Erika Larsen: The Native Words for “Horse”

O’siyo. Photographer Erika Larsen traveled for two years to various Native communities in the U.S. to learn the significance of the horse in Native American culture. Her findings and beautiful photographs were featured in the March 2014 issue of National Geographic. 

Destiny Buck, of the Wanapum tribe, rides her mare, Daisy, Pendleton, Oregon. Photograph by Erika Larsen.

Destiny Buck, of the Wanapum tribe, rides her mare, Daisy, Pendleton, Oregon. Photograph by Erika Larsen.

 

Excerpt: Erika Larsen: In Search of a Horse, National Geographic

“I arrived to Lapwai on the Nez Perce land where I met a woman named Rosa. She told me that I was looking for Sikem, and that the young Nez Perce generation could help me find him. So I asked a young Numipu named Olivia if she knew Sikem and she said yes. She said she had known him since she was seven and that she was free when she was with him and she felt like she could do whatever she wanted. He was her therapy. She had a portrait of Sikem on her shoulder saying ‘Live to Ride.’

Benson Ramone accompanies his 17-year-old daughter, Tashina, who’s competing in the Fort Hall Rodeo on the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes reservation in Idaho. Photo by Erika Larsen.

Benson Ramone accompanies his 17-year-old daughter, Tashina, who’s competing in the Fort Hall Rodeo on the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes reservation in Idaho. Photo by Erika Larsen.

Not too far away in the Yakama Nation I met Patricia. She told me I was looking for Kusi, her treasured friend. She said don’t let him fool you, he is a gentle giant, that has the tendency to be wild yet gentle and tame. She showed me a bag that her mother had beaded with Kusi on it.

Jones Benally received this gelding, Moonwalker, on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, for his services as a medicine man. Navajos believe lightning is the spark of all creation. Photo by Erika Larsen.

Jones Benally received this gelding, Moonwalker, on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, for his services as a medicine man. Navajos believe lightning is the spark of all creation. Photo by Erika Larsen.

I traveled further south and met Benson on the Navajo Nation. He told me I was searching for łįį’. He said he hoped that I could pronounce it or that he might be hard to find. He told me when his time on earth was over łįį’ would be his ride to the spirit world.

On my way north, I stopped in Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Nation where I met a man named Phillip. He told me Mo en ha, was who I must be looking for, The Beautiful, Holy Spirit.

On the Crow Reservation in southern Montana, Michelle Walking Bear braids her 11-year-old son’s hair to keep it out of his face when he rides. Photo by Erika Larsen.

On the Crow Reservation in southern Montana, Michelle Walking Bear braids her 11-year-old son’s hair to keep it out of his face when he rides. Photo by Erika Larsen.

Across the way, in Crow Agency, I heard the name, Iichiili, and so I inquired about him. I met a family that lived with Iichiili and they said if I looked far into the distance and as close as front door I could see Iichiili everywhere; that he had always been there.

Nakia Williamson rides a cross between an Appaloosa and the hardy Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan, one of the world’s oldest breeds, renowned for courage and endurance. Photograph by Erika Larsen.

Nakia Williamson rides a cross between an Appaloosa and the hardy Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan, one of the world’s oldest breeds, renowned for courage and endurance. Photograph by Erika Larsen.

Finally, on my travels east I met a woman from the Lakota nation named Sung Agli Win-She Brings Back the Horses. She told me I was looking for Sunka Wakan. Her father had told her when the spirits brought them the gift of the Sunka Wakan, they found that it was four-legged and with a coat like wolves and dogs, but with special powers.”

A paint horse named Cikala, which means “Little” in Lakota. Photo by Erika Larsen.

A paint horse named Cikala, which means “Little” in Lakota. Photo by Erika Larsen.

“…when the spirits brought them the gift of the Sunka Wakan, they found that it was four-legged and with a coat like wolves and dogs, but with special powers. It was hard to translate but maybe it was like large four-legged being with spiritual powers…Sunka Wakan living harmoniously in spirit like all of nature and that our connection with him was a gift from Creator, for which we are grateful…we are tied together, us and Sunka Wakan. Like the buffalo, they reflect us and link us back into the sacred rhythm and balance of nature. Any given child or person spending time with Sunka Wakan may find the effect hard to describe because they are being touched at a deeper level.”

~ Sung Agli Win-She Brings Back the Horses~ The Lakota Nation

Be sure to visit Erika’s site to view more of her beautiful photos.

Category: Language