For the Lakhota the most important source of food is the buffalo, or American bison. Pte Oyate is Lakhota for “Buffalo Nation”.
The Pte Hcaka is the true bison. The Lakhota tell stories of the massive beast, but until 2004, when a skull, measuring between seven and eight feet between the horns, was unearthed, did anyone believe there was truth to the tales.
Before contact with the Spanish and the European settlers bison were so abundant that it was said that you could walk on their backs across the Great Plains, from Mexico to Canada.
The bison is so revered by the Lakhota that they have at least seventeen different words to describe various types of buffalo. One word classifies buffalo by age – Pte heste (a two-year-old), and Pte he yuktan (a four to six-year-old).
Then there are words to describe the buffalo’s sex: Pte tabloka means “bull” and Pte winyela means ‘cow’. Buffalo are further classified by special qualities. For example, Pte wiyela lyauhapi means “lead cow”, who is followed by the herd.
Knowing which one was the lead cow was important to Lakhota hunters because hunting party scouts would watch the lead cow prior to a hunt, and they could determine where the herd would be in two to three days based on the movements of the lead cow. The scouts would then return to camp and bring the people for a communal hunt.
In additional to buffalo the Lakhota hunted other animals. Big game included Hehaka or elk, Mato or bear, Nigesan or antelope and two types of deer – tahca sinte sapela or mule deer, and tahca sinte ska or white-tailed deer.
Small game hunted by the Lakhota included mastin sapa or jackrabbit and pahin or porcupine, and pispiza or prairie dog.
Tradition has allowed the Lakhota to sustain their food culture, including Wohanpi, a traditional soup. In the past it would have been made with bison meet, prairie turnips, and blo or wild potatoes. Today it is made with bison or beef, potatoes and other vegetables.
When bison is used the cooking time is reduced because bison has less fat than beef, and if overcooked, can become tough and hard to eat.
- Three cups of cooked cubed beef or bison meat
- Six cups beef broth
- Three medium-sized potatoes that have been peeled and cubed
- Three medium-sized carrots cut into ½-inch slices
- One Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add the cooked meat to the broth in a stock pot.
- Add carrots, potatoes, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. If using bison, add the meat to the pot in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.