Children's Books

WHITE BUFFALO WOMAN, A STORYBOOK BASED ON INDIAN LEGEND, retold and illustrated by Christine Crowl, Tipi Press, St. Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, SD, 1990; 19 pages paperback oversize; ISBN 1-877976-10-5

On the title page, this book is described as part of "The American Heritage Series, A T.C. Artists creation, lovingly dedicated to our American youth." St. Joseph's is as its name suggests, a Catholic-run school, and their press has published some good books, written by (mostly) Lakota people, illustrated by (mostly) Lakota artists. The ones I've seen don't carry the possessive declaratory dedication. So I don't know what that "T.C. artists" is. It looks as if it's Christine Crowl, and she's really not a good artist, or wasn't at that period in her life. Th dedication, and description of th Lakota people as "Sioux" are also indications no Lakota was involved in this book's production.

White Buffalo (Calf) Woman's story tells not only how the sacred Pipe but also a great many other lifeways sacred instructions were brought to the Lakota people. It shouldn't be diminished to the status of a "legend" or children's story. This particular storybook very clearly cribbed from the tellings by John Fire Lame Deer's 1967 telling, published in American Indian Myths and Legends. Where words have been changed to disguise this, the disimprovements. Lame Deer says "when a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red trade cloth is wound around their hands, thus typing them together for life." Crowl's rewrite: "When a man and woman are joined in marriage, they will hold the pipe at the same time. Their hands will be wrapped together, thus binding them for life."

Crowl omits many things, such as Standing Hollow Horn saying "'Sister, we are glad. We have had no meat for some time. All we can give you is water.' They dipped some wachanga, sweet grass, into a skin bag of water and gave it to her, and to this day the people dip sweet grass or an eagle wing in water and sprinkle it on a person to be purified." There are numerous other omissions of this type. This results in clear, specific, and beautiful instructions about all the most important things, being reduced to a few generalizations that are not even very well expressed.

She's made it more storylike by giving the two warriors specific names and some chit-chat dialog. And they're both nice guys, one of whom gets zapped because he accidentally touches the woman. In fact he got zapped because he had it in mind to rape the unprotected woman found alone on the prairie. This relates to the idea of "respect for women" that was brought to the warriors of the Lakota, and to the ceremony of marriage for all.

I'm not Lakota, but I still found this quite a distressing little publication. If any remain, I think they should be withdrawn from sale and (respectfully) be destroyed under the supervision of a Pipe keeper. My reason for thinking this is that whatever the intentions of those who put it together were, the end result is an awkward, ugly travesty which has been published under the auspices of a religious group which, in the past and nowadays, has attempted to moderate its own religious zeal and respect the religion of native people in its locale. If some project like this should come up in the future, the Fathers should consult with appropriate religious elders and learn if it should or should not be done. The awkward, edited and added-to prose and ugly pictures should have been enough warning not to publish this one, though. And as to language: if something like this is to be published, there should always be a Lakota text.

Despite the fact Tipi Press is run by the Catholic church, St. Joseph's does not have the reputation of denigration or disrespect for Lakota people, religion, religious traditions, etc., so I really can't understand why they published either of these things.

--Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Sunday, August 18, 1996 - 7:22:15 AM