Lakota Star Knowledge

Lakota Star Knowledge


A closer look at how native people see the stars comes to Hot Springs April 10

HOT SPRINGS -- What do you see when you look up into the night sky at the stars? Can you spot the Big or Little Dipper? How about Orion the Hunter or Canis Minor and Canis Major, the dogs who follow him, both of them chasing after Taurus, the bull, in the night sky?

These images – visible in the sky right now --are constellations. Together with the stories about the things they represent, they tell a tale that connects what happens in the sky with the people viewing it on Earth.

Stars and stories

Astronomers define a constellation as a “…group of stars forming a recognizable pattern that is traditionally named after its apparent form or identified with a mythological figure,” and divide the sky into 88 constellations visible in the night sky at various times during the year.

Orion the Hunter, for example, is generally thought to be named after a figure of Greek mythology – although cultures going back more than 32,000 years including the Babylonians and Egyptians have Orion-related stories, but call the constellation something different.

Orion’s brightest stars are Rigel (the left foot) and Betelgeuse (right shoulder) and Orion’s very visible belt is made up of three stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

The basic story behind Orion tells how he and two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, were placed in the sky to forever chase after Taurus the Bull, which faces him threateningly; or, depending on what culture tells the story, a less visible hare constellation, Lepus.

This is the Western European/Greco-Roman version of the story of Orion. However, when someone from another culture looks up into the night sky they see a different thing.

When a Lakota person looks up into the night sky and sees Orion, they see not a hunter but a different image – parts of a buffalo: Orion’s three-star belt is Taya mni cankhu, the spine of the bison. The great rectangle of Orion’s most visible stars are part of the bison’s ribs. The Pleiades star cluster in nearby Taurus is the bison’s head. And Sirius in Canis Major, is Taya mni sinte, the buffalo’s tail.

Lakota people might also see the bottom half of Orion, as the constellation of The Hand.

The Hand, according to a book, “Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology,” compiled by Ronald Goodman of Sinte Gleshka University, Rosebud Reservation, represents the arm of a chief that was ripped off by the Wakinyan (Thunder Beings) as a punishment for the chief’s selfishness. His daughter offers to marry the person who can retrieve his arm from the sky. Fallen Star (whose father was a star and whose mother was human) returns his arm and marries his daughter, symbolizing harmony between the star world and the people with the help of the younger generation. The index finger is represented by Rigel; the Orion Nebula is the thumb; the Belt of Orion is the wrist; and the star Beta Eridani is the pinky finger.

The position of Lakota constellations in the sky also corresponded with things to be done on Earth – a ceremonial map in the circle of the stars corresponded to a round of ceremony at sites in the Black Hills and at Devil Towers, “as above, so below.”

Learn more

For those who would like to learn more about how the Lakota people view the sky, on Monday, April 10 from 4:30 – 6 p.m., The Journey Museum will be facilitating a Lakota Star Knowledge presentation in their portable “Geodome” at Hot Springs High School.

According to Nikki Shaw, Hot Springs School District Cultural Liaison, and Holly McClanahan, Education Coordinator for The Journey Museum, this will be a great opportunity to learn about another culture and see at least one piece of the world – the night sky – through their eyes.

It is also the first time The Journey Museum’s Geodome has been to Hot Springs, the first time a program like Lakota Star Knowledge has been presented, said McClanahan.

McClanahan said that each presentation that night would be about 20 minutes long, and cover the constellations of the Lakota peoples, including the lore and stories that go with them.

“Everything from the characters of the sun and moon to the stories of why certain stars are where they are today,” she said.

The Geodome can be used for many purposes, but for this occasion, it is essentially a portable planetarium. The Journey Museum acquired the Geodome about eight years ago, via a grant, as an educational tool for the museum.

McClanahan said that while some Greco-Roman constellations correspond to Lakota constellations, it’s an entirely different way of looking at the sky.

“The constellations are up to different interpretations, based on the tribe and point in time,” McClanahan said. “We focus on the Lakota stories from before the pioneers came to the land.”

“The constellation Gemini, for example, corresponds to Mato Tipila, Devil’s Tower,” she said, “and the Lakota drew alignments between the stars and the land, of which they named many of the constellations after. The large ‘animal’ that is unknown spans from Pleiades (the head), Orion’s Belt (the ribs), to Sirius (the tail). Sadly, this beast’s information and stories were lost in time.”

The message McClanahan wants to leave with people who experience this program is one of fun and learning.

“We hope to inspire admiration of the Lakota star stories,” she said, “while combining it with a fun, educational experience that will make lasting memories. We should remember the stories of all peoples. This is symbolized by the huge animal that spans a massive part of the sky, whose name remains unknown.”

Lakota Star Knowledge is only one part of The Journey Museum’s entire experience, McClanahan said.

“We show ‘Journey into Space’ every weekend – 1 p.m. on Saturdays, 4 p.m on Sundays, at the Rapid City musuem – and it’s one of the most mind-blowing experiences the museum offers with NASA-created software!”

“In addition to the Lakota ties in history, one of our four museum collections is the Sioux Indian Museum with countless, pristine artifacts of Lakota people, including a real-size tipi you can walk around in.


•To schedule a time to enjoy the Lakota Star Knowledge presentation, contact Nikki Shaw via email at or by phone at 745—4146.

•For more information about The Journey Museum, the Geodome or the Lakota Star Knowledge presentation, contact McClanahan at (605) 394-1796, The Journey Museum at 394-6923, or visit The Journey Museum’s website at; or Facebook page at

•Also, a Lakota Star Knowledge video is available, visit

•For more information on the Sinte Gleshka University interpretations of the stars, “Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology,” compiled by Ronald Goodman visit

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