Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 23, 2000 - Issue 19

Bravehearts Revive Tribal Traditions
by Tessa Lehto for the Argus Leader
art by John Nieto

Women's society opening center on reservation

The Braveheart Women's Society is opening a center on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and hoping to help restore fading family traditions.

With the help of grant money and more than five years of effort, Braveheart members have the money they need to turn a former youth shelter into its center.

"We're quite gratified that the leadership of the Yankton Sioux Tribe recognized the work of the families of Braveheart and the impact that is being made," said Faith Spotted Eagle, one of the organization's co-founders.

The Braveheart Women's Society is a group of women and girls of all ages who are learning new ways of living based on traditional American Indian teachings. The society nurtures mentoring relationships and intergenerational activities for women.

The group plans to use the new facility for meetings, speakers, cultural self-esteem development programs, cultural arts and crafts and traditional sewing circles.

Braveheart members will share the facility with the Red Bear Claw Society, a men's society focusing on similar concerns, but primarily committed to stewardship of the land.

"We're pretty excited about this collaboration, which will enhance the wellness of the total family," Spotted Eagle said.

Bravehearts of the old days were women responsible for bringing back the dead and wounded from the battlefields.

After remains of tribal members were unearthed from the White Swan Burial Grounds last year on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, Braveheart members worked to protect and preserve the bones.

The society was revived nearly five years ago with the assistance of the Indian Health Service.

Members worked with expectant mothers, young children and women through a grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in collaboration with the March of Dimes.

Community interest in the society and its projects grew, and the organization was rejuvenated. In late June, the Braveheart Society conducted a coming-of-age ceremony at Greenwood, S.D., on the Yankton Sioux Reservation.

Thirteen girls participated in the ceremony, called Isna Ti Awica Dowanpi, or "singing for those who live alone," Spotted Eagle said.

The Isna Ti, one of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Dakota/ Lakota/Nakota people, was forbidden by law until passage of the Indian Freedom of Religion Act in 1978.

Some of the traditional ceremonies had gone underground, while others faded away. For nearly a century, anyone caught participating in a ceremony could be, and often was, arrested, jailed or imprisoned.

Traditionally, the coming-of-age ceremony was performed by individual families. A young girl's mother, grandmother or aunt would take her into seclusion when she began menstruating and provide special teachings.

Some extended families continued the Isna Ti and other traditional ceremonies privately. But many contemporary American Indian families are not able to perform the ceremony privately, so the Isna Ti is conducted with a number of families involved.

Tribal leaders hope families will be able to return to completing the traditional ritual themselves in the future.



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