Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Summer 1998


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 18, No. 3, Summer 1998, pp. 282-83.


Copyright 1998 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Dance, song, and spiritual renewal are at the heart of traditional Lakota life in contemporary America. Severt Young Bear's life experiences, as told in this collaborative work resulting from Young Bear and R. D. Theisz's close relationship developed over three decades, are a continuation of Lakota autobiographical and biographical literature. Theisz's fluency in Lakota language, his broad knowledge of traditional and contemporary Lakota life, as well as his adoption by a Lakota family, lend to his credibility in co-authoring the text. His friendship with Young Bear centered on their common interests in music and dance, and each's particular talents led to their becoming members of the Porcupine Singers. Standing in the Light is the culmination of their desire to teach and learn about Lakota dance, song, and ceremony.

Young Bear describes "four circles of people" that exist at powwows and ceremonies. The book is divided into four parts to be used as educational tools. In Part I, "Grandfather Rode through Smoke: Names Tell Stories," reminiscent of Momaday's The Names, Young Bear's personal history signifies his close ties to his family and his grounding in Lakota culture. As he narrates his family history, from his own to his grandfather Smoke's, through oral tradition, Young Bear tells the story behind the receiving of names, describing well the complex nature of being a Hunka in Lakota traditional life and the responsibility in receiving and giving names. In Part II, "Butterflies from the Mouth of an Elk: The Oral Tradition," he acknowledges that the "spoken word and the memory that catches and keeps it are at the center of our [Lakota] tradition." What is important to Young Bear in learning the oral tradition is listening carefully to remember the orality of that tradition and recognize the importance of recording traditions and making them available to those who seek to learn about the Lakota cultural worldview. As an educator, he is careful to focus on the meaning of words and their individual relevance to the oral tradition.

Part III, "Singing Rooster in the Black Hills: Lakota Singing and Dancing," the heart of the book, elaborates the hypothesis that singing and dancing are central to the Lakota cultural worldview. Young Bear affirms, moreover, that these are essential means of expressing and conveying the oral traditions that maintain, or reestablish, traditional Lakota values. Through song and dance the people will survive. Part IV, "Running on the Edge: The Search for Modern Lakota Identity," further explores his cultural worldview through the telling of stories.