Food and Drink: Lakota Sioux have their own Thanksgiving


Sterling Hollow Horn held a pipe bowl in one hand and the ornate stem in the other as he described the ceremonial symbolism of their union during a talk about the Lakota Sioux perspective on Thanksgiving at the Jamaica Plain Branch Library Nov. 1.

Comparing his own culture’s seven rites of the Sun Dance to the popular holiday, Hollow Horn noted they both share an archetypal similarity of thankfulness.

The Lakota believe that the seven rites were given to them by the White Buffalo Woman, who then turned from white to black, yellow and red—symbolic of the four points on the compass, and, as Hollow Horn pointed out, representing the races of people on Earth.

The first rite, honoring relatives on the first anniversary of their death, includes a “giveaway to those less fortunate… and tribal dinner like Thanksgiving,” said Hollow Horn.

Some traditional dishes commonly served include “wasna,” a cake made from dried choke cherries crushed by stone and mixed with corn, sugar and oil; “timtsila,” a stew made from wild turnips, hominy and buffalo; and fried bread.

“As part of our thanks we also leave a plate of food for the spirits in the wilderness,” he said.

Hollow Horn, 45, is a member of the Oglala branch of the Teton Sioux, the same clan as Crazy Horse, centered where he grew up at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His father served as a judge and his mother a senator in the tribal government.

Hollow Horn is currently the project director at the North American Indian Center of Boston on S. Huntington Avenue.

The seven rites also include the purifying sweat lodge, the mystical Sun Dance, the four-day fast and vision quest and rites of passage for young Lakota men and women.

In recent decades, with the rise of Native American activism, some have argued Thanksgiving is time to rue the arrival of the white people with their steel, guns and disease.

But Hollow Horn, who was on the reservation in the 1970s during clashes between American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and federal agents, said he happily celebrates the holiday.

“The AIM takeover of the reservation was a waste of time,” he said. “It destroyed our small economy and created a lot of distrust between neighbors.

“I’m glad we have Thanksgiving. It reaffirms the family and provides a time to give thanks for all our blessings. And I also like the food!” he said with a smile.

“I just don’t think of it in political terms. I mean, what are we going to do about the Fourth of July or other holidays? Personally, I see these as times to learn a lot from each other.”

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