Celebrating South Dakota’s Native American Traditions
By Sen. John Thune
On the second Monday in October, South Dakotans uniquely celebrate Native American Day to recognize and honor the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people who have shaped our state’s identity. On a day known to most people around the country as “Columbus Day,” South Dakotans use this day to honor the people who called America home long before any European settlers landed on its shores.
We have infinite reasons to celebrate the strong traditions and culture of the tribal nations that are an inseparable part of our state, and I’m glad so many tribal members still call South Dakota home.
Among the many skills Native Americans have passed from one generation to the next, the use of oral history has remained an important way to preserve tribal culture, language, and way of life. While these stories can feature anyone and anything from a warrior riding on the prairie to wind rustling trees in the woods, they often center around the Tatanka, or buffalo. The buffalo, which is now the national mammal in the United States, was vital to both the physical and spiritual well-being of Native Americans, providing meat for food, hide for clothes and shelter, and the bones were made into tools. No part of the buffalo went to waste.
Spiritually, the sacrifice of the buffalo to meet the physical needs of the people was a representation of the Creator’s continual provision because the death of the buffalo sustained the life of the people. Even today, buffalo meat is still widely consumed throughout the state and across the country. Native American Natural Foods, located in the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has created a high protein energy bar made from buffalo meat and cranberries, which has been successful both in the United States and the international market.
Corn is another food that was introduced to European settlers by the Native American people. Lakota Popcorn, which is produced by the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, can usually be found on the shelves of many South Dakota grocery stores. As Lakota Foods says, “This delicacy is descended from the very corn grown and popped around tribal campfires for generations.” These are just a few examples of how many tribal traditions are living on today.
This Native American Day, I encourage South Dakotans to recognize, celebrate, and honor the rich culture and contributions of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people, of which we can all be proud and grateful.