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  • In our traditional Lakota culture we have many stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Although this is not a particularly personal story (I intend to share more) it is an important story -- one that was passed down to me and my brother by my father and by his father before him. It is a little known story that members of our Minneconjou band should be familiar with and it is important to me personally because my father gave me and my brother Richard our Lakota names based upon this story.

    It is a story about the sweat lodge. Iyan Hoksila means "stone boy" which was my brother's name. Mine is Hakela which means "the last one" (the youngest son). The drawing attached to it is based upon a photograph that was taken in 1898.

    Four Lakota brothers lived together with their sister. Each day the brothers would go out hunting, each on his own path. When they came home at night they would share whatever game they brought back with their sister. One day, the oldest of the four brothers did not return. The next day, the three remaining brothers went out and when they came back that night one of them was missing. On the next day, the same thing happened. Finally, on the fourth day, only the youngest brother was left.

    When he started to go hunting, the sister pleaded with him. “Hakela, youngest brother, do not leave.”

    But the youngest brother did not listen. He left and he, too, did not come back.

    Now the sister did not know what to do. She was so filled with sorrow that she could not eat or drink. All she could do was walk around and cry. Finally, she became so thirsty that she picked up a round shiny pebble and put it in her mouth to suck on it. But as she was carrying the stone in her mouth and weeping, she swallowed it. As soon as she did so, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy.

    “I cannot care for you,” she said to the baby, and she picked him up and placed him outside the door of her lodge. But as soon as she went back inside, the stone boy came crawling in behind her, the size of a child of two winters. Again she picked him up and placed him outside the lodge. This time he came walking back in, the size of a youth. She picked him up on third time and placed him outside. This time when he came back, the stone boy was a young man, so much larger than his mother that she would not pick him up.
    “My son,” she said, “you can stay with me, but I wish you had clothing to wear.” She looked up at the stone boy. He was now dressed in fine buckskins.

    “Ah,” the mother said, “I wish that my son had a bow and arrows so that he could use them for hunting.” She turned around to look and saw a strong bow and many arrows were now leaning against the side of the tipi. So Stone Boy had all that he needed.

    Stone Boy and his mother lived there in the tipi for some time and everything went well. Then one day Stone Boy looked at his mother across the fire and said, “Why do we live alone? Don’t we have any relatives?”

    “You have four uncles,” his mother said. “They went out hunting and never returned.”

    “Then I shall go find them,” Stone Boy said.

    “Do not leave me alone,” his mother said and she wept for him to stay. But Stone Boy did not listen. He set out on the trail which led away from their tipi toward the north. He traveled for a long time until he came to a small tipi, so old that the skin on the tipi was yellow with age. Four bundles wrapped in skins leaned against the tipi.

    A huge old woman came out of the tipi as he approached “Grandson,” she said, “stop and help me. My back is sore, but if you will just walk on it, it will be better. Your uncles helped me treading on my back before they went on their way.”

    Stone Boy looked at the huge old woman. He could see that her heart was bad. “This old woman means to kill me,” he thought. But he did not let the old woman know what he thought.

    “Grandmother,” Stone Boy said, “I will do what I can do.”

    Then he began to walk on the old woman’s back, massaging it. But as he walked, he saw that her back bone was sharp. It was so sharp that he knew it would kill him if he fell on it. The huge old woman shook herself, to make Stone boy fall, but instead he jumped up and came down on her with such force that she was killed.

    Then Stone Boy looked at the four bundles leaning against the lodge. “These are the bodies of my dead uncles,” he said. “I will do what I can do to help them.”

    Stone Boy now heard spirit voices talking to him. “Cut twelve willow poles from beside the stream,” the voices said. “Place them in the ground and bend them over to make a shape like a beehive.”

    Stone Boy cut the willows and did as the voices instructed. He covered the beehive of poles with skins and then placed the four bundles which held the bodies of his uncles inside the small lodge. He heated stones in a fire till they were red hot and then brought them into the lodge. He brought water in an animal skin bag and then closed the door flap of the lodge so that all was dark inside.

    “You have brought me here,” he said to the stones and he thanked them. Then as he began to pour water four times, other voices joined him. His uncles had come back to life and were singing with him. When the door was opened, he saw his uncles sitting there around the stones, alive and well.

    “The stones gave me life,” Stone Boy said to his uncles,” and these stones have returned life to you. From this day on, our people will have this inipi, this sweat lodge, to purify them and give them health.”

    So the first sweat lodge was made.
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