NLM healing totem journey – about Standing Rock

From Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the NLM Healing Totem continues on to the Standing Rock Reservation ( at Fort Yates, North Dakota, home of the Great Sioux or Lakota Nation.

Descendants of the Teton and Yankton bands, its members refer to themselves as Lakota and Dakota (which means friend or ally). The name Sioux dates from the seventeenth century, when French fur traders shortened the Chippewa Ojibway name for the Lakota and Dakota, “Nadouwesou,” meaning little snake or adders—a term for enemy, into Sioux.

Through a series of treaties with the U.S. government, beginning with the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, another in 1868, and again in 1873 (which established Standing Rock) and, finally, in 1889, the Sioux lost most of their ancestral territory. Today, Standing Rock covers some 2.3 million acres.

Standing Rock Reservation and Fort Yates

Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

To the Sioux, who depended on the buffalo and migrated seasonally with the great herds as they flowed back and forth across the Great Plains, land was important and certain areas sacred. In 1874, General George Armstrong Custer, in violation of the 1868 treaty, led his 7th Cavalry into the sacred Black Hills – and discovered gold there.

A frantic gold rush ensued and armed conflict soon followed as the Sioux began to defend against the invading prospectors and settlers. Attempting to thwart further conflict, the U.S. government tried to buy the Black Hills.  But Sitting Bull, famed spiritual leader and warrior chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux, refused to sell or move to Standing Rock.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Custer went looking for Sitting Bull – and found him, and thousands of his Lakota, and allied Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. On June 25, 1876, Custer and his 268 troopers were routed in a battle that is often recognized as a milestone in 19th century American history and subsequent popular culture.

Sitting Bull

Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

While a short-term victory for the Sioux, “Custer’s Last Stand” did not end the pursuit, death, and exile of the Native American tribes who sought to retain their traditional lands and culture against westward expansion.

In 1877, Crazy Horse, famed and fearsome leader of the Oglala Lakota band at the Little Bighorn, was fatally bayoneted in the back by a military guard while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska.

After the battle, Sitting Bull fled to exile in Canada for many years. But he finally returned to Standing Rock, only to shot to death on December 15, 1890 by Indian Police, who had come to arrest him for participating in the Ghost Dance ceremony.


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