Raymond J. DeMallie &
Douglas R. Parks, editors,
Sioux Indian Religion: Tradition & Innovation
(University of Oklahoma Press, 1989)

Sioux Indian Religion, a collection of 12 essays relating to the Sioux religious experience, was a product of the "American Indian Religion in the Dakotas: Historical & Contemporary Perspectives" symposium held in Bismarck in 1982. The talks were recorded and transcribed for this book. The editors hoped to clear up many of the misconceptions and mistrust between Native Americans and Christians and to bring together scholars and individuals in a united effort to explore native religion today. Basically, they tried to bridge cultural, academic and societal gaps.

The Sioux beliefs and rituals have long been documented. They are one of the most studied nations among Native Americans. There are three geographical sectors of Sioux: western (Tetons or Lakotas), eastern (Santees) and central (Yanktons and Yanktonai, also known as Dakotas).

The wide range of cultural beliefs and rituals stems from the three years of interacting with missionaries, adopting one practice in one location and a different practice in another location.

Sioux Indian Religion is divided into three sections: "Foundations of Traditional Sioux Religion," "Christianity & the Sioux" and "Traditional Religion in the Contemporary Context." It begins with "Lakota Belief & Ritual in the 19th Century" and ends with "Traditional Lakota Religion in Modern Life."

For persons familiar with the Sioux, there is a special treat in this book: "The Sacred Pipe in Modern Life" by Arval Looking Horse. You cannot get more authority on a subject than that. He is the man to ask about the sacred pipe (and I'd trust him on any other topic of Sioux religion, culture or tradition).

My favorite essay, likely because I am a woman, is "Indian Women & the Renaissance of Traditional Religion" by Beatrice Medicine, a Lakota anthropologist. She discusses how difficult it is to maintain a native identity while trying to live up to the academia standards and peer pressure. She explains how anthropologists have largely disregarded native women and deemed their roles within culture and rituals meaningless. She goes into detail about specific rituals, roles and activities for women that need to be kept alive within the Sioux culture.

This book excites the mind and fulfills your desire for action and drama. As you read about these ceremonies and rituals, you will feel that you are in attendance. The writing is beautiful. While the editors tried to produce a grammatically sound book, they wanted to retain the individual storytelling flair. So you get solid information that is a pleasure to read. The short chapters make convenient stopping points for persons that cannot read an entire book in one sitting. It is a fascinating read about one of the most intriguing cultures within Native North America.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

5 July 2008

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