Indian people knew the universe and followed the stars


Last Updated: 5 years

The so-called oral histories of many of the Indian tribes are often based on actual events, even those deemed as myths. If one takes the time to study the prophecies and the medicine of the Hopi, Lakota and other Indian nations, I believe they would be startled to find that so many of these predictions and cures are true.

The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012.

The planets and stars will be in a certain alignment on that day and there are those who predict that this day will be the “end of days.”

The Lakota people (called Sioux by the white man) had a rich history of storytelling. Each tribe had an “eyapaha” or what would be known today as a “town crier.” The eyapaha stood in the center of the village and told news of the day, often in verse and song.

Pow wow dances often tell a story

The dance that has become so commercialized at the national pow wows was more often than not, the telling of a story. 

The dancer might be a sand crane or a bear or an eagle, and through the dance the story of that animal was told. 

In my mind there is nothing more graceful than the dance of the Lakota women. Their fluid motions are like the interpretations of a poem. And when they enter the dance arena their movements are like the rolling waves of a mighty lake. 

To see the warriors dancing in perfect unison as they lead the “grand entry” has always caused my heart to jump. The Lakota move to the beat of the drums because they believe the beat is timed to the beat of their hearts. The drum is the heartbeat of the Nation.

When I was a boy living at Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation many years ago the United States government, in its infinite wisdom, forbid many of the religious ceremonies of the Lakota, including the one of restoration and sacrifice, the Sacred Sun Dance. 

Like all people that have had their ceremonies stopped, the Lakota holy men and women just took it under ground.

Lakota Medicine “Men” were often women

My great grandmother was named Winyan Wakan, which translates to Holy Woman. She was a holy woman that lived in the Pejuta Haka portion of the reservation before it was a reservation. Pejuta Haka translates to “medicine root.”

The Lakota people did not know the diseases of small pox, typhoid and measles that would later decimate their populations. The medicine roots and herbs gathered and used by my great grandmother and other winyan and wicasa wakan (holy women and men) were the foundation of the healing medicines that had been used for thousands of years to treat the illnesses then known to the Lakota.

When the new diseases brought to America by the invaders struck, there was not enough time for the medicine men and women to find the herbs and roots to cure these sudden diseases. The rapidity of their advance was devastating. More than one half of the known Indian population in the Western Hemisphere succumbed to these new diseases.

Many “modern” medicines have their roots (literally) in Indian medicines.

The truth is that many of the herbs and roots used in Indian medicine have been refined and are now used in modern medicine.

I remember that as a small boy I was stricken with pneumonia, a disease that was often fatal before the invention of antibiotics, and at night I would awaken to the soft glow of the kerosene lamp and listen to my grandmother singing softly in Lakota as she encouraged me to drink from the cup of herbs she had brewed. Needless to say I survived.

Taking a holistic approach to medicine

I often have to chuckle whenever I see Hollywood’s interpretation of an Indian medicine man (they always make the healer a man) because the portrayal often mocks the Indian people as ignorant savages using chimes, rattles and eagle feathers as cures.

If there was anything different from the practices of the ancient medicine men and women to that of a modern physician it was that the Indian often prayed aloud during the treatment and called upon Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit) to help in curing the patient. The Indian medicine men and women always tried to cure the mind as well as the body.

Tasunka Witko, Crazy Horse, was a holy man of the Lakota.

Crazy Horse often rode into battle unafraid of the bullets whizzing past his horse. His words, “Today is a good day to die” are immortalized amongst the Lakota. His words epitomized the philosophy of the Indian people. 

Our lives are a circle just as the stars; the moon and the sun are circles. We are born, we live and we die. There were no greater prophets than Crazy Horse and the holy men and women of the many tribes of what is now America.


McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 – 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM ( published his latest book, “Children Left Behind“)