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