Dakota Texts

Dakota Texts

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780882490250
Publisher: Dakota Press
Publication date: 01/01/1978
Pages: 142

About the Author

Ella Deloria’s other writings include a collaboration with Franz Boas, Dakota Grammar, as well as Speaking of Indians and Waterlily (both available in Bison Books editions). Raymond J. DeMallie is a professor of anthropology at Indiana University and the editor of The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt (Nebraska 1984).

Read an Excerpt

Dakota Texts

By Ella Deloria

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-6660-X


Ella Deloria's Dakota Texts, first published in 1932, is the single
most important publication on the oral literature of the Sioux. The
sixty-four stories included in the volume were recorded on Rosebud,
Standing Rock, and Pine Ridge Reservations from 1927 to 1931. All
are told in Lakota, with the exception of one text presented in the
Yankton dialect for comparative purposes. Surprisingly, although the
Sioux had been the focus of considerable attention from anthropologists
and folklorists since the 1880s, Deloria's collection was the
first to be published in the native language and today remains the
preeminent source for the study of both Lakota language and Lakota
narrative. Originally published as number fourteen of the Publications
of the American Ethnological Society
, the volume was soon out
of print. In 1974 a library edition was reprinted, and a paperback edition
appeared in 1978, but the latter omitted the native language text
of the stories. At long last, this Bison Books edition makes Dakota
widely available in its original bilingual format.

Deloria's book deserves the attention it has gotten from scholars.
It has served as the basis for many analytical works in linguistics as
well as in cultural and literary studies. Thedistinctive literary style
of Deloria's free English translations distinguishes her volume from
most other contemporary American Indian language text collections,
which ordinarily presented the content of stories without concern for
style. Following the advice of Franz Boas, her mentor, Deloria edited
the translations for style and readability, a task that required the
translations to reflect the formal or informal tone of the originals
as well as a sense of the Lakota syntax. Readability required providing
sufficient contextualization for the reader to understand both
grammatical obscurities and cultural particulars; rather than litter
her translations with bracketed explanatory material, Deloria used
footnotes for essential explanations.

Deloria did not have access to sound-recording devices in her fieldwork;
she took down stories from dictation. None of her original field
notes are known to have survived, and it seems likely that she discarded
them after making typewritten copies. A large body of typescript
texts that she recorded in Lakota and Dakota (with both literal
and free translations) is preserved among Boas's papers in the American
Philosophical Society, but they do not include any of the texts
published in the present volume. Deloria always expressed regret
that financial exigency allowed the printing of word-by-word literal
translations for only the first sixteen texts.

Deloria's most explicit statement of her method of recording texts
appears in Dakota Texts (p. xxv): "The following ... tales ... were
written down in the original, directly from story-tellers who related
them to me." Additional information can be gleaned from her manuscripts
and correspondence. Deloria always sought out the oldest
and most knowledgeable individuals and took down their words as
closely as possible to verbatim. In one instance she noted, "This story
was given me by an exceptionally good informant, one who is used to
talking through an interpreter and was able to give out his sentences,
and wait for my typewriter without losing the trend of thought."
Another man was able to give her examples of "mystical speech"
(hablóglaka): "It is beautiful and full of hidden meanings and archaic
words. But he goes at a terrific speed, and when I try to get him to
slow up so I can record it, he is very unsatisfactory." In a prefatory
note to a story recorded in colloquial style in 1937, Deloria explains
that she wrote the tale from her memory of various tellings by old
men: "In trying to recall it I find that certain set forms have stayed
in my mind.... But the narrative portions as I have them are only as
I can recall them imperfectly, though essentially they are correct."
She does not seem to have been concerned, at least in the early years
of her story collecting that preceded the publication of this volume,
with documenting stories as performances. Her principle goal was to
insure that the texts were presented in linguistically correct Lakota
and that the stories represented the range of storytelling genres,
from traditional myths (ohukakâ) to historical tales.

Dakota Texts was the first step in Deloria's project to document
as much of Dakota culture as possible. She wanted to demonstrate
the overall oneness of the Dakota way of life and to describe the
regional differences that made each group distinct. For this purpose
she chose the western Sioux, or Tetons-specifically, the Lakotas
at Standing Rock Reservation (among whom she grew up)-as the
ethnographic baseline and described the other groups in relation
to them. She paid particular attention to differences in speech and
culture between Standing Rock and the two more southerly Lakota
reservations, Rosebud and Pine Ridge. She frequently contrasted
the Lakotas with the Yankton Dakotas (her father and mother were
both Yanktons and she herself was enrolled on Yankton Reservation)
and undertook fieldwork with the eastern Dakotas (Santees)
in Minnesota to extend her comparative perspective to all three major
Sioux groups. (Deloria ordinarily used the designation "Dakota"
in preference to "Sioux," leading to some confusion between three
possible meanings of Dakota: as a generic term for all the Sioux; as
a specific designation for the eastern or Santee Sioux; and as the
tribal self-designation Dak'óta used by both the eastern Sioux and
the Yankton-Yanktonai Sioux.)

The objective of Deloria's quest was to study Dakota culture and
language as abstract entities. To this end, she felt compelled to check
her information with one individual after another to insure reliability.
She was concerned with normative behavior, the common sense
ways in which proper Lakotas should behave, describing deviant behavior
as a means of validating the existence of norms. In short, she
shared with the anthropologists of her time a Boasian concept of
culture, with its emphasis on the collective knowledge of the social
group. This is evident throughout her writings, even in her novel, Waterlily
(1988), which reconstructs nineteenth-century Lakota culture
from women's perspectives.

Deloria's ethnographic work focused on two primary subjects: kinship,
family, and the maintenance of social order; and religion, particularly
as expressed in ceremony. The focus of her studies was the
reconstruction of prereservation culture, but she frequently included
reservation-era material to demonstrate cultural persistence into
the twentieth century. In her fieldwork she recorded texts and conversations
in Lakota and Dakota, both for their value as linguistic
documentation and for their relevance to her study of culture. In
addition, she recorded interviews and observations in English, frequently
clarifying and expanding on information in the texts.

Most of Deloria's field studies took place between 1927 and 1939,
during which time she single-handedly created one of the largest
and most thorough archives of linguistic and cultural information for
any American Indian group. As was the case with most of the large-scale
projects of Boasian anthropology, little of Deloria's work was
published during her lifetime, and although that was disappointing
to her, it in no way diminishes the significance of her legacy. How she
came to be the ethnographer and linguist of the Sioux is a remarkable

Ella Cara Deloria was born January 31, 1889, on Yankton Reservation
in South Dakota, the daughter of Mary Sully Bordeaux and
Philip J. Deloria, both mixed-blood Yanktons. Her father, son of a
Yankton chief, was one of the first two Dakota men to be ordained
as priests in the Episcopal Church, and in 1890 he was given charge
of St. Elizabeth's mission church and school near the community of
Wakpala, among the Lakotas on Standing Rock Reservation. Ella
was raised there, with her younger sister and brother, Susan and
Vine. Deloria's childhood memories of the big tipi her mother would
put up during the summers, which served as the children's playhouse,
and of the families of Chief Gall and other Hunkpapa and
Blackfeet Lakotas from the nearby community of Wakpala are
warmly recalled in her writings. Her father, as she later wrote,
pressed his parishioners to abandon Indian ways as rapidly as possible-perhaps
too rapidly, she thought. He advocated using the Episcopal
Church, with its rituals and its societies for men and women, as
a substitute for the sociability and pageantry of traditional life. His
son Vine recalled that Philip Deloria enjoyed dressing in ecclesiastical
garb and leading the ritual processions on holy days, participating
in the meetings of the Brotherhood of Christian Unity (a sodality
he founded with a group of like-minded Dakota men), and joining in
the camps held for the annual summer church convocations.

None of this made for a normal childhood. Ella Deloria wrote that
she and her siblings were not completely at home in Indian society,
where the social restrictions of gender and rules about respect circumscribed
the children's play, and where, in the context of the mission
school, they were always the minister's children, always called
on to "set an example." Then they were sent to boarding school at All
Saints in Sioux Falls; Deloria studied there from 1902 to 1910. That
year she entered Oberlin College, then enrolled at Columbia Teachers
College in 1913, where she received her BS two years later. During
her last semester in New York she was introduced to Franz Boas, who
was pursuing study of the Dakota language. Boas hired her-it was
Deloria's first paying job-to come to his class and work with him and
his students on translating portions of the texts written in Lakota by
George Bushotter in 1887 and preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.
Doing this work provided her first realization that skill in her
native language was valued outside Sioux Country. After graduation,
Deloria returned to All Saints, where she taught for four years. In
1919 she took a job with the YWCA as health education secretary
for Indian schools. In 1923 she returned to teaching, this time as a
physical education instructor at Haskell Institute, an Indian school
in Lawrence, Kansas.

Boas did not learn where Deloria had gone until the winter of
1926, when a chance meeting between his student Martha Beckwith,
who was collecting Dakota folklore, and Philip Deloria once again put
Boas in touch with her. In June 1927 Boas took the train to Lawrence
to visit her, and to continue their work on the Bushotter translations.
While there, they finalized the writing system for Dakota, Boas reinforcing
in Deloria's mind the necessity of distinguishing aspirated,
unaspirated, and glottalized consonants. (Boas referred to it, writing
to Deloria, as "the alphabet as we designed it"; Deloria characterized
it as Boas's "new way" of writing, "for comparative study of primitive
languages.") Before leaving, Boas drew up a formal agreement to
pay Deloria to continue work during the summer. Writing to Episcopal
bishop Hugh L. Burleson, her spiritual advisor and temporal
benefactor, Deloria explained her work with Boas this way:

Dr. Boas of Columbia, with whom I did some work in recording Dakota
phonetically, when I was in school, came to see me and we worked out
some more material. He is most interested in getting the language
recorded accurately for future reference in comparative languages of
primitive peoples, and wants me to work with him.... I am finishing
up now some revision of the Bushotter Dakota texts from the Smithsonian
Institute.... I am very thoroughly convinced that you can not
really get at the heart of a people without knowing their language. I
think my knowledge of Dakota is a big asset there.

Her letters from Haskell reveal Ella Deloria's strong identity as
a Dakota and as an Indian; this identity was fostered by a network
of educated Indian friends and acquaintances. While at Haskell she
was particularly proud of her accomplishments in writing and staging
pageants, modeled in part after tableaux performed by the students
at All Saints. In 1928 she copyrighted "The Wohpe Festival," a
day-long celebration of traditional Dakota religion for schools and
summer camps. It celebrates Indians as children of nature: "The
great lesson is taught that life in any form is precious ... all children,
regardless of race, need to learn it at some time during their
lives." Loosely based on the Sun Dance, the directions for the festival
give invocations, prayers, dances, and ritual movements. The
ethnographic material on which the Wohpe Festival is based, however,
did not come out of Deloria's personal knowledge. Most of it is
taken directly from a Lakota text by George Sword, supplemented
by material from James Walker's monograph on the Sun Dance published
by the American Museum. Both of these were provided to her
by Franz Boas.

Deloria spent the summer of 1927 working for Boas on the Bushotter
and Sword text translations, and transcribing some Lakota stories
on her own. She enjoyed the linguistic work and continued it
during the fall at Haskell. But at age thirty-nine she found teaching
physical education to be too exhausting and was looking for another
line of work. In November she sent Boas a handwritten letter, written
in an exhilarated tone:

[I] am considering resigning.... I have in view two things,-a position
in a book company, or church work at home. But of course that is in
case you have nothing for me. I am wondering-you once said that for
a time you might have me come to live in your home and do work on the
Dakota. Would you care to offer me such a thing at this time? I could
come the first part of January.... I should have to have a salary, and
whenever an opportunity came from a high school or organization, to
tell Indian customs and demonstrate dances, as used to come when I
was in New York, I would like to be able to go. The rest of the time I
could give to any work you would want me to do....

P.S. You spoke of a possible fellowship. If that should materialize, I
could come back to the Sioux Country in June. I would like that better
than teaching gym work any more.

Boas was guardedly optimistic about being able to provide support
for Deloria; he proposed a monthly salary of one hundred dollars
and for Ella to live with his family. She preferred a higher salary
that would allow her independence in New York. On Christmas Day,
1927, she wrote again to Boas, assuring him that she wanted nothing
more than to do work with him on the Dakota language. On January
18, 1928, Boas wrote Deloria that he had obtained funds for her
to revise the Riggs dictionary of Santee, recording the equivalent
Teton forms. Finally, on January 28, Boas was able to guarantee
her regular employment for eighteen months on a project to study
Dakota psychology-"the habits of action and thought" of children
and adults. He wrote, "You will have to know all the details of everyday
life as well as of religious attitudes and habits of thought of the


Excerpted from Dakota Texts
by Ella Deloria
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews