North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

The Great PlainsParfleche

The Lakota (Western Sioux) live on five reservations in South and North Dakota in a region of geographic diversity and climatic fluctuation. On the open plains, mixed grasses cover rolling hills interrupted by sandhills, badlands, buttes, and canyons formed by the Missouri River and its tributaries.

These people have not lived in this region long. With the acquisition of European-introduced horses and guns in quantity, the Lakota and their equestrian neighbors entered the Plains, abandoning their woodland homes and gardens in pursuit of the vast herds of American bison and other game animals, including elk and deer. According to the winter count kept by American Horse, the first group of Oglala Lakota arrived at the Black Hills in 1775. They roamed throughout the region for some one hundred years before being settled on reservations.

It was not the first time they had traveled to the Plains, but it was the first time they stayed. There the seasonally nomadic Lakota shared the environment with long-term residents who lived in permanent village settlements along the rivers and practiced agriculture. Nature offered not one, but various ways for humans to live on the Plains.


Image: Parfleche (carrying bag)
Arapaho, collected 1903
Plains women were often inspired by the environment around them when creating their geometric paintings. Only each individual artist knew the meaning of her design.
Cow (Bos taurus) rawhide, commercial paint; L 62.5 x W 38.5 x H 6.5 cm; 3179-308

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