property, personal ambition, glory, good times, life itself. Without that aim and the constant struggle to attain it, the people would no longer be Dakotas in truth. They would no longer even be human."[7] This strong and enduring connection between related families profoundly influenced Oglala history. To see the complexities of Oglala history, you must begin by viewing these events through the perspective of the varied tiyospaye.

Community (Tiyospaye)[edit]

Dr. John J. Saville, the U.S. Indian agent at the Red Cloud Agency, observed in 1875 that the Oglala tribe was divided into three main groups: the Kiyuksa, the Oyuĥpe and the True Oglala. "Each of these bands are subdivided into smaller parties, variously named, usually designated by the name of their chief or leader."[8] As the Oglala were settled on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the late 1870s, their communities probably looked something like this:

Oyuȟpe Tiyošpaye

Oglala Tiyośpaye

Kiyaksa Tiyošpaye


By 1830, the Oglala had around 3,000 members. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Oglala, along with the Brulé, another Lakota band, and three other Sioux bands, formed the Sioux Alliance. This Alliance attacked surrounding tribes for territorial and hunting reasons.


Gender roles[edit]

The women were critical to the family's life: they made almost everything the family and tribe used. They cultivated and processed a variety of crops; prepared the food; prepared game and fish caught by the men; worked skins to make clothing and footwear, as well as storage bags, the covering of tipis, and other items.

Typically, in the Oglala Lakota society, the men are in charge of the politics of the tribe. The men were usually the chiefs for political affairs, war leaders and warriors, and hunters. Women are and always have been highly regarded and respected in the tribe. The Lakota are matrilineal and children belong to the mother's clan. Chiefs were selected based on the mother's clan. Women controlled the food, resources and movable property. When a man married, he went to live with his wife with her people. They could support her in childbearing and rearing and, if the couple separated, she would not be away from her people. This also helped control the men's behavior toward women. The women elders of the clan were highly respected and had to approve the selection of chiefs of the clans. If they withdrew their support, a man could not continue as chief. Both genders were equal in decisions and power. There is also another significant people in this tribe called Winkte or in English "Two Spirit." They are biological males that assume a non-male specific identity. Two Spirit people of the Oglala Lakota Society usually held a sacred and important role in the tribe. They often were healers healing both Natives and White soldiers and settlers. Their roles included naming the babies in naming ceremonies and performing healing through praying and cleansing ceremonies. In the late 1900s their roles changed from conducting sacred ceremonies to teaching the children and doing a variety of other important responsibilities. The two spirit's mission then and now is to keep the sacred fire going and protect all people in many significant ways.[citation needed]

Oglala Lakota Wild Westers and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School[edit]

Luther Standing Bear was taught to be brave and unafraid to die, and left the reservation to attend Carlisle and do some brave deed to bring honor to his family. In 1902, with his wife Nellie and their children, Standing Bear joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West and traveled through England for eleven months. Luther was hired as an interpreter and chaperon for seventy-five Indians, and also performed as a skilled horseback rider and dancer.
On March 31, 1887, Chief Blue Horse, Chief American Horse and Chief Red Shirt and their families boarded the S.S. State of Nebraska in New York City, and began a new journey for the Lakota people when they crossed the sea to England with Buffalo Bill to perform at the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Samuel American Horse was a Carlisle Wild Wester. Since 1887, Wild Westing has been family tradition with several hundred Pine Ridge families.

Wild Westing and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, were portals to education, opportunity and hope, and came at a time when the Lakota people were depressed, impoverished, harassed and confined. Most Wild Westers were Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the first Lakota people to go Wild Westing.[9] Known as "Show Indians", Oglala Wild Westers referred to themselves as Oskate Wicasa or "Show Man", a title of great honor and respect.[10] On March 31, 1887, Chief Blue Horse, Chief American Horse and Chief Red Shirt and their families boarded the S.S. State of Nebraska in New York City, led a journey for the Lakota people when they crossed the sea to England on Buffalo Bill's first international to perform at the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and tour through Birmingham, Salford and London over a five–month period. The entourage consisted of 97 Indians, 18 buffaloes, 2 deer, 10 elk, 10 mules, 5 Texas steers, 4 donkeys, and 108 horses.[11] Since 1887, Wild Westing has been family tradition with several hundred Pine Ridge families. Between 1906 and 1915, 570 individuals from Pine Ridge went Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill and other shows.[12] Often entire families worked together, and the tradition of the Wild Wester community is not unlike the tradition of circus families and communities.[13] Frank C. Goings, the recruiting agent for Buffalo Bill and other Wild West shows at Pine Ridge, was a Carlisle Wild Wester with experience as a performer, interpreter and chaperon.[14] Goings carefully chose the famous chiefs, the best dancers, the best singers, and the best riders; screened for performers willing to be away from home for extended periods of time and coordinated travel, room and board.[15] He travelled with his wife and children, and for many years toured Europe and the United States with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real West and the Sells Floto Circus.[16]

Carlisle was a unique school, and is considered by some Native Americans like going to Yale, Princeton or Cambridge.
Frank C. Goings, a Carlisle Wild Wester, was the recruiting agent for Buffalo Bill Cody and other Wild West shows. Goings carefully chose the famous chiefs, the best dancers, the best singers and the best riders. Earl's Court, London, England, 1907

Many Oglala Lakota Wild Westers from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.[17] Carlisle was a unique school, and is considered by some Native Americans like going to Yale, Princeton or Cambridge.[18] Carlisle Wild Westers were attracted by the adventure, pay and opportunity and were hired as performers, chaperons, interpreters and recruiters. Wild Westers from Pine Ridge enrolled their children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from its beginning in 1879 until its closure in 1918. In 1879, Oglala Lakota leaders Chief Blue Horse, Chief American Horse and Chief Red Shirt enrolled their children in the first class at Carlisle. They wanted their children to learn English, trade skills and white customs. "Those first Sioux children who came to Carlisle could not have been happy there. But it was their only chance for a future."[19] Luther Standing Bear was taught to be brave and unafraid to die, and left the reservation to attend Carlisle and do some brave deed to bring honor to his family. Standing Bear’s father celebrated his son’s brave act by inviting his friends to a gathering and gave away seven horses and all the goods in his dry goods store. [20]

Oglala flag[edit]

Oglala flag in use since 1961

First used in 1961, this flag was approved by the Oglala Sioux Triba OST Council on March 9, 1962 as the flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST). The circle of eight teepees on the flag represent the nine districts of the reservation: Porcupine, Wakpamni, Medicine Root, Pass Creek, Eagle Nest, White Clay, LaCreek, Wounded Knee, and Pine Ridge. The red field represents the blood shed by the tribe in defense of their lands and an allegorical reference to the term "red man," by which they were referred to by European Americans. The blue represents the sky, as seen in all four cardinal directions during the worship of the Great Spirit, and the elements. It also represents the Lakota spiritual concept of heaven or "the happy hunting ground" to which departed tribal members go.[21]


Ola Mildred Rexroat, the only Native American pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)


Military personnel[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pine Ridge Agency." US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. Retrieved 25 Feb 2013.
  2. ^ Pritzker 329
  3. ^ Pritzker 331
  4. ^ Pritzker 335
  5. ^ a b Pritzker 328
  6. ^ Crash, Tom. "Oglala Lakota College opens their summer artist series ". Lakota Times. 12 June 2008 (retrieved 21 Dec 2009)
  7. ^ Ella Deloria, Speaking of Indians (New York: Friendship Press, 1944), p. 25.
  8. ^ Saville to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Aug. 31, 1875, published in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1875), p. 250. Dr. Saville actually listed four bands in his report, but, the Wajaje, while closely associated with the Oglala at that time, were in fact Brulé.
  9. ^ Delaney, p.21. "Wild West Shows and Images", p.xiii.
  10. ^ Oskate Wicasa is a colloquialism meaning "one who performs." Its usage began in the early days of the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Shows. Oskate Wicasa, p.1. The phrase "Show Indians" likely originated among newspaper reporters and editorial writers as early as 1891. By 1893 the term appears frequently in Bureau of Indian Affairs correspondence. Some believe that the term is derogatory describing the "phenomenon of Native exploitation and romanticization in the U.S." Arguments of a similar nature were made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the popularity of Wild West shows in the U.S. and Europe. "Indians on the Midway", p. 219
  11. ^ Heppler, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and the Progressive Image of American Indians".
  12. ^ Oskate Wicasa, p.164.
  13. ^ Oskate Wicasa, p.6.
  14. ^ Witmer, p.xv. Oskate Wicasa, p.101-103.
  15. ^ Oskate Wicasa, p.8.
  16. ^ Oskate Wicasa, p.101-103.
  17. ^ Oskate Wicasa, p.131.
  18. ^ Linda F. Witmer, "The Indian Industrial School: Carlisle, Pennsylvania 1879-1918, Cumberland County Historical Society (2002), p.xvi. Carlisle had developed something of a rivalry with Harvard, and though the Indians had never beaten the Crimson, they always gave them a game. The Indians both admired and resented the Crimson, in equal amounts. They loved to sarcastically mimic the Harvard accent; even players who could barely speak English would drawl the broad Harvard a. But Harvard was also the Indians' idea of collegiate perfection, and they labeled any excellent performance, whether on the field or in the classroom, as "Harvard style." Sally Jenkins, “The Real All Americans”, (2007), p.198.
  19. ^ Ann Rinaldi, "My Heart is on the Ground: the Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880,” (1999), p. 177.
  20. ^ Joseph Agonito, “Lakota Portraits: Lives of the Legendary Plains People” (hereinafter “Agonito”) (2011), p.237.
  21. ^ Oglala Sioux Tribe, Official Website
  22. ^ "American Indian Heritage Month – Native American Women Veterans". Department of Defense. 


Further reading[edit]

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