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Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series

Did You Know: Verbal communication is the predominant and preferred form of communication for many Native American tribes and Indigenous people. The chronicling of historical events that have occurred within Indigenous culture has primarily been passed down within tribes from generation to generation through oral traditions such as spoken word, storytelling, and conversation. This is vastly different than the formal documentation, note-taking, and record-keeping commonly used today by contemporary society.

One recording of history that most Indigenous tribes used in the past was known as “winter count." The Lakota term for winter count is “wniyetu wowapi.“ "Wowapi” translates as “anything that can be read or counted.” In most winter count preparations, members of a tribe would come together to recount the significant events that had occurred from winter to winter (hence, the name), determine which events to document, and designate very pronounced and detailed pictographs to represent those significant events. These pictographs were then placed on the hides that remained following the hunting and harvesting of animals for food.

Significant events that would be chronicled may have included: births, deaths, battles, social activities, seasonal weather patterns, hunts, health scares, and natural environmental happenings. An example of one such happening was in 1833 when the Leonid Meteor Storm was documented in the winter counts of most tribes in the plain's regions.

TO LEARN MORE: View this short video or read this brief background to learn more!

GIVE THIS A TRY: Lone Dog’s Winter Count shares lesson plans and activities, wherein educators can incorporate this new knowledge by having their students (in any grade or of any age - and engage their families, too!) create their own winter count. Students can document the most noteworthy events that occurred in their lives, families, communities, etc. throughout 2021 using a pictograph or image for each event, sharing them chronologically as they occurred.

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