Vi Waln: Rosebud Sioux Tribe welcomes all to 135th annual fair

This week the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is sponsoring the 135th Annual Rosebud Fair, Rodeo and Wacipi. There will also be a parade, softball tourney, carnival and a mud race. There are many other special events and activities also happening this week.

I want to welcome all of our visitors to the Rosebud Reservation. Also, many of our own Sicangu Lakota people who reside off the reservation come home to visit their relatives and spend some time at the fairgrounds. I thought it would be a great time to provide a little bit of history surrounding our celebration.

The first tribal celebration held at Rosebud was in late summer of 1876 after the Sicangu Lakota Oyate learned of the June 25 annihilation of General George A. Custer and the 7th Calvary. It was a victory celebration to honor many Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors who fought in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The Akicita also carried home the personal flag of the fallen General Custer along with several troop guidon flags.

Wikipedia lists the warriors who fought in the Battle of the Little Big Horn as follows:
“Hunkpapa (Lakota): Sitting Bull, Four Horns, Crow King, Gall, Black Moon, Rain-in-the-Face, Moving Robe Women, Spotted Horn Bull, Iron Hawk, One Bull, Bull Head, Chasing Eagle. Sihasapa (Blackfoot Lakota): Crawler, Kill Eagle.

Minneconjou (Lakota): Chief Hump, Black Moon, Red Horse, Makes Room, Looks Up, Lame Deer, Dog-with-Horn, Dog Back Bone, White Bull, Feather Earring, Flying By. Sans Arc (Lakota): Spotted Eagle, Red Bear, Long Road, and Cloud Man.

Oglala (Lakota): Crazy Horse, He Dog, Chief Long Wolf, Black Elk, White Cow Bull, Running Eagle. Brule (Lakota): Two Eagles, Hollow Horn Bear, Brave Bird. Wahpekute (Dakota): Inkpaduta, Sounds-the-Ground-as-He-Walks, White Eagle, White Tracking Earth. Two Kettles (Lakota): Runs-the-Enemy.

Northern Cheyenne: Two Moons, Wooden Leg, Old Bear, Lame White Man, American Horse, Brave Wolf, Antelope Women, Big Nose, Yellow Horse, Little Shield, Horse Road, Bob Tail Horse, Yellow Hair, Bear-Walks-on-a-Ridge, Black Hawk, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, Crooked Nose, Little Bird, Noisy Walking

Arapahos: Waterman, Sage, Left Hand, Yellow Eagle.

In the 135 years since the Battle of the Little Big Horn took place, the US Army has never attempted to claim the captured flags from Indian Country. In 1984 Francis White Bird, Sicangu Lakota tribal member and Decorated Vietnam Veteran, had replicas of the captured flags made. A ceremony was held at Fort Meade in Sturgis to dedicate the flags. The flags were carried in the grand entry at the Rosebud Wacipi that year for the first time and Mr. White Bird gave the history of them and the celebration's origins. The Lakota descendants present that day were proud to be part of a waktegli waci or victory dance.

In the book, The Sioux of the Rosebud, Anderson and Hamilton write of the Fourth of July festivities in 1897 where "The celebration lasted for six days...On July 1 the Indians went to the fairgrounds... one mile north of the Rosebud Agency and set up their great circle of tipis...on July 6 the Indian police held a drill followed by a...reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. This event should not have required much coaching, since almost every Indian present over twenty-one years old had been at the original battle in 1876."

My late Grandmother often reminisced about how the celebration was when she was a child. She used to tell me that people at Rosebud would know it was fair time when a steady procession of horse-drawn wagons would arrive from all four directions. Some tribal members from the different reservation communities would come to Rosebud a couple of weeks early to prepare their family camping area by building shades and outhouses. They would also build the arbor for the Wacipi and prepare the rodeo arena. All of this was volunteer work.

Also, a large building once served as a display area for the tribal fair. Garden produce, canned goods, handmade clothing, drawings, beadwork, quillwork along with arts and crafts items would also be judged in the contest. The displays were organized according to the districts of the Rosebud Reservation.

Families would travel with essentials and food to last the duration of the fair. Grandma used to say that the people were so self-sufficient that they didn't have to depend on anyone for anything. Wagons were loaded with clothing, bedding, tipis, poles, canvas tents, firewood, tools, along with cooking and eating utensils.

The people and their families camped according to the district they came from. It was a very organized circle, with everyone respecting each other and their camping area. Travelers would also haul their own water in wooden barrels. Cooks would pack dried meat, biscuits, boiled potatoes, and home canned fruit for their families to eat while camping.

On the first day of the fair, there would be a morning charge. Many young men and women would mount their horses for a long charge through camp. Lakota victory songs were sung and the women sounded their trill. The Wacipi was held for people to dance and enjoy themselves. Other ceremonies, such as a young woman's coming out celebration or other feasts to honor loved ones, were also held during the Wacipi.

And when sacred ceremonies were taken underground after being outlawed by the federal government, our people would sometimes conduct them under the cover of the annual celebration so as to avoid detection. I remember listening to the story of a kettle dance held during the Wacipi. A late Sicangu elder witnessed this ceremony as a child. She spoke of watching a big crowd surround her older relative as they took part in the ceremony.

Today, 135 years after Custer fell at Little Big Horn, the Sicangu Lakota still remember the accomplishments of our ancestors by hosting the Rosebud Fair at the end of August. Remember to put safety first. Please don’t drink and drive. I hope you all have a great time.

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 vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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