August 1st, 12:07am
On Friday evening, we hurried over to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to attend a campfire hosted by Linda and Luke Black Elk on a night where they would be sharing Lakota stories of the animals of Yellowstone. After a short delay of waiting for bison to clear the road, we had a chance to listen and speak to this dynamic duo.
Linda and Luke Black Elk were in Yellowstone to teach their “Native American Plants & Their Uses” and “Lakota Creation Stories” courses with the Yellowstone Association. Back home in South Dakota, Linda teaches Ethnobiology at a Sitting Bull College, and Luke is currently studying hydrology. They both work as consultants to promote native sciences in colleges.
Around the campfire, Luke and Linda regaled us with abridged versions of Lakota stories—since some, in their entirety, can take literal days to tell. Luke told us of how the Raven, once all-white, became black. He told us of stone boy, and why black-tail deer are not to be trusted. Linda joined the campfire, and shared stories on the topic of love. She told us how we are related to the stars, and of two girls that married stars. Although tragic, their marriage gave us “Fallen Star,” a recurring character of Lakota stories, with abilities similar to Hercules of Greek mythology. And Linda’s directed us to details of the star story, showing us how the narrative contained hidden lessons on the correct ways to harvest and propagate a beloved Lakota plant.
Afterwards, Luke and Linda graciously answered our questions about being Lakota and their connection to Yellowstone. The Lakota are one of 26 contemporary tribes associated with Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone and its thermal features were considered sacred, so many tribes were able to utilize this place without conflict. Luke explained that the Lakota would travel hundreds of miles on foot to gather materials and perform ceremonies in this region. He explained passionately that being Lakota meant being humble, and always generous. Linda shares that while their relationship with the park today remains good, it is also bittersweet. But things are looking up - new legislation, passed very recently, now allows native tribes to gather materials from National Parks for ceremonial and cultural use.
We look forward to reading the many Lakota references and books Luke & Linda pointed us towards!