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

Alternatives to ‘Sioux’

As you may know, the word ‘Sioux’ is considered to be a slur amongst members of the Oceti Sakowin. It is not our word for ourselves, but rather a name given to us by another nation and perpetuated by the Europeans / Euro-Americans.

You also may have noticed that our official tribe names often contain the word ‘Sioux’ (‘Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe’ for example.) The reason for this is entirely legal. When our treaties were drafted, they were written as an agreement between the US Government and the ‘Sioux Nation.’ For this reason, we cannot fully abandon the name. However, when we’ve had opportunities, we’ve dropped the name in places we can (’Oglala Lakota County,’ for example, a name chosen by the rezidents.)

Simply put, members of the Oceti Sakowin generally don’t refer to themselves as ‘Sioux’ and, if we can’t change it legally, at least we can continue to assert our identity on our terms. So, if you choose to respect that, here’s a quick Oceti Sakowin education guide:

Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) 

Oceti Sakowin (encompasses all language dialects) is the simplest and broadest replacement for ‘Sioux.’ You can use this term if you aren’t aware of the specific language group to which ‘Sioux’ refers. Within the Oceti Sakowin are three main groups, which are further divided into seven subgroups:

Isanti Oyate (Santee — Dakota Dialect)

  • Ble Wakantunwan (Mdewakanton*) - Spirit Lake
  • Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton) - Leaf Village
  • Wahpe Kute Tunwan (Wahpekute) - Leaf Archers
  • Sinsin Tunwan (Sisseton) - Swamp Village

Wiciyela Oyate (Yankton/Yanktonais — Dakota Dialect ; commonly mislabeled as Nakota* Dialect)

  • Ihanktunwan - End of Horn Village
  • Ihanktunwanna - Little End of Horn Village

Tinte Oyate (Tetons — Lakota Dialect)

  • Tinte Ta Tunwan (Tintatunwan Oceti Sakowin) - Plains Nation

Within the Tinte Ta Tunwan / Tintatunwan Oceti Sakown (#7), there are another seven subdivisions:

Tintatunwan Oceti Sakowin - Lakota

  • Oglala - Scatters Their Own (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation)
  • Sicangu - Burnt Thighs (Rosebud Reservation, Lower Brule Reservation)
  • Hwohwoju (Mnikiwoju/Mniconjou) - Swamp Plant  (Cheyenne River Reservation)
  • Itazipcola (Itazipco) - No Bow  (Cheyenne River Reservation)
  • Owohe Nunpa (Oohenunpa) - Two Paunch Boiler (Cheyenne River Reservation)
  • Sihasapa - Black Feet (Cheyenne River Reservation, Standing Rock Reservation)
  • Hunkpapa - End of Horn (Standing Rock Reservation)


*modern terminology
*In the past, the term Nakota has been applied to the Yankton, but this is a mistake. The Yankton speak Dakota. Nakota speakers are Assiniboine / Hohe and Stoney, who broke off from the Yankton at a time so long ago their language is now nearly unrecognizable to Lakota and Dakota speakers.

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

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