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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge

Native American Connections
In Focus

Lakota Parallels

1. Investigating Parallels Between Lakota Star Knowledge and NASA Space Science Knowledge The following excerpt was taken from page 6 of the article, "We Once Hunted for buffalo, We Now Hunt for Knowledge: The Instructional Leadership of Chief Joseph Chasing Horse" (pdf), by Richard Shope.

"He is seated cross-legged upon a buffalo robe, the aroma of burning sweetgrass filling the room. Behind him is a backdrop of the night sky filled with stars. His voice evokes the image of the Lakota people moving with the seasonal migration of the buffalo, people of the Sun, in a great circle centered at the Black Hills of South Dakota. The skies above mirror what is below, in constellations that hold the history and the knowledge of the people in their shining shapes. The buffalo no longer roam freely. "We once hunted for buffalo, we now hunt for knowledge. Come into my classroom," he invites us, "Leave your square buildings, and come walk with to the sacred mountain. Come sit with me within the Tee-chee-ka, where we touch the ground and look out to the stars. Come learn through the Circle of Light Where the Four Winds Meet...."

2. Using Shadows to Mark the Seasons: "The Lakota were nomadic and didn't always camp at the same spots. The angle of direction and length of the sun's noon shadow can be determined, and provides a simple way to identify these 4 key days that mark the earth's seasons. There are painted hides usually identified in museums as "star maps" or "feather circles". These resemble elaborate compass roses used by mariners, and would be handy and portable for making solar shadow time measurements, if a stick with a plumb-bob (an arrowhead, say) were placed upright in the center of the pattern."

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The Lakota Symbol for Sun Earth, Two opposing Triangles layed out horizontal

3. The Lakota Symbol for Sun-Earth Connection The inverted triangle on top symbolizes the stars and/or the Sun. The triangle on the bottom symbolizes earth sites. The Lakota strongly believe that there is a powerful connection between the Sun and the Earth. Much of their culture has been directly influenced and shaped by centuries of solar observation.

In the book, "Lakota Star Knowledge" by Ronald Goodman, you can learn why the Lakota consider the buffalo to be the embodiment of solar power and how the tipi symbolizes living inside the sun.

4. Following the Path of the Sun As the Sun travels along and annual path though specific constellations in the sky, its location alerts the Lakota to perform particular ceremonies and when to travel to specific sites found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For instance, during the spring equinox when the Sun is in the "Dried Red Willow" constellation (The Big Dipper), the Lakota know it is time to travel to Harney Peak. It is at Harney Peak, found in the center of the Black Hills, that they hike to the top, conduct a pipe ceremony and 'welcome back the thunders'. This ceremony symbolically begins the season of renewal.

5. Buffalo: The Embodiment of Solar Power The Lakota believed the buffalo to be "the embodiment of solar power". This belief is in part due to the fact that the buffalo's migratory pattern around the Black Hills, followed by the Lakota, coincided with sacred sites where traditional Lakota Sun-related ceremonies were held each year. Each of those sites correlated with a specific constellation in the Sun's path thus fulfilling one of the Lakota's strongest beliefs that "what is above is also below". Eating buffalo meet was therefore consider to be eating energy from the Sun.

6. A Traditional Type of Sundial During a traditional 4-day Lakota dance called, "The Sun Dance", correctly translated to mean, "Dancing in the Circle of Light", a large tree is placed in the center of a circular arbor. The Lakota call this tree, "The Tree of Life". The arbor surrounding the tree is comprised of 28 tree poles perfectly aligned with the rising sun in the east. As the Sun makes is journey through the day-time sky, the shadows cast by 28 poles alert participants when to perform specific portions of the "Sun Dance" ceremony.

Sun-Star quilt compared to a NASA Drawing of the Sun's interior7. Compare the Sun-Star Quilt to the image of the Sun's interior to the right.

In the Lakota way of life, the Star Quilt is used in many ceremonies. It is understood that the Earth itself, is of the Star Nation. This particular Quilt was handmade by an elder in South Dakota, and the colors chosen represent the bounty of the Sun.

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