US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Celebrating Native American Day


Celebrating Native American Day
By Sen. John Thune

While much of the United States celebrates Columbus Day on the second Monday in October, South Dakotans instead proudly recognize Native American Day, honoring the rich heritage and tribal people of our state. A tradition that began in 1989 when Gov. George Mickelson proclaimed 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation,” we’ve continued to celebrate Native American Day in lieu of Columbus Day. The South Dakota legislature formally recognized this day by unanimously passing legislation, and we have been honoring the day for nearly thirty years.

Native American culture can be found in every corner of our state. One way to experience this culture is by attending a powwow. Powwows are still very prevalent in South Dakota today, and they provide an opportunity to participate in traditions that are passed on by the Native American people through things like traditional music and dancing. These events take place nearly every month from May to October, and I encourage all South Dakotans to attend these unique celebrations.

Oral storytelling is another important tradition, allowing tribes to pass down their religions, history, and origin stories from one generation to the next. Oral storytelling is an art that is still practiced by tribes across the state, and it remains an important part of tribal people’s connection to their past.

One of my favorite stories shared in the Lakota language is of the importance of the “tatanka,” or buffalo. Although the term “buffalo” is now scientifically classified as a “bison,” the word buffalo is more frequently used in Native American cultures throughout the Midwest. Aside from being the basis of the Lakota diet and an integral part of their way of life – from providing hide for shelter to the bones for tools – the bison is also a large part of their spirituality. Because the tatanka provided the Lakota people with clothing, shelter, and food, among many other things, it was a sacred animal to the people. For example, the tatanka skull was used in many spiritual rituals.

The tatanka skull is featured in the center of the Lakota Sioux Medicine Wheel, representing the circle of life and the four cardinal directions, a beautiful symbol that has endured throughout time, much like the culture of the Sioux people. Though they have faced many challenges, they have continued to maintain their spirit through the guidance of community leaders today and warriors of the past.  Warriors like Crazy Horse – a Lakota man who led a band of warriors and defeated General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse will forever be memorialized in the granite of the Black Hills, on display for folks not just in South Dakota, but throughout the world to see and learn about.

I am grateful for the rich heritage of the South Dakota tribes. Their history is woven deep within the fabric of our state. This Native American Day, take time to reflect on and honor the courageous warriors that continue to make our state the best in the country.

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