Sitting Bull's Legacy

The Lakota Sioux leader's relics return to his only living descendants

(Adam Nadel)

(Continued from page 1)

We're going to do a ceremony with my sisters, myself and a spiritual leader. We will ask our great-grandfather to take his energy, or "spiritual DNA," off of these things and take it back to the spirit world. The hair we will probably rebury. With the leggings, I'm not sure yet. Through the ceremony, the medicine man will tell us what we should do with them.

How did you learn that Sitting Bull was your great-grandfather?

It all started when we lived on the reservation, out in the country. We had no electricity, TV or anything like that. In the evenings, my mom would fire up the kerosene lamp and she would be sewing and she would tell us all kinds of stories. In the process of doing this, she would tell us about her grandfather. I never knew for a long time who she was talking about. When you're a kid, you just want to play, but she just kept talking. So we kept listening. She said, "There are going to be a lot of stories about your grandfather." As I got older, I started to realize who she was talking about, because she said to keep the stories in our heads and in our hearts.

She also said don't tell anyone that you are related to Tatanka Iyotake, which means "Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down." So I never told anybody because my mother said if you did, "your life will never be the same." She told me that I have to live as Ernie LaPointe. And now I understand what she meant, because if I had said anything about this as a kid growing up, people would have treated me differently.

One of my aunts told me in 1992 to show the world that there are real blood descendants of Sitting Bull. So that's when I came out and started this difficult path of trying to straighten up his story. A lot of people contact me and claim to be related to Sitting Bull, but they always say things that give them away pretty easily. It happens to all Natives. Like I went to Cherokee, North Carolina, a couple weeks ago and they're all bent out of shape down there because they meet people who are non-Native who say, "My grandmother was a Cherokee princess." But, there is no such thing as kings, queens or princesses in our culture. [laughs] Even right as we're talking, there are people on the Internet claiming to be related to Sitting Bull. Now, because of Smithsonian's documentation and research, I can prove all of the blood descendants to the great grand level.

What was it like to read the books in school talking about your great-grandfather?

For a long time, I thought my mother was lying to me. The stories she told me versus the books I was reading were very different. Plus, when I was growing up there might be one history book with one paragraph about Natives in it and that's it. The books would always call us Sioux and my mother would call us Lakota. And the stories about my great-grandfather were hard to read because they called him a killer, the killer of [General] Custer. My mom never said anything like that. People need to understand what you're writing about. It's a difficult life to write about unless you have experienced it. I want to try to tell it from my heart; I speak of my great-grandfather with reverence and respect because he cared for his people and he was one of many Natives that exhibited love, care and compassion for them.

A lot of documentaries and textbooks misrepresent your history. How do you cope?

We have to understand how to look at the stories of Natives before they pass on into history. My main goal is to be the voice of my great-grandfather, straighten up all the myths and explain who he really was.

What is one misconception about Sitting Bull that you want to set straight?


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