Vi Waln: Women form the backbone of Lakota society and culture

The poet D.H. Lawrence wrote “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” This poem is cited in the movie G.I. Jane which stars Demi Moore. Watching this movie always reminds me of all the women who work very hard to survive in what has always been basically a man’s world. And many women survive without ever once wallowing in self pity.

I look around our reservations and I see the majority of our households are provided for by women. Many of us have spent most of our life as a single mom raising our own children. Some of us have even saved the small children of our extended families from being swallowed into the hungry belly of the department of social services.

Lakota culture supposedly embraces the concept of no orphans. So even though we have a hard time getting our hands on enough of the white man’s dollars to provide for our families, Indian women still find it in their hearts to take in other children. We know the Creator always hears our prayers and will provide a way for us to care for the children.

When I go into the tribal headquarters I see the majority of the jobs there are held by our Lakota women. Furthermore, almost half of the tribal programs are under the direction of Lakota women. You also see many jobs in other organizations on the reservation held by women. Where would the Lakota children be without the women of our tribes?

Yet, the attitude that women are not as good as men continues to permeate our reservations. I am at the place in my lifetime where I can recognize the look of a guy when he has the attitude of male superiority over women. Sometimes I can even detect a subconscious misogynistic attitude by the things men say or what they write. I believe this is an effect of colonialism and Christianity. The damage caused by the invasion of the white man was and is tremendous.

Many of our people have succumbed to the thought process of the foreigners. There are lots of Indians who are enrolled members of their tribe who actually think like white people. In addition to colonialism and Christianity, I believe the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 also contributed to warping our thought process.

The IRA system taught us how to align against one another. The system also eroded our society. No longer do we think of our tribe as a cohesive unit which looks out for all members. Rather, the IRA tribes of today resemble the dominant society in the sense that it is a “dog eat dog” world. Families are aligned against one another in many of our communities across Indian Country. What happened to the love of the common people?

I suppose I should offer an apology to those who might think I am blaming it all on the “white man.” I only use the phrase for the lack of a better one.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse once stated we "must realize this disease of the mind will spread even faster, if we don't take control of our behavior." It is disheartening to see the state of some people today as they exhibit the violent symptoms of full blown cases of disease of the mind. A diseased mind is one that is poisoned by negative thoughts of paranoia, violence and revenge. The thoughts filling a diseased mind are also rampant with plots of retaliation. Sound like anyone you know?

In my opinion, I believe that when emotionally unhealthy men throw a temper tantrum or threaten, commit or entertain violent acts or thoughts aimed at women it is a regression to the first time they were hurt as a child by the primary female figure in their lives. So, if an adult man was hurt by the female figure in his life when he was say, 5 years old or so, he reverts back to that age when angered and might seek revenge through violence.

Consequently, a diseased mind encourages the mouth to speak disrespectfully, and often untruthfully, about women. A diseased mind encourages the man to utter derogatory phrases, many of them with sexual or violent connotations, about the women of his tribe or family.

It is a great sign of disrespect when the men who are widely recognized as leaders engage in telling lies about their own people. It is even worse when leaders believe the lies they hear about their own people. Some men have domestic violence, aggravated assault or simple assault convictions or have cases pending against them in our tribal courts. Some of these criminal charges are serious enough for federal indictments. During the month of January 2011 there were over 2,000 police reports at Rosebud on domestic violence incidents alone.

Lakota women are sacred. Even in thought you should hold Lakota women sacred. Our women are the backbone of Lakota society. The truth is many single women support their families - financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically - without the help of the men.

Pte San Win is the spiritual woman who brought us a sacred gift. She appeared long ago to two men. One of the men had a bad thought about her, however, she still allowed him to approach her with his diseased mind. When he got close enough he was engulfed in a cloud. When the dust cleared the maiden remained untouched while all that was left of the violent thinking man was a pile of bones.

I want to encourage all Lakota women to be strong. Do not be intimidated by any brutal man! If you are in an abusive, violent situation please call upon your inner courage to seek help. You do not deserve to be threatened or hurt with physical violence. As a Lakota woman, you are sacred!

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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