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Lakota Star Knowledge-North Star Romance

Cultures around the world have passed down their own versions of stories about stars and creation. Lakota people had regionally based beliefs called Star Knowledge. The tale of the North Star is a beautiful romance between a person and spirit.

Craig Howe is the Director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies. He begins the story after Lakota people have inhabited earth for a long time and some traditions had been established.

One of those Lakota persons, she was really beautiful. We don't know which of the Lakota Oyate she belonged to. There's seven Lakota Oyates. The narratives don't say. It just says she was a Lakota woman, but she was really beautiful.

She was really picky about who she was going to marry. The traditional Lakota way of courtship, they stand under one blanket and then they visit, and it's all chaperoned. And so, all these different young men would come and talk to her, and she wouldn't select any of them. And then one day, one night or evening, there was this guy that came. No one knew him. They didn't know where he came from. The narrative says he moved different, not like walking, but just like he almost floated. He waited his turn, and when he was under the blanket with Tapun Sa Win, whatever he said convinced her and so she said, "He's my man."

They announced that they were going to get married. This man, they just called him Star Man because he said, "I'm from beyond the clouds. I'm from the star people." So they were happy she was married, but then he said, "I want to take Tapun Sa Win back with me to live in the stars," and of course they were sad, but they weren't going to prevent it. So Star Man and Tapun Sa Win then left this world and went to live in that upper world of the stars.

He's a star, so every night he was out traveling the sky. That's what stars do. So she was alone a lot of the time and after about a year, she was pregnant with their baby so she was kind of nostalgic and she was looking around. She was lonely and it was the spring time of the year up in the star world, so she was out walking and she had been told by her husband, Star Man, not to pick any of the plants up there in the star world. They look like what you have down on the earth, but they're different. Don't pick them. But she was out and she seen a plant that looked like a tinpsila and she really wanted the flavor of the tinpsila because it would remind her of home, so she looked around and her husband wasn't around and she thought, "What harm can there be? I'm going to dig this tinpsila and eat it."

When she pulled it out of the ground, the narratives say the ground, in my mind is like quicksand or sandy, and it kind of caved in a little bit and then it fell. The ground fell away and she could see through the ground all the way down to earth and she could see her relatives. Then she was really lonely, so she wanted to go visit her relatives and so she braided together everything she had, the roots of tinpsila plants and her shawls and blankets, anything she could to make a really long rope. Then she tied that rope off, she threw the rope through the hole, and then she started going down that rope.

You can just imagine. She was way up there and she had to come down that rope, hand over hand, going down and holding on really tight. She got all the way to the end of the rope and she still was a long way above the earth. It's always sad imagining she couldn't do anything. She was at the end of the rope, she couldn't climb back up, so she hung on as long as she could. Then she had to let go and she fell to earth. When she fell, it killed her.

She landed in a brushy area. Somewhere around there is where she fell to earth and died. Her husband came back and he couldn't find his wife and he started looking around and he seen that hole and he looked through the hole, and he could see that she had fallen to her death on the earth. And he was so despondent that he walked a little ways off and he sat down and he has never moved.

There's only one star that appears to never move and in Lakota that star is called Wicahpi Owanjila, the star that stays in one place. In English, we call that star the North Star. From a Lakota perspective, that North Star is the husband of Tapun Sa Win who is still so sad at losing his wife that he's never moved. He just sat still.