In the history books, Sitting Bull is depicted as a violent warrior, but to his descendants in the Lakota tribe, he’s known as a spiritual leader of compassion, generosity, humility and fortitude. His great grandson, Ernie LaPointe, recently spoke with Krista Tippet on her American Public Media radio show “On Being” about his famous ancestor, once known in the American media as “Public Enemy Number One.”
LaPointe tells a story of his great grandfather, known to his people as Tatanka Iyotake. The story was told behind closed doors, generation to generation, because the federal government prohibited the practice of Native American spiritual traditions, and was passed down to LaPointe from his mother’s mother, Sitting Bull’s daughter.
Mr. LaPointe: Well, you know, my mother told me the story when he was a young boy — because in our culture you always take your son to your brother to have him raised because the authority figure is a little different. And when he first went on his buffalo hunt, this was one of the ones that really — as a kid his age — she was telling me this and I had no idea what I would’ve done when I was six years, seven years old, of when he first hunted. And he went in there and he killed a buffalo, this big buffalo bull.
And his uncle, Four Horns, said, “Why didn’t you take the cow that was closer to the edge?” Because if the buffalo spook they could run the horse down. And the young boy said, “Yeah. I seen the cow,” he said, “but I seen this little calf.” He said, “If I kill the cow, that little calf would sure to perish too.” “So,” he said, “I went after this big buffalo.”
For more on this remarkable man, you’ll find the uncut interview, 22 drawings attributed to Sitting Bull, and more at the On Being site. Tatanka Iyotake’s legacy is also remembered in Ernie LaPointe’s book about his great grandfather, “Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy.”