with Brian Bull
For Yankton Sioux tribal elder Clarence Rock Boy, life flows like a river. Its relentless power moves a person through a number of twists and turns, some good, some bad. And in understanding its unique patterns and currents, it’s always good to look at its source.
For today’s Elder Wisdom, Brian Bull has more :
In his large, wood-paneled house in Lake Andes, South Dakota, Clarence Rock Boy moves carefully about, sometimes with a cane, sometimes with a helping hand from his wife or relative. He sits in an easy chair – wispy, graphite-colored hair framing his face – and reflects on his parents:
Clarence Rock Boy :
My father, his name is “Tunkan Hoksila”, which means “Rock Boy”. My grandfather used to help my great grandfather. My great grandfather was a medicine man. So he’d run sweats, and put people up on the hill, vision quest. So from that, his name come from the sweat lodge. ‘Cause he’d haul rocks in, put rocks into the sweat lodge. So that’s where he got his name from. Tunkan Hoksila, which means Rock Boy.
My mother, she was from Fort Thompson. They call her “Sitting Bears.” Some of my nephews will say, “My Uncle Clarence, he’s uncle to everyone on this reservation.
The Yankton Sioux call themselves dak-kota which means “alliance of friends. “Dakota” refers to the eastern Santee and Yankton Sioux, while “Lakota” refers to the western Teton Sioux. Rock Boy tells that Yankton people who speak both N, or Nakota, and D, or Dakota Dialect, as opposed to the Lakota, who speak the L Dialect were driven out of Minnesota by the Chippewa and by the Minnesota Uprising, and settled along the rivers in Eastern South Dakota.
Whenever they meet, they would have a large encampment. But then we were always placed outside of the encampment, to watch out for oncoming enemies and so forth. I always like to, always like to brag about that. I said, “We were such fierce warriors, that they always put us on outskirts to protect the rest of you. We’re the best horsemen and best shots with bow and arrows.” I was just teasing, you know.
But we’re always arguing between “L” and “D”. See look I said, “The “L” people we were here first.” “No way”, I said. We were the “D” speaking people. “If not so, this would be South Lakota and North Lakota, but it’s South Dakota and North Dakota.” But then one of my friends from up there, he’s pretty smart. “Say, look my friends, I’m gonna tell you,” he said. “Even the Great Spirit knows that we were here first. You listen to this”, he said. “The angels up there, when they sing, they say “Hallelujah”. They do not say “Haddedujah,” he said. We all tease each other about who was here first.
Although valuable pipestone deposits were held sacred by many tribes far beyond Dakota territory, the 1858 Treaty with the Yankton Sioux gave them free and unrestricted use of the Pipestone Quarry at Pipestone, Minnesota. Since it has become a National Monument, the Yankton Sioux, along with many Lakota elders, feel that pipestone is too sacred to be sold and that quarrying should be limited to specific ceremonial use. They have organized ceremonial runs and attracted national attention to sensitive issues regarding the sale of pipestone and sacred pipes. The debate continues to this day with other tribal members who have used the quarry for generations.
Government officials got together and made, they sent a treaty with the Yanktonai, Yankton Sioux people. Our leader at that time was Struck By The Ree, him and another chief called Smutty Bear, they wanted to retain that, that pipestone quarry because they use it for the, for the pipe, peace pipes. So they agreed. They went and let ’em have it. That’s in the 1858 Treaty, that they make us stewards of that pipestone. So we can go up there any time and dig for it. Catlinite. And then we had some of the families go up and live up there and take care of that and then different tribes come, to dig for their pipestone, for usage of it in their pipes.
Rock Boy says another part of his culture is coming back. As part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, state officials have begun to restore Spirit Mound. Rock Boy says Indians honor Spirit Mounds’ spiritual relevance, including the “little people” who are said to live there.
Rock Boy :
I actually saw one. A lot of people have see them, but they’re afraid of them because they’re superstitious. They’re little people, they will not hurt you. They’re just around to help you. They’re just spirits of the elders that passed on. So my father, my mother and I, we were down at Soda Creek. Here, there was some out there. “So Dad, I just saw them. There’s two of ’em. Why, who are those?” My mother says, “Don’t look at them. You’re gonna have bad luck.” Dad says, “Aw, don’t listen to her. Go ahead. Just go look at ’em. There just, they’re little men.” They’re running around out in the woods, on the trees over there. So soon after, I believe we did have good luck. One of my nephews was sickly. He had diabetes so. See, I told my father, “Take me over to nephew’s place.” “Ok, why?” “I’m going to pray for him,” I said. “I’m gonna tell him what I saw.”
Robert Tree Cody
Dreams from the Grandfather
Ok so he took me over and so I prayed for him and sweats him off. And a couple days later he got well. Just through the help of them little people.
Rock Boy says besides buffalo and cultural sites, he’s concerned about reviving one more part of Yankton Sioux culture – reverence for women. He says his grandfather taught him early on to treat women kindly and with respect.
They’re very powerful people so don’t be beating up on women. Or if you ever get married don’t ever speak out of turn to women. Because eventually she’s gonna probably bear you some children. That’s the first thing he told me. Have respect for women. Womenhood. “This here ground that you’re standing on, they call that Grandmother Earth,” he said. “Everything comes from here, and everything goes back to this ground. So have respect for this ground.”
And then my wife, to this day I never did strike her. We would argue but that’s to be understood we had a disagreement here and there, but I never did strike her. And then my son can witness for that, witness that for me too. He never did see me, see me hit his mother. “Boy, Dad”, he says, “Mom tells you do this and do that. You go ahead and do it. Are you afraid of her?” I said, “No, I just was told by my grandpa to respect women, and women, and that’s what I do.” “So you do the same thing too.” I said.
They don’t speak out of line to their wives while I’m around.
Today, Rock Boy spends his time helping his wife with her work at the Native American Women’s Health Resource Center.
That’s another thing my father told me. He said, “What I’m telling you, you pass that on to, to young people,” he said. “Don’t hold anything back.” That’s what was taught to me, to my father.
I talk to them and sing a song for them, ah, you know, and pray for them and talk about, about our life. The spirituality of the Yankton Sioux.
For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Brian Bull.
Brian bull is assistant news director for Wisconsin Public Radio, and is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe. He lives with his wife, two kids, and three cats in Madison, Wisconsin.
On August 25, 1804, Lewis and Clark climbed Spirit Mound Photo courtesy of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site, National Parks Service