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The occupation and blockade of Wounded Knee began as a demonstration for Lakota rights organized by members of the AIM. For the Lakota people, the community has great significance. In 1890, Wounded Knee was the site of a major clash between the Lakota and the United States Army, an event many consider to be the end of the Indian Wars.

Appropriateness of Eagle Feather Awarding

@wierdrocks asked:

One of the main characters in my book is Lakota Sioux and at one point he’s involved in the heroic rescue of a dozen people. In my research of Sioux culture I found that the eagle fathers often associated with Sioux abd other Plains Indian cultures are awarded similarly to medals like the bronze star– for valor and bravery. I guess my question is whether it would be appropriate for a teenaged boy who isn’t a soldier to be awarded an eagle feather for bravery?

Before I start, I’m going to say “Sioux” is considered a slur by tribe members! While it’s what most research is classified as, and what most legal documents are, use Oceti Sakowin instead. Or even better, the tribe name. This post has more info.

Two little misconceptions in here: 

1- That there is such a thing as “soldiers” among Native Americans in the way we think of the military in Western society. Yes, eagle feathers are an equivalent of a bronze star, and are awarded to veterans even to this day, but the details of who gets what award shouldn’t be taken to mean the exact same thing in Western versus Native society. Goes double if this is any sort of historical context and not as influenced by Western society. From what I understand, most men were eligible to fight and many would. But I haven’t done much research on the topic; just looked at census data that shows a significant drop in men in the 25 to 49 age bracket. 

2- That childhood is under the same constraints in Native as within Western society. Native kids would do stuff for the tribe and train for their eventual responsibilities pretty young, learning how to live in the bush and whatever future responsibilities they’ll hold. While they wouldn’t be considered adults until they reached certain milestones in their lives (these vary by tribe so I’m not even going to bother attempting to list), 15, 16, 17 could be considered “adult” in the tribe. Some tribes skew younger, some older. It varies. It could’ve also changed over time.

Please understand the tribe in its own terms, instead of filtering everything through the Western viewpoint. While that’s a good place to start (especially in regards to eagle feathers and war honours, because that is why you do not wear a headdress if you haven’t earned it), it’s not a good place to write from.

As for your question about the appropriateness of eagle feathers/a recognition of what he did. Who got what award is very detailed— and different— per tribe. I recall reading about the Omaha people (through a fantastically detailed ethnography by Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Francis la Flesche. I believe it’s simply called The Omaha Tribe), who are plains Natives and speak a related language, and how they had about ten or twenty different types of honours depending on the acts of bravery done. Not all of them were eagle feathers. Some where regalia, some where weapons, some were privileges. I recall one particularly high honour being having a close female relative tattooed with a design over her neck (she herself could not utter a sound during the process).

Therefore, while it might be appropriate for him to get an honour, it might not be that honour. He might genuinely be too young, or he might be old enough, or that act might make him be considered old enough. If it was the right context it could be an eagle feather, it might be deemed something else, or it might not even have an honour associated with it. All of these are possibilities. 

I am not Lakota or Oceti Sakowin, so I can’t tell you what is appropriate or not. All I can do is provide a slightly broader context, which is “Natives have their own system of honours given for bravery that extends beyond eagle feathers”. Your best bet is to ask the Lakota themselves, giving details about the situation in as much depth as you can. Here is a guide on how to research specific tribal customs and how to approach them. Of course, if any Lakota or Oceti Sakowin followers want to provide information, please do!

Good luck!

~Mod Lesya

On June 25, 1876, General George Custer and a heavily armed cavalry regiment attacked a camp of Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians on the banks of the Little Bighorn River in what is now Montana. Custer’s regiment was part of the forces clearing the region of indigenous peoples so white settlers could mine gold in the Black Hills. That day Custer met a crushing defeat at the hands of the assembled tribes, under the leadership of Crazy Horse and Gall. Custer and his men were entirely wiped out in one of the greatest victories for Indian peoples during the last five hundred years of genocide in the Americas.

I’m so upset that Native Americans have been completely swept under the rug. We have been victims of genocide since 1492. I’m upset that native american women are sexually assaulted and abused and no one blinks an eye. I’m upset that we are supposedly “extinct” according to the history channel. I’m upset that I go to work and hear war stories about veterans killed in action in WW-II or who were Prisoners of War by widows or family members of those veterans and i see them cry and look up to the sky or a picture of their lost loved one only to log on to social media and see the people they got killed for and the country they died for turn their backs on us and destroy our land and shoot at us for protecting the land AND NO ONE SAYS A DAMN THING!

Why are Native Americans forgotten? Or a better question, why are we treated less than animals? Why aren’t we categorized as humans? Why are we mistreated? Why don’t our lives matter?

“The medicine, the pills, the shots, the vaccines and all that—it’s all good, you know.  But there’s that other piece it doesn’t touch… your soul, your heart, your mind, your feelings.” 

- Dr. Lucy Reifel (Lakota)

Portrait by her son, Charles Her Many Horses

Learn more about Native American women healers of today & America’s first Native doctor