Hearts of Our People: Lakota artist

Cat. no. 86. Lakota artist. Dress, c. 1900. Buckskin, sinew, glass beads. 75 1/2 x 58 x 2 1/2 in. Denver Museum of Nature & Science, AC.3427. © DENVER MUSUEM OF NATURE & SCIENCE.


[Speaking Lakota] Hello my relatives, I greet all of you with a good heart. My name is Dakota. I’m a Lakota woman. I’m enrolled in the Pine Ridge Reservation. Here at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I serve as a research assistant. I will soon be moving to Denver, and there my title will be Assistant Curator of Native American Art at the Denver Art Museum.

So, you’ll notice on one side it says Kinyánhinape Wiƞ and on the other side it says Waƞblítipi Wiƞ. And those are the names of two young Lakota girls. What we did discover through research is that we thought they were on the front of the dress, but they’re actually on the back of the dress. And the reason being is that when Lakota women dance, they dance in a circle and their backs face out, so more people would be seeing these names of the girls. So, we know that one of the girls was Cora Plenty Eagles, and she died when she was about 18. And that the other girl’s name was Katy Loafer Joe, and she died when she was about 16. We know whoever wore this dress was honoring those two girls and was connected to them in some way. But we don’t know exactly how they were connected.

We do know that both of the fathers of the girls were living where the Battle of Little Big Horn took place, so probably fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn. What their roles were, we don’t know. We know after that battle they moved to Standing Rock; it’s a reservation that straddles North and South Dakota. Then we know both families moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is located in the south western corner of South Dakota. We can’t seem to find a familial, on the records, relationship between the fathers, between the mothers, or between the girls.

There’s four horses, and each of these horses has this “JC” brand. So, whoever owned this JC brand at this time is probably the connecting point for these girls. But that gets also very complicated because people owned these brands at certain periods, and maybe they only owned them for like four years, and then they give them up. And they can own the same brand in multiple states. So, we really could not find the definitive connection to these girls. The other connection is on the dress there are these two staffs, and they are near the neck line and at the backside of the horses. So they could indicate horse racing, but also if girls go through a huƞká ceremony, which is a particular type of adoption ceremony where people pledge to be family members, they also hold these staffs. Is the girl that is associated with the JC brand, a huƞká sister of these two? They probably went to school together. That’s one possibility.

If we could find who wore this dress, I think all of the pieces would come into place, but until now we haven’t really discovered who wore this dress. The fact that we could not find the owners of this dress – it’s a lesson in patience – but it’s also a lesson that we as Lakota people are taught. You’ll be given that information when the time is right. And so this dress is holding on to its secrets, and we are hoping that through this exhibition, maybe somebody will come forward or recognize this dress, or recognize these girls’ names and be able to tell us this whole story. I am personally taking the philosophy that we will get to know the answer to this when the timing is right, and if we don’t get to know, then maybe the timing isn’t right yet.


Tuwe čhuwignaka kiŋ de kağa he tuwedaŋ sdodye šni. Ognaš Lakȟota wiŋyaŋ he kičağa hečhed wačhi čhaŋ wotakuye kiŋ wičhakiksuye kte. Wanap’iŋ idazata ed Lakhota čhaža num akšu. Wiŋyaŋ thokaheya kiŋ Lakȟota čhaže Waŋbli Thipi Wiŋyaŋ ečiyapi ga Wašiču ia Cora Plenty Eagles ečiyapi ga Wiŋyaŋ uŋma kiŋ Lakȟota čhaže Kiŋyaŋ Hinaphe Wiŋyaŋ ečiyapi ga Wašiču ia Katie Loafer Joe ečiyapi. Cora waniyetu akešakpe heehaŋ athaŋiŋšniyaŋ ga Katie waniyetu akešahdoğaŋ heehaŋ athaŋiŋšniyaŋ. Wikhoškalaka num hena Atkuku wičhayapi kiŋ Phežišla Okičhize kiŋ ophapi. Tokhed wiŋyaŋ num kiŋ sdodkičhiyapi iš tuwe čhuwignaka kağa sdodyapi he waŋna sdoduŋyapi šni. Čhuwignaka kiŋ de uŋpazopi ga tuwe he kağa kiŋ uŋkuŋspepi kte uŋčhiŋpi.



Shrouded in mystery, this dress was probably made for a Lakota woman to remember her relatives as she danced. On the back yoke the name Waƞblítipi Wiƞ (Where Eagle Dwells Woman) refers to Cora Plenty Eagles, who died at about age 16; and the name Kiƞyánhinape Wiƞ (Comes Out Flying Woman) is for Katie Loafer Joe, who died at age 18. But only superficial evidence—both fathers fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn—connects these two girls to each other or the dressmaker, who is still unknown. We hope through this exhibition we will learn more about this dress.