North America

Star lore of the

Dakota and Lakota

Dakota and Lakota are the two major divisions of the Sioux. While there are language differences, both groups share the same cultural heritage and thus the same star lore.
Most of the star lore presented in this section is the result of the dedicated work of a group of professional astronomers, artists, language and cultural experts, educators, community members and Native American elders called Native Skywatchers.

The group is dedicated to the preservation of star lore and astronomical knowledge of Native American nations. Their findings have been published by the St. Cloud State University and by UC Santa Barbara.

In 2012, the group published a D(L)akota Star Map.

Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.

In the following presentation, the names Dakota and Lakota are both used depending on which of the two groups was mentioned in the source.

Please note:
Some letters in the Lakota Alphabet have no equivalent in common html code. I tried to replace these letters as authentic as possible, but please refer to the (D)Lakota Star Map for the correct spelling.

In Dakota astronomy, the stars of Cygnus form the constellation Agleœka, the Salamander.

When a baby boy is born the umbilical cord is cut from the mother and placed in a beaded leather pouch in the shape of the salamander. It is said that when the physical connection with the mother is severed, the connection to the stars is renewed. The salamander has characteristics of recovering from injury, agility and speed.

Sources: Dakota Constellation Guide, Astro by Mark
© Native Skywatchers

Chanśáśa ipúsye
The Dakota and Lakota combined Hamal and Sheratan (α and β Arietis) with the stars of Triangulum to Chanśáśa ipúsye, which translates literally to "Dried Willow" or "Red Willow."

It is seen as a wooden spoon used to pick up coal to light a pipe. When the sun is in this constellation, the people prepare for the pipe ceremony to celebrate the first day of spring.

The "Pipe Ceremony in the Stars" happens each year at sunrise on the Spring Equinox as the Sun, the Red Willow constellation and the Big Dipper line up along the eastern horizon.

Sources: Mark Hollabaugh: The Spirit and the Sky: Lakota Visions of the Cosmos, p. 66,
Astro by Mark,, Dakota Constellation Guide
Lighting a pipe
Source: One Spirit

Gleœka Wakaŋ

Gleœka Wakaŋ, the Sacred Hoop is a ring of red clay surrounding Paha Sapa - the Black Hills. It is also called Ki Iŋyaŋka Oçaŋku, the Racetrack.

In a Lakota creation story, the ring became the race track on which the Great Race between the four legged and the winged-ones took place. The race was to determine the fate of the two-legged - the humans. The buffalo claimed superiority over all other creatures and chalenged the humans to a race. The birds entered the race on behalf the humans.

At the end of the race, Running Slim, a lean female buffalo who was in the lead throughout almost the entire race got too sure of her win and stopped paying attention to her competitors. At the last minute, Magpie won the race, which gave humans superiority over the buffalo.

You can read the whole story at Akta Lakota Museum.

© Native Skywatchers

Dakota astronomy puts the race track into the heavens, connecting some of the brightest stars of the winter sky. The constellation is almost identical with the "western" asterism Winter Hexagon. The only difference: It bypasses Aldebaran (α Tau) and extends into the Pleiades.

Clockwise, the racetrack connects Sirius (α CMa), Procyon (α CMi), Pollux (β Gem), Castor (α Gem), Capella (α Aur), the Pleiades and Rigel (β Ori).

Sources: Dakota Constellation Guide, Akta Lakota Museum,, Astro by Mark


In Dakota astronomy, the stars of Pegasus form Keya, the Turtle.

When a baby girl is born the umbilical cord is cut from the mother and placed in a beaded leather pouch in the shape of the turtle. It is said that when the physical connection with the mother is severed, the connection to the stars is renewed. The turtle carries its home on its back, it lives long with a strong heart and therefore is connected to wisdom and perseverance.

Source: Dakota Constellation Guide, Astro by Mark

© Native Skywatchers

Mațo Tipila

The Dakota name for the butte known as Devils Tower in North America's Black Hills is Mațo Tipila, the Bear's Lodge.

In Dakote astronomy, the Bear's Lodge is represented by the stars of Gemini

In addition, Castor (α Gem) and Pollux (β Gem) are part of the Sacred Hoop.

Sources: Dakota Constellation Guide, Astro by Mark.

Devils Tower
Source: National Park Services


A Lakota about the southern part of Orion symbolizes the harmony between the gods and the people with the help of the younger generation.

In that story, the bottom half of Orion is called Napé, representing the hand of a great Lakota chief. Orion's Belt forms the Chief's wrist, the thumb is formed by Orion's Sword. Rigel is the tip of the index finger, and Cursa (β Eridani) is the tip of the little finger.

The tale tells us how the gods wanted to punish the Lakota chief for his selfishness and made the Thunder People rip out his arm. To help her father, the chief's daughter offered to marry whomever would recover her father's arm. One man made a long and perilous journey through the sky and the Earth. Fallen Star, a young warrior born of a mortal mother and a celestial father, returned the lost arm to the chief and married his beautiful daughter.

Source: Mr. Scienceut

The Chief's hand
Source: Mr. Science


Tayamni, meaning (Three parts of) the Buffalo is a constellation formed by Orion and its surroundings.

To the Lakota, Orion's Belt is the spine of a bison, called Tayamnicankhu. The surrounding rectangle of the constellation forms the ribs.

Rigel (β Orionis) is called Tayamnitchuhu (Animal outer rib), Betelgeuse (α Orionis) is called Tayamnituchuhu (Animal inner rib).

The tail, called Tayamnisinte is formed by Sirius (α CMa) and the head, called Tayamnipha is represented by the Pleiades.

Source: Mark Hollabaugh, p. 65

Lakota Buffalo Drum

Dakota and Lakota have several meaning for the asterism known as the Big Dipper:

To Win/Tuƞ Wiƞ - Blue Woman/Birth Woman

Midwives and others pray to the Blue/Birth Woman Spirit so newborn babies will enter this world safely. She is a doorkeeper between worlds.

Wiçakiyuhapi - Stretcher

The Stretcher carries a person that has passed away into the spirit world. These are the four stars on the bowl of the Big Dipper. The Mourners are the three handle stars that are carrying the deceased.

Oceti Sakowiƞ - Seven sacred rites/council fires

The Big Dipper also represents the Oceti Sakowiƞ, the Seven Council Fires of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota (Assiniboin) nations.

Çaƞnunpa - The Sacret Pipe

The Big Dipper is part of the 'Pipe Ceremony in the Stars':

The first day of spring or the Vernal Equinox has held a place of high honor in the yearly calendar for many cultures and throughout human history. It is a day of balance, with twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. It is one of two days where the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. The Spring Equinox is one of the four guideposts or gateways in the circling of Earth around Sun.

At sunrise, Dakota and Lakota peoples will celebrate the first day of spring with a Pipe Ceremony in the Stars. On this day, around sunrise, this sacred ceremony will unfold along the eastern horizon. The rising Sun, Wi, represents the fire or the hot coals. Looking northward along the east horizon is the asterism of the Big Dipper. In D(L)akota these same seven bright stars are known by several names and relevant here are the names Wicakiyuhapi (the Dipper) and Can Cinkska (Wooden Spoon).

The Big Dipper represents the Sacred Pipe or Çaƞnunpa. Between the pipe (the Big Dipper) and the fire (the Sun) is the plant medicine that is used in the smoking mixture, Chanśáśa ipúsye (Dried Red Willow). The Chanśáśa ipúsye constellation is made up of the three brightest stars in Aries and Triangulum.

Sources: Pipe Ceremony in the Stars, Dakota Constellation Guide, Dakota Star Map

To Win/Tuƞ Wiƞ
Dakota Star Map by Native Skywatchers

Stretcher and mourning people
© Karl Bodmer

Pipe Ceremony in the Stars
© Annette S. Lee

Wanagi Tacanku

In his book Sioux Life & Customs Of A Warrior Society, Royal B. Hassrick describes how the Lakota, a major subgroup of the Sioux, interpreted the Milky Way.

Like many other Native American cultures, the Lakota pictured the Milky Way as a spirit trail. Once the spirit of a Lakota left the body, it would travel on the spirit trail to the Land of Many Lodges, where all the ancestors had pitched their tipis and where buffalo roamed in unending abundance.

Along the trail, the spirits had to pass an old woman who each spirit for the proper tattoo marks on wrist, forehead or chin.

Lakota Tipi and Milky Way;
William K. Powers, in his book Oglala Religion, adds a facette to the story, focussing on the Oglala, one of the seven sub-tribes of the Lakota.

Powers describes that the Oglala spirits too had to pass the old woman, but adds, that the woman would judges the spirit's life on earth and would either sends it on or would send it back to earth where it had to exist as a shade.

The Oglala called the Milky Way wanagi tacanku, the Spirit Road and believed that the light of the Milky Way originated from the campfires of the traveling spirits.


Wiçaŋĥpi Waziyata/Wiçaŋĥpi Owaŋjila

One Lakota story tells of how the North Star married Toŋwiŋ, a human woman. She lived in the star world with him but missed her home. One day she dug up a turnip and there was a hole. Through this hole she could see everyone back home. She fell threw the hole. Her son survived and later became the hero, Fallen Star. North Star was so sad from loosing his wife that he froze in the same spot and became Wiçaŋĥpi Waziyata, the star which stands in one place.

Wiçaŋlipi Waziyata
© Native Skywatchers

In another story, Wiçaŋĥpi Cekpa or Twin Star is the mother of the Fallen Star hero. She and her beautiful twin sister both married handsome star men and were taken into the star world above. While there she dug up the turnip which made the hole through which she unsuccessfully tried to lower herself back down to Earth.
Source: Dakota Constellation Guide

Native Skywatchers identified the stars of Columba and Puppis, together with the southern stars of Canis Major as the Dakota constellation Zuzeca, the Snake.

The snake is sometimes portrayed as swallowing an egg which represents protecting the culture.

On earth, the snake constellation may be represented by Serpent Mound in Ohio or other similar mounds (see Taurus for details).

Source: Dakota Constellation Guide
© Native Skywatchers

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