Renewing the Circle: Thoughts on Preserving Indigenous Traditional Knowledge

Stephen M. Sachs, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, IUPUI (505)265-9388

Western Social Science Association, American Indian Studies Section 2015 Portland, Oregon, April 2014

(1st Draft, 10/2/14)

Some years ago a knowledgeable traditional elder in a western American Indian Nation, that in the early Twentieth-Century had begun cattle ranching, told me,

I stopped going to Elders Committee meetings when I realized they were giving me headaches. At the last meeting, elders complained, "enough of these chicken dinners. Give us traditional food. We want beef."

In the summer of 2015, a tribal culture director told me that most of the older elders with traditional knowledge had walked on and that there were only a few left. The younger elders had very little traditional knowledge, and generally were not interested in the old ways. This is a problem for many tribes across the United States (and indeed, around the world), especially as two thirds of tribal members live off reservation, making it often more difficult to impart traditional ways of seeing and knowledge to them, and often requiring innovative ways of achieving that. There are essentially two interrelated aspects of the problem: preserving language and preserving the content of knowledge carried by the language. The first has received a good deal of attention, and much work is in progress to rejuvenate a good many Indigenous languages, so I will only briefly discuss this here. The second, retaining traditional knowledge, has long been a concern which most nations have been addressing, but on which I have a few thoughts that may be worth considering.

Preserving and renewing traditional culture, to which traditional language and knowledge are central, is extremely important for many reasons. It is essential for tribal people to know who they are, and to have a strong sense of identity and value to enable them, and their community to be successful in their ventures, following centuries of physical and cultural genocide, and continuing, though lessoned, discrimination, which must be overcome for personal and community advancement. And this preservation and revitalization is a key element in the process of that over coming. Moreover, it is an essential vehicle for transcending the divisiveness and disharmony that colonialism has brought to many Indigenous communities, by providing a sense of unity and common identity and purpose. Moreover, since traditional culture, carried by its language, and composed of the specifics of traditional knowledge, provided values and methods for inclusive participation and respectful support for all community members, cultural revitalization provides means for returning communities to harmony and wellbeing. In addition, many pieces of traditional knowledge remain valid and important in the contemporary world, which in many instances does not offer the same or equivalent understandings. Thus, there is much that traditional Native knowledge can contribute to the world, even as having a thorough understanding of one's own culture, history and location, provides a basis for appropriately learning from and applying at home the learnings and knowings of other communities.  The idea here, is not to return to specific ways of living of the past, which cannot be brought back in greatly changed conditions, but to apply traditional values and wisdom appropriately for current conditions, with a concern for future needs and developments. Further, having tribal members culturally fluent, not only gives them a firm basis for living and acting well at home, but provides the strength of identity necessary to act in what is ever more increasingly a multicultural world.

Preserving Tribal Languages

With the last remaining fluent speakers of some tribal languages up in age, and a shrinking number of fluent speakers of the languages of other Native nations, strong efforts to preserve and rejuvenate numerous tribal languages have been under way in the United States (and also elsewhere) for more than a decade. Cultural Survival reports that as of 1997, of the more than 300 languages in North America at the time of European contact,175 living languages remained among nearly 600 Indigenous nations. Of these languages, many were spoken primarily by elders, and 125 languages of the 175 were spoken only by middle aged or older adults. Fifty-five languageswere spoken by 1 to 6 people, and only 20 were spoken widely by children. Since 1997, perhaps 55 of these languages may have ceased to be spoken.

Efforts at preserving and revitalize Native languages have not only included efforts by tribes, but also by educational institutions, nongovernmental organizations and governments. Most tribal colleges, and some others, have active Indigenous language programs. Sinte Gleska University, on the Rosebud Reservation, for example requires Lakota Language and Lakota History & Culture as core courses in its programs. 2 In addition, teaching Lakota Language is a major part of its Lakota Studies Program, which offers a two year Associate of Arts degree program in four areas of emphasis: Lakota Language, Lakota History & Culture, Traditional Lakota Arts and Creative Writing. The department also offers four years Baccalaureate degrees in seven areas of emphasis: Lakota Language-General Interest, Lakota Language-Research, Lakota Oratory, Lakota History & Culture, Lakota History-Tribal Government,Lakota Language Teachingand Cultural Resource Management. The History, Culture, andCRM and tribal government degrees are Bachelor of Science degrees. The Lakota Studies Department also plays a role in the wider Rosebud Sioux Community, taking a very active role in cultural protection, preservation and restoration while offering expertise in Lakota culture and advocating for the integrity of traditional Lakota values and heritage.

One example of a non-tribal university assisting in American Indian language preservation and revitalization is the Indian University American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI). 3 The Institute's projects in fall 2014 included: Plains Indian language documentation, studies of American Indian history and culture, and innovative print and electronic instructional media for teaching Native American languages. The Institute's publications include, the journal Anthropological Linguistics , and the monograph series " Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians," " Studies in the Native Languages of the Americas," and " Sources of American Indian Oral Tradition."

AISRI has a primary goal to work cooperatively with American Indian educational institutions to make the products of scientific research available to the communities in which the research was conducted. To address the language loss and language retention concerns that many Native communities have, AISRI has worked for over a decade to develop language curricula and other materials that can support language instruction programs in elementary and secondary schools as well as in community colleges. As of 2014, Institute programs encompassed several projects. AISRI was collaborating with the White Shield School, Roseglen, ND, on the Fort Berthold Reserve in developing a comprehensive set of materials in both printed and computer formats for teaching Arikara at the elementary and secondary levels. The institute was working with Fort Belknap College, in developing materials in both printed and computer formats for teaching Assiniboine at the post-secondary level, a language spoken on the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations in Montana and on the Carry The Kettle, White Bear, Pheasant's Rump, and Mosquito-Grizzly Bear's Head reserves in Saskatchewan. Similar projects were in progress in the Lakota language with the Red Cloud School on the Pine Ridge, Reservation in South Dakota, and in Pawnee, with the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, for teaching Pawnee in the local high school and in adult education classes.

AISRI's most recent product from these educational efforts is development of an innovative set of interactive multimedia language lessons for Arikara that supplement the traditional printed textbook, that are a model for developing teaching materials in other languages. The computer lessons incorporate sound recordings of all language material, incorporating native speech in sound-recorded form to insure that native speaker pronunciation of instructional materials will always be available to students, even after there are no remaining elder speakers of the languages. Thus, this format enables students to study their language in the absence of native speaker teachers, not only in their communities but also anywhere in the United States or abroad. Also being developed are multimedia student dictionaries for language programs to teach Arikara, Assiniboine, and Pawnee. These dictionaries are scaled-down versions of the linguistic reference dictionaries currently being created in IDD. They contain sound recordings of all entry words and enable students to hear native pronunciation of written renditions. The dictionaries are being made available in two formats: as computer files and on compact disks (CDs).

Other technological developments have been assisting the renewal of Indigenous languages. For example, as of Spring 2007, Over 50 tribes and tribal organizations were using the handheld PhraselatorÆ LC - Language Companion, a translation technology that allows the user to instantly translate spoken English words and phrases into any Native language. The PhraselatorÆ LC, was developed for the U.S. military by defense Voxtec International. The Department of defense gave permission for its use in preserving tribal languages. The device was adapted for Indigenous language use by Thornton Media, Inc., based in Banning, California (, at least at the time the only language tool company in the world devoted to Native languages. 4 Fairfield Language Technologies, Inc. of Harrisonburg, VA, makers of Roseta Stone language software, were marketing their services, in 2006, to Indian nations to help revitalize languages. Among the Rosetta stone Indian language programs, is one in Dine, made available in 2010. Also at that time, students at schools across the Salish and Kootenai reservation had modified computer keyboards featuring unique characters enabling students to type in traditional Salish and Kootenai languages, and to spell check in them on their PCs, thanks to a tribal program headed by former Salish Kootenai College technology director Jim Ereaux. 5 Meanwhile, A University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor, Clifford Abbott, and an Oneida Nation of Wisconsin tribal elder, Maria Hinton, have created a Web site to help try to save the Oneida language. 6

The Navajo Nation has been among those using innovative ways of promoting traditional language, producing a version of the film Star Wars, dubbed in Dine (Navajo) and in offering a Dine language app for Apple mobile phone users. 7 The tribe has also used conventional means to promote their language, including requiring candidates for President of the Nation, and for Miss Navajo, to be fluent in Dine. 8

Among the non-governmental organizations assisting Indian nations with language revitalization has been Cultural Survival (CS), which has been working in the U.S. to support the preservation of Native languages, including supporting the Euchee Language Project in Sapulpa, OK, and similar collaborations with the Sac and Fox, Wampanoag, Northern Arapaho, and Aleutic, to support their efforts in language reclamation and revitalization. 9  CS hosts Our Mother Tongues (, an educational website featuring 12 tribal language communities. As CS also collaborates internationally in Indigenous language renewal, it hosts The Language Gathering (,a platform linking hundreds ofIndigenous language programs.  Cultural Survival also works to strengthen federal policy and increase government and foundation funding to support language revitalization, and had raised $10 million in support of endangered languages, as of fall 2014. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, CS brought together Indigenous language experts and radio producers from around the world to promote community radio as a vehicle for language revitalization

There has been support for rebuilding American Indian language fluency by government in the United States. At the federal level, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act (H.R. 4766) of 2006, authorizes expansion of current native languages programs to emphasize fluency, in such ways as creating language nests for preschool children by surrounding them with native speakers and immersion programs for school children. The Languages Preservation Act expanded the existing programs, funded at about $6 million, through a competitive grants process to experiment with new approaches to rapid language acquisition, with funding initial authorized through FY 2012, and since continued. 10 The Esther Martinez Language Preservation Act is applied through the  Administration for Native Americans (ANA), which in August 2014 announced awards of approximately $4.4 million in new grants to preserve Native American language and culture. The recipients included 13 projects ($2.6 million) funded through the Preservation and Maintenance program, which provides grants for curriculum development, teacher training, and technology used to disseminate and preserve Native American languages. Another eight grants ($1.8 million) were to be awarded through the Esther Martinez Native American Language Immersion program, which provides funds for immersion-based language training. In addition to these 21 new language grants, more than $8 million was to be awarded to 36 previously approved grantees to continue multi-year projects. 11

Some states have also provided support for Native language revitalization. For instance, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed a bill, in March, 2007 initiating curriculum changes that were to teach about American Indian culture and language, and require teachers to upgrade their skills with American Indian studies courses, supported by the creation of the office of American Indian Education and an American Indian Advisory Council consisting of representatives from each of the eight reservations and selected American Indian educators from across the state. The act requires that all new teachers, teachers from out of state and any teacher certified after 1993, complete a three-semester-hour course on South Dakota Indian studies. The course would include language and cultural awareness, history, educational theory and a background in traditional education and the implementation of strategies of American Indian learning styles. The new law also initiates a statewide American Indian language revitalization program, with the Lakota language being offered directly to American Indian students and any student who wishes to take the courses. The act was designed to reach out to American Indian students with the intent of closing the disparity in the achievement gap that most educators admit exists by making public schools more supportive of, and interesting to, Native students. 12 

All of the work of preserving and renewing languages is supported by numerous conferences, educational programs - including summer programs - and trainings, in the United States and around the world. Some of these are language meetings or courses for single tribes, or several speaking the same language. Others focus on language reclamation and teaching methods, technology and problem solving. A list of some of the currently upcoming Indigenous Language Conferences is kept at the Teaching Indigenous Languages web site at Northern Arizona University:, and the Upcoming Events Section of Indigenous Policy ( also regularly carries a partial list.

Preserving Traditional Knowledge

The impacts of colonialism, including cultural genocide, continue to present major problems that most Indian nations are struggling to overcome. The ongoing loss of elders knowledgeable in traditional ways, combined with a considerable group of younger elders not having much knowledge of, or interest in, traditional ways because of past government, religious organization and societal pressures is a major problem. If assistance from younger elders is limited, then it would seem wise to go directly to young people, who are most open to learning, and very much need to be reached, in any case.

Also, because of the various impacts of cultural genocide, including the fracturing of many relations in numerous Native communities, and the historical trauma that many suffer, some care needs to be taken in involving "elders." The first is to work with elders who have the traditional knowledge that is of concern. Second, is making an appropriate connection and providing a proper context for doing that. Some elders believe that traditional knowledge, as oral tradition, is only to be passed on orally, and do not believe it proper to write it or record it. Moreover, there are instances where certain information or stories are only to be spoken of in certain contexts, and/or at certain times or places (e.g. For some peoples, certain stories are only to be told during the cold moons when the snakes are asleep, or certain things are only spoken of to specific society members in the Kiva. Thus it is important to collaborate respectfully with elders to proceed properly, often either assisting in creating the appropriate context, or in encouraging the elder(s) or their society or association to do this themselves. It often needs to be remembered that the aim is to enhance the continence of the flow of traditional knowledge appropriately in the community in ways that are appropriate, and that one ought not to be caught up in trying to do that only in a particular way, or in a particular context, when others are possible, and perhaps more proper.

In addition, because of the colonial history, there are some instances where certain elders with important traditional understandings will complain that things are not being done properly, but are reluctant to say how it is traditionally proper to do them, when asked. In such cases some patient, careful diplomacy, at times through family members, friends, or society members, may be helpful in facilitating their imnvolvement.

It needs to be noted that retaining traditional knowledge and values - which cannot be understood without sufficient knowledge of the history and traditional culture of the people - is not an objection to change in communities. One of the traditional values of Indigenous peoples has been to adapt to changing conditions, as each place, including each circumstance, is unique and must be dealt with appropriately. 13 The problem is to apply traditional values in current circumstances with an eye to the future, and that cannot be accomplished adequately without traditional knowledge, the core of which is also important to be widely known by the people for their personal and tribal identity, and personal and community harmony.

Fortunately, as has been indicated above, much of what is being done to revitalize languages is also involved renewing traditional knowledge. This is occurring in many places for every age group from K-12 through college to continuing education. Perhaps the most important work is with young people, and particularly good possibilities of success are with tribes that individually, or collectively, have their own schools in which they teach appropriately 14 for their students, in the tribal language, as well as English, and bring knowledgeable elders in to the classroom as part of teaching tribal history and culture. These schools help students know who they are, with a strong foundation in their own culture, with encouragement to develop their own gifts, which combined with good mainstream academics helps them to succeed in a multicultural world, while contributing at home and reinforcing tribal values. A number of Indian nations have been able to do this, including the Southern Ute Tribe of Colorado, which operates the Southern Ute Academy. 15

The Southern Ute Indian Academy, Pinunuuchiu Pö’ögani a private school, was initiated by the Southern Ute Tribe as a four year primary school, in 2000, that would expand through eighth grade, and possibly later encompass a high school. The Academy functions with a modified Montessori program, as that flexible, student centered, approach is the closest western educational model to traditional Native ways of educating, and thus was used in the first BIA truly Indian oriented curriculum. 16 The school learning activities are in Ute and English, include Ute culture along with mainstream U.S. school subjects, and involve community elders. In its first year, standard testing indicated that all of the young people at the academy functioned at satisfactory or higher levels for their grade level in math and English, and students had continued to perform well through at least 2013.

Another example is the charter school, the K-8 Star School, located off reservation, halfway between Flagstaff, AZ and the Navajo reservation town of Leupp. 17 The name stands for Service to All Relations - and the mission is to weave the Navajo system of K'e, meaning kinship and relatedness, into the everyday life of the school. Thus, Navajo values are incorporated into everything from the school's disciplinary policy to its reliance on solar energy for power. And the opportunity to learn to speak Navajo is available. As of 2005, about 85% of the more than 60 students were Native American, mostly Navajo from the reservation, with the rest white, black, and Hispanic. The curriculum provides a solid grounding in reading, math, science, and other academic subjects, while inculcating respect, responsibility, and service to the community, which are central to every culture. Star's founder and director, Mark Sorenson said, "It's important to us that the kids learn how to get along in the world.... They have to feel good about who they are.... And we want the kids to develop friendships across racial lines." Test scores are one measure of success, he says, "but the really essential thing is to get kids to be excited about learning." Consistent with almost all Indigenous traditions, students are encouraged to make their own observations, as opposed to all learning the same way, and learning is related to the community, giving it tangible meaning. The idea of interconnection is most visible in the school's discipline policy. A disruptive student typically gets pulled aside for a few hours of character-building lessons with a staff member. There are also opportunities to draw on Navajo peacemaking methods by talking out solutions with peers and staff. One boy, who had been repeatedly been suspended at other schools, after two years at Star, came around to doing his homework and managing his behavior decently. Academically, 71% of the students, in 2005, achieved expected gains in reading, matching the state average, while in math, 88% reached state levels of achievement, exceeding the state average of 71%. The one area in which the four-year-old school was still striving to meet Arizona's measure of "adequate yearly progress" was in attendance, where its rate was just short of the required 94 percent. Stacy A. Teicher commented, "The campus created beauty where there once was a junkyard. It has a view of the San Francisco Mountains, a range that is sacred to many Navajos and Hopis. And its solar-powered buildings signal that traditional respect for the environment can go hand in hand with modernity." She observed in a class, "A piece of string takes on the likeness of a Navajo rug pattern with just a few swift twists of the fingers. In a corner of the K-2 classroom, giggling children show off their skill at 'spider games."' They get to practice only in winter - the season of the Navajo story about Spider Woman giving the gift of weaving.  The students' artful webs are a good metaphor for their education here at the STAR School."

Another school that has done well in immersing students in traditional language and culture, while using methods that help students do well in mainstream academics, is Hopi High School at Keams Canyon, AZ, which has achieved an 87% graduation rate, as opposed to 63% for all Indian students, nation wide, and 76% for all Arizona students. 18 This success is attributed partly to the school's teaching the Hopi and Navajo languages, along with cultural teachings and Native tradition. This includes participation in cultural activities, among which is a week of traditional celebration incorporating about 20 dance groups. Other factors are parent involvement, a 90% teacher retention rate, regular meetings with counselors, after school tutoring, with bus service to distant homes, and a Second Chance Program for students who do not complete English on the first attempt. Several programs encourage college attendance, including the offering of some classes with college credit. The Upward Bound program takes students to the Northern Arizona University Campus to meet its students and provide a five week summer session. Ten students participated in the Hopi Harvard Summer, in 2003, attending Harvard Medical School classes.

With large numbers of students living off reservation, and others who live on reservation going to school off reservation, it is important to expand on the examples of off reservation schools offering appropriate language and cultural classes. In addition, after school classes for Native students - and as continuing education for others - can be held on campus or at Indian Centers or in other venues. The internet, other technological devices as well as appropriate books and other media and materials can be used at home and in other settings for language and cultural learning, either individually or collectively interactively, either in person, via Skype, E-mail, or on the web. A great many good materials already exist for numerous Indigenous cultures, and the expansion of such developments will be extremely helpful, as will be increased support for such development, and for access to materials and learning-sharing venues, particularly for low income members of a cultural community. As there are many people with a tribal heritage who are not formally tribal members, some of whom are already or may become quite active in their tribal community, it is a good idea to extend access to such learning opportunities, when appropriate and feasible, beyond tribal members. Moreover, non-Natives appropriately learning about Indigenous cultures and societies is an important vehicle for promoting mutual understanding and respect, that enhances intercultural relations, as was an important principle in the South Dakota schools Indian studies initiative, mentioned above.

Higher education also has an important role to play in preserving and enhancing traditional knowledge and culture, as has been shown above, in the many college (including tribal college) and university programs that focus on Indigenous languages in connection with their cultures. The large number of American Indian Studies programs at universities in the United States are already playing a major role in preserving and enhancing tribal culture. One particularly interesting example, is the Applied Indigenous Studies Program at Northern, AZ University, whose mission "is to provide students with the knowledge and tools to contribute to the sustainability of indigenous communities in the 21 st century. Using a curriculum to community approach, students in AIS are prepared to move from learning to action, applying Native ways of knowing for the benefit of indigenous communities within the US and abroad." 18aThe Program was initiated on the basis of a two year consultation with the Indian nations of Arizona concerning how AIS could be organized and operated to serve their needs. That discussion remains ongoing, as part of the continuing collaboration between AIS and the tribes.

Applied Indigenous Studies offers two degrees, a Bachelor of Artsand a Bachelor of Sciencedegrees. The curriculum in the Applied Indigenous Studies (AIS) major covers tribal histories and cultures, federal policies, and contemporary reservation conditions. AIS also offers four minors: Applied Indigenous Studies Minor, AIS Interdisciplinary Indigenous Health Studies Minor, AIS Native American Studies Minor,and AIS Tribal Public Administration. An important part of the program is the Traditional Knowledge Scholars (Elders) program, which, in collaboration with AIS faculty mentors in the Resident Elders Program, "offers culturally-based mentoring. The Traditional Knowledge Scholars Program provides assistance to all students with traditional knowledge for today’s world. The program strengthens our community within the university and with surrounding programs, organizations, and communities. The Traditional Knowledge Scholars (Elders) program offers culturally-based mentoring. The Traditional Knowledge Scholars Program provides assistance to all students with traditional knowledge for today’s world. The program strengthens our community within the university and with surrounding programs, organizations, and communities." 18b Many students graduating from the program obtain employment with their nations, Indian organizations, or organizations or services working with Indigenous people.

Thoughts on Teaching Traditions in Todays Circumstances

In the old days, when the tradition was all around one, hearing the stories and other knowledge continually in acultural context was quite effective. Now,  that after a great deal of cultural genocide, often the traditional context is not there, and many Native people no longer live in, or are brought up on the reservation or home community, I believe more explanation frequently is needed, as without the broader context it is difficult to have a proper understanding of many traditional stories and individual items of knowledge.  Moreover, it is important to make people aware of changes in understandings that have occurred, that otherwise may well be quite misleading. I have found two books that provide good models for doing that, Jean Chauduhri and Joyotpaul Chauduhri, A Sacred Path:The Way of the Muscogee Creeks, 19 and Albert White Hat Sr., Life’s Journey- Zuya: Oral Teachings from Rosebud. 20

Returning to A Sacred Path

The first volume is Jean Chauduhri and Joyotpaul Chauduhri, A Sacred Path:The Way of the Muscogee Creeks. Jean Chauduhri was a traditional Muscogee story teller-historian, and her husband Joy Chauduhri, a political scientist who taught for many years at Arizona State University, in Tempe, AZ,came from India in the 1940s to study - work with American Indians. They interviewed very old elders, one over 100 who had been on their trail of tears, to find out what the old traditions were, before intermarriage began to cause confusion.

Their volume begins by describing the Muscogee Stomp Dance, which they tell us is anenactment of the creation myth. Then they set forth the main creation story and the related stories showing how they described the way traditional Muscogee society functioned, following the web of interrelated relations and values, to provide a holistic understanding. As the introduction to this short but significant volume states,

This work, which has involved many decades of experience, participation, and research, attempts to close the significant gap in the literature and tries to share a credible and coherent understanding of the internal world of Creek values. The phrase, the creek mind, signifies the world of values based on Creeks' understanding of nature and their culture; no disputations in social science jargon regarding the meaning of the mind is intended. Creeks often called, and traditionals even now call, this world of values the sacred path.  As in the case of any discussion of values of a large tribe or community, there are regional differences and differing shades of perceptions in different individuals. Many Creek Stories have yet to be told. What is attempted in this work is to illustrate the coherence of main pathways of the Creek world. 21   

Without that coherence - understanding of the over arching web of values and ways of seeing - individual stories and bits of knowledge are only partially understandable, and sometime incoherent. Where the greater cultural context has been lost or altered, it needs to be provided, and that is the beauty of this volume for Muscogee-Creek ways. It should be noted, that having set out that coherence in a short work, Joy Chaudhuri's more recent work has been work has been preparing the numerous other Muscogee stories Jean Chauduhri and he collected into a coherent work.

The Chauduhris also include a chapter in A Sacred Path correcting some errors and misconceptions in the usual Muscogee histories, and culturaldescriptions, in a preface to a proper Creek history, that "provides a Creek perspective and links discussion of Creek ways to the tribe's historical experience." 22 Since traditional Creek beliefs relating to history and time are non-linear, this discussion takes a non-linear approach encompassing the nation's origin, confederacy and experiences with Europeans and European Americans, as recovered from oral tradition.

Renewing Life’s Journey- Zuya

In Life’s Journey- Zuya, Albert White Hat Senior illustrates what some of the problem is in terms of loss of community knowledge as a result of cultural genocide, as well as discussing some of his own participation in the restoration of traditional knowledge. Albert White Hat was born on the Rosebud Reservation, and except for a brief time in his twenties, has lived there since. 23 He taught in the Lakota Studies Department at Sinte Gleska University, whose program is outlined above, for 34 years, before retiring in 2009. He also has been the intercessor for a Sun Dance on the Rosebud for a number of years. In the 1970s he was asked by the University to translate for Rosebud medicine men speaking about traditional ways in a class in the nursing program, Lakota Teachings and Health, and after ten years was asked to take over teaching the class. He relates that,

When our medicine men began to teach this material, probably 90 percent of our people were deathly afraid of it. For nearly 100 years we had been taught to believe our traditional ways were evil, that we worshiped the devil and were pagans. This was the message we received in our education, and it became the predominant feeling among our people. It was also the reason the medicine men agreed to teach. They were not public people, and most had never spoken openly about themselves and their visions. They held extensive discussions about whether to teach or not, finally deciding to do so. One of them expressed their reasoning when he said, "If we do this, we want people to understand what Lakota spirituality is and what the ceremonies are about. We want them to understand who our spirits are. If they understand all this, they won't be afraid. There is nothing to be afraid of in Lakota Philosophy and rituals. 24

White Hat goes on to say, "My goal is that at the end of this book, you'll have a better understanding of Lakota philosophy and of our rituals and traditions." 25 He does that extremely well, in a straight forward, yet holistic manner, proceeding primarily from oral tradition and personal experience. First, he sets out his own experience in growing up and living on the Rosebud under colonialism, followed by giving an overview of who the traditional Lakota were, and what happened to the people during the reservation period, to show what the struggle has been to renew the Lakota tradition. Against that background, he begins with the Lakota creation myth, making sense of things that I, at least, as a student of Lakota ways, and long time supporter of their ceremonies, had previously found confusing. In the course of that discussion, White Hat shows changes that had taken place on the Rosebud in the meaning of key words and concepts, and in misconceptions that had arisen. Some of these changes and misunderstandings had come from non-Indian scholars, who had not lived the tradition.

For example,

You may have heard the terms red road and black road. I saw an article once on some of Black Elk's teachings, and right in the middle of it was a note on the red road to heaven and the black road to hell. That's very common thinking in our culture today, but I'd like to eliminate it. I think the term red road comes from the church. I grew up speaking our language in a time all our ceremonies were illegal. People would go back in the canyons for a sweat ceremony and when it was over would dismantle the lodge and hide it. They knew they would be punished if caught and were trying to protect themselves. After each sweat they'd all get together to eat and share stories. I would be at these meals and never once heard the term chankuluta or chankusapa, "red road" or "black road."

In our research on these terms we found that Black Elk was a catechist in the Catholic Church. In his time the church had a chart that was very common on our reservation. I knew about this because my father was also a catechist... Hanging on the wall [in Father Buechel's office at St. Francis Mission, where I would go] was a chart showing the red road to heaven and the black road to hell. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this chart was used in the training of Lakota catechists. I've seen a document that said Black Elk used that chart a lot in his teachings, so when Neihardt interviewed him, I think Black Elk might have said, "Its like the red road and the black road of the church." Then Neihardt put that statement in Black Elk Speaks, as Black Elk saying that if you walk the red road you believe in one God and go to heaven, and if you walk the black road you go to hell. Black Elk Speaks gives a feeling of heaven and hell in our philosophy, and many other books do as well. Many of these books also portray our rituals as history; the implication is that they no longer exist. 26

White Hat goes on to show similar misunderstandings or portrayals that are very much at odds with traditional Lakota ways of seeing. Then he proceeds to Lakota ceremonies relating them to the nation's creation story and the whole of the traditional culture, often drawing upon the traditional meaning of key Lakota words. In the course of all of that, including a discussion of the Tiospaye, or extended family, system of relations, he shows how traditional Lakota culture and society functioned, based upon the whole of its understandings, beginning with the creation story. On the ongoing process of restoring Lakota culture at Rosebud, which before colonialism functioned extremely well, White Hat comments,

As many of our traditions are returning, and our rituals coming back, we are fortunate that the tiospaye system is still intact. It is a very effective system, and, as I mentioned, it's based on our creation story when Inyan drained its blood to make every creation. All of the love, honor and respect in a family stems from our creation story. I think that with patience, by my great-grandchildren’s' time, much of our traditional culture will be back in place. It's a challenge. Many of us alive to day are so conditioned by the (recent) past that it's difficult to let it go. Some of us have been able to let go of that, and some haven't. I think it takes at least two or three generations for a culture to change direction. 27

Similar Helpful Approaches in Fiction

Novels and other fiction can also be useful in passing on traditional knowledge, much of which was traditionally done through story telling, with the teller shaping the telling to be appropriate for the occasion, especially for the needs and understandings of the listeners (which is an advantage that oral literature has over all but the most artful written or recorded literature, which tends to say the same thing to everyone, unless it is unfolded with sufficient artistry to speak to each person where they are at that moment). One good example of this in format - regardless of what one might say of the content of the book - is Hyemeyohsts Storm, Seven Arrows. 28

Seven Arrows was written as a teaching book. It begins with a background chapter focusing on the basic principles of the medicine wheel, and some other major elements of traditional Plains culture. This gives a holistic background and starting place for the unfolding of the stories that follow. The major device of the rest of the book is a story with changing lead characters, with two themes, as they travel from one Plains Indian camp to another. One theme is the numerous traditional stories the lead characters tell within the main story, serving as teachers to young people who do not yet know much, so that the teachers need to explain much about the stories as they discuss them with the listeners after the telling. This device provides a natural way within the flow of the novel to provide needed information to readers, which together with the overarching setting of the introductory chapter, puts all the stories and related events into the context of the whole meaning, which surrounds and is within each piece of the first theme of the novel. This approach, by itself, is somewhat experiential for the reader - which is an important aspect of traditional education and understanding. This is reinforced and carried further, as the work is made more experiential, by its being made multi-dimensional through the inclusion of numerous photographs, drawings and paintings to illustrate and further major points.

 The second theme is the disruption of traditional society by the U.S. government, unfolded in the story as the changing lead characters travel and hear of destroyed camps and massacres. But the book ends in the present day, with some brief critique of western society; the people are still here, and the message, bringing the story back to its beginnings and first principles, now further unfolded, is, "There is an entire world and everything in it that can teach you much, much more.... Everything upon the earth and in the heavens is a mirror for the people. It is a total gift. Jump up! And you will see the "Medicine Wheel." 29

Completing the Circle of Renewal

Thus, a great deal is in progress for Indigenous people to maintain and renew tribal culture: language and knowledge, including some innovative methods for the needs and possibilities of the current period.  Much more needs to be accomplished in this vein, but there are some very fine models of ways to proceed, and methods to use, that can be chosen and adapted to the needs of each evolving circumstance, so that every Native nation can return to internal harmony within, and relate well to other communities, while its members are empowered to function well in a multicultural world.

End Notes

1. The Cultural Survival Language Program is at:, accessed September 27, 2014.

2. The Sinte Gleske University Lakota Studies Program is at:, accessed September 27, 2014.

3. The Indian University American Indian Studies Research Institute is at:, accessed September 27, 2014.

4. "Educational and Cultural Developments," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVIII, No. 1, Spring 2007.

5. "Educational and Cultural Developments," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVII, No. 3, Fall 2006. The 2010 availability of Navajo on Rosetta Stone is from, Erny Zah, "Rosetta Stone-Navajo a new tool to learn language," Navajo Times, September 11, 2010,

6. "Educational and Cultural Developments," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVIII, No. 1, Spring 2007.

7. Bill Donovan, "Star Wars Saga to be translated into Diné language," Navajo Times, April 19, 2013 and Shondiin Silversmith, "Leaving a digital footprint: Dine languege app offered fro Apple mobile users," Navajo Times, September 18, 2014.

8.  On the language requirement for Presidential candiates,"Navajo high court weighs case on language fluency," Navajo Times, September 27, 2014, On Miss Navajo, Lane Franklin, "6 vie for coveted Miss Navajo Nation crown," Navajo Times, August 21, 2014.

9. Cultural Survival's language programs are at:, accessed September 27, 2014. The Euchee language program is also discussed briefly in, "International Activities," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVIII, No. 1, Spring 2007.

10. 10. "U.S. Developments," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVIII, No. 1,  Spring 2007.

11. "ANA Awards Native Languages Grants," Administration for Native Americans, August 21, 2014,

12. On the South Dakota Indian culture and language legislation, "Educational and Cultural Developments," Indigenous Policy, Vol.  XVIII, No. 1, Spring 2007.

13. See the discussion of place in Stephen M. Sachs, "Expanding the Circle: Developing an American Indian Political Theory for Living Well in the   Twenty-First Century," Proceedings of the Western Social Science Association 2014 American Indian Studies Section Meeting in Indigenous Policy, Vol. XXV, No 2., Fall 2014, particularly at the beginning and end of the paper. There are a great many instances known of adapting traditional values to ongoing circumstances in American Indian societies. E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics (New York: Atheneum, 1976), Ch. 7, for example, discusses some of the development of Cheyenne ways, including a change in mores about borrowing, particular to horses, because of the particular relations that developed between people and horses. Indeed, a huge number of major tribal stories are about changes in tribal way because of changing circumstances, including the Lakota story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman bringing the Pipe to the Lakota People in a difficult time of disharmony, to bring the people back to harmony with each other and the Earth and all its animal and plant nations (For instance, see Albert White Hat, Sr., Compiled and edited by John Cunningham, Life's Journey - Zuya: Oral Teachings from Rosebud (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2012) , pp. 96-101).

14. It is very important that education fit the students involved, both culturally an individually according to their unique needs, including their learning styles which are partly individual and partly arise from cultural-experienctial background. For some discussion of this, see LaDonna Harris, Editor and Mentor, Stephen M. Sachs and Barbara Morris General Authors, Recreating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self Determination (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011), Ch. 4 , Section 2, and Margaret Conell Sasz, Education and the American Indian: The Road to Self Determination Since 1928 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999).

15. Dave Brown, “Ribbon Cutting Marks Opening of Academy,” Southern Ute Drum, September 8, 2000, p. 1; Dave Brown, “Academy Students ZAP the CSAP Test,“ Southern Ute Drum, May 18, 2001, pp 1 and 3; Dave Brown, “Southern Ute Academy Begins Third Year,” Southern Ute Drum, September 6, 2002, p. 1; Dave Brown, “Academy to Offer Parenting Circle,” Southern Ute Drum, October 17, 2003, p. 1; Tahlia Bear, “Academy Embraces Outdoor Education,” Southern Ute Drum, December 36, 2003, p. 1. and Dave Brown “Academy Class Asks about G F Building,” Southern Ute Drum, March 19, 2004;, and discussions with Southern Ute officials by Stephen Sachs.

16. Sasz, Education and the American Indian, Ch. 4-6.

17. Stacy A. Teicher, "A school built on Navajo values," The Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2005, legn.html.

18. Judy Nichols, "Cultural Focus Credited for Graduation Rate," Native American Times. June 9, 2004, p. 8.

18a. NAU Applied Indigenous Studies is at:, accessed October 2, 2014.

18b. NAU AIS Traditional Knowledge Scholars Program is at:, accessed October 2, 2014.

19, Jean Chauduhri and Joyotpaul Chauduhri, A Sacred Path:The Way of the Muscogee Creeks (UCLA American Indian Studies Center 2001).

20. Albert White Hat Sr., Life’s Journey- Zuya: Oral Teachings from Rosebud (University of Utah Press, 2012).

21.  Chauduhri and Chauduhri, A Sacred Path, p. 3.

22. Chapter 12. Culture and continuity: A Preface to Creek History. The quote is from p. 133.

23. The information about Albert White Hat Sr., is from Life’s Journey- Zuya, Introduction.

24. Ibid., p. xix.

25. Ibid., p. xix.

26. Ibid., pp. 76-77.

27. Ibid., p. 49.

28. Hyemeyohsts Storm, Seven Arrows (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972). Storm's writing has been criticized by some as too New Age, and not sufficiently true to Cheyenne tradition. I believe that critique may properly apply to his novels following this one, including Lightning Bolt and The Song of Heyoehkah , but not to Seven Arrows. When I read it some years ago, I knew a lot less than I do now, and I still can not speak for its accuracy in terms of the details of traditional Cheyenne stories. I did find it an excellent teaching book for its approach, and very much enjoyed the reading, finding only one passage that bothered me, as being un-Cheyenne, and that was explained as being a divergence from tradition, as a result of the trauma of the ongoing genocide in progress in the mid to late 19th century when the story was taking place. Moreover, I could see a deeper reason for writing the passage the way storm did. However, even if there are problems with the content I am not aware of, I believe that the approach to writing it is an appropriate one to adapt in the process of renewing traditional knowledge and culture.

There is some discussion of the controversy concerning Storm at: (accessed October 1, 2014), where it sets forth that he  says of himself, "I was born in 1935 on the Northern Cheyenne reservation and raised on the Cheyenne and Crow reservations, which exist side by side in Southeastern Montana. I am an enrolled Indian on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation; my enrollment name is Arthur Storm Jr. Hyemeyohsts is my Cheyenne name; given to me by Frank Waters of Busby when I was born." "As a mixed blood Native American youth, (called a "Breed" on the reservation), I was confronted with racism from both Indians and Whites alike. Certain Indians taunted breeds for not being "full-blood" and the whites called Breeds and Indians "prairie niggers." But powerful and educated elders of different tribes saw that my "mixed blooded-ness" could be a strength -- especially with my curiosity and love of the old stories and knowledge. They recognized that I could become a bridge between them and the world beyond the reservation. Slowly certain elders began to quietly teach me." Also, see, which (on October 1, 2014), stated, "Hyemeyohsts Storm was born in Lame Deer, Montana and was raised on the Cheyenne and Crow reservations. Storm attended Eastern Montana College in Billings. His first publication of Seven Arrows stirred a widespread controversy regarding the accuracy in Native American fiction and the rights of Native American authors to represent and interpret tribal religion without tribal authorization." These are important issues, but not the focus of the discussion of the book in this paper, which is the value of Storm's approach of the author for appropriate us by others in using fiction in the revival of American Indian traditional values and the preservation of traditional knowledge.

29. Storm, Seven Arrows, p. 371.