Tristan Picotte: Eagles play an important role in Lakota culture

Tristan Picotte

New college student Tristan Picotte, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, explains why eagles are important in Lakota culture:
In old times, the feathers of eagles commemorated a great act by a warrior in a Great Plains tribe. My father explains that only the feathers of wanbli gleska, or young bald eagles, were used because they were known as the solar bird, flying so high that they touched the heavens, carrying people’s prayers.

Back then, and continuing today, eagle feathers pushed our culture forward to better the people, not just the individual. A feather is not simply a thing to be owned, it is an honor to be earned and displayed. To simply put one away is considered disrespectful. Keeping the feathers in sight ensures that we always hold our values in our hearts and reminds us of what it took to earn them: Bravery, determination, cunning, skill and even special moments of life, such as marriage and birth, were all commemorated with feathers. A man wounded in battle would earn a feather dyed red, warriors would earn black-tipped tail feathers for war honors, women would receive eagle plumes for embodying certain values or creating especially fine art, and a baby would receive a plume when he or she was named.

I am Lakota Sioux, and my family follows many of our old traditions, including the honoring of feathers. Today I own only three eagle feathers, one given to me when I was a baby to mark my naming. When I see that plume, I recall my name: Canwakan Yuha Mani, “Walks with The Sacred Tree,” a simple name that reminds me of where I come from, my traditions and the expectation to always respect the values I was taught as a child. The feathers keep me Lakota, they keep me determined. Once we were a proud people, strong and wise. Today we are plagued by disease and oppression. But when I look at that feather, which I keep hanging on my wall, I’m inspired to rise up and exceed my expectations. I was taught to always put in the extra work, that there are benefits to doing more than you need to. I earned another feather for becoming a sundancer, someone who prays for the people. That feather reminds me that I am no better than anyone else, and at times that I am there for others, to lead a good life by example and hopefully inspire them to live good lives as well. My third feather was earned this year for graduating high school, a rite of passage.

Get the Story:
Tristan Picotte: Lakota values soar with the eagles (Environmental Health News 10/1)

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