Lakota Culture, Language & History

Lakota Culture, Language & History

Responding to the damaged Lakota culture, we seek to honor and preserve Lakota culture, language, and history. From the beginning, faith in Christ has come to all peoples through inculturation, a process by which the Spirit and the Word are expressed through each culture’s language, arts, institutions, and traditions. Because of this, the Church honors each culture as a unique gift to the Church and the world. Historical disrespect and neglect of Lakota culture and language have undermined the identity and assaulted the dignity of the Lakota people.

We celebrate Lakota art and history. Marie Kills in Sight is the curator of Buechel Lakota Memorial Museum, which contains more than 3,200 Lakota artifacts in its catalogued collection. The museum also holds more than 42,000 photographs—one of the world’s largest repositories of Lakota images. Lakota artists craft jewelry and other objects to be offered for sale in the museum gift shop and online at the St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota website, www.sfmission.org.

We celebrate the Lakota language. Deacon Ben Black Bear leads our Lakota Studies Program that fosters the use and understanding of the language among the people—especially the young. His work is all the more important in our Catholic context. Deacon Black Bear is translating the Gospels and common Catholic prayers into Lakota, and he has translated Lakota prayers and stories into English. He has also written the curriculum and textbooks for teaching Lakota language in elementary school. These will be used in the Sapa Un Catholic Academy, as part of our plan to fully integrate Lakota language and culture into the curriculum.

From the Pages of History

In the 1880’s, the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation signed treaties with the United States establishing the boundaries of the tribes and recognizing their sovereign rights. The Sioux tribes consist of the seven Council Fires. The Sicangu (Rosebud) people are from one of the Council Fires. Rosebud Sioux Tribal lands were originally reduced to a reservation by the U.S. Congress in the Act of March 2, 1889, which identified all the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota reservations in what is known as the Great Sioux Settlement. The boundaries were further reduced by the subsequent Homestead Acts. The Sicangu people were moved five times before Rosebud Agency was finally established. Today they enjoy the status of a dependent sovereign nation.

Rosebud Sioux Reservation is located in south central South Dakota and borders the Pine Ridge Reservation on its northwest corner and the State of Nebraska along its southern edge. The Reservation has a total area of 1,442 square miles. The tribal headquarters is located in the town of Rosebud. There are twenty communities within the Reservation.

Founding of St. Francis Mission

In the 1840’s Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, a Jesuit priest, traveled extensively in the northern plains. The Lakota people considered Father DeSmet holy and trustworthy. He brought the Gospel to the Lakota, but he did not settle among them.

Since their first contact, the Lakota wanted Jesuits to live among them on Rosebud Reservation, but it would be years before the establishment of St. Francis Mission. In the 1800’s, several Lakota chiefs who had known Father DeSmet went to Washington to request that Jesuits (whom they called Sapa Un or “Black Robes”) be assigned to teach their children on the reservation. Soon after, the chief of the Rosebud Lakota, Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and made the following request: “I would like to say something about a teacher. My children, all of them, would like to learn how to talk English. They would like to learn how to read and write. We have teachers there, but all they teach us is to talk Sioux, and to write Sioux, and that is not necessary. I would like to get Catholic priests. Those who wear black dresses. These men will teach us how to read and write English.”

In 1881, Chief Two Strike directly invited the Jesuits to start a school on Rosebud Reservation. The school was built near camps which the Lakota called Hinhansunwapa (Owl Feather Bonnet). Financed by St. Katharine Drexel, a Jesuit priest and brother constructed a large frame building and dedicated it in 1886. Father Florentine Digmann arrived in 1888 bringing with him Franciscan Sisters Kostka, Rosalia, and Alcantara. Together they established St. Francis Mission School, which was known among the Lakota people as Sapa Un Ti (“where the Black Robes live”).

Father Digmann established 37 mission stations throughout Rosebud Reservation and is considered the founder of St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota.

“We are helping the Lakota people make a change in their lives and their communities, a lasting change carried forward by the children of our program.” Give the gift of hope for the future. Sponsor a student today.


We are asking the Lakota to get involved. There are many roles for leadership and service in parish life.

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