There is no Lakota word for god by Mark TilsenTweet
God is an English word meaning deity but since England has been a Christian nation for over a thousand years when we say God it means Christian god unless specifically pointed out to mean another god. Christianity began in Judaism where he is named Adonai means our lord,
Melech ha-olam means king of the universe. Elohainu means our god.
The Lakota universe was not created by a one single male god. You can squint real hard and have to get into those beard stroking theology debates “well the human mind cannot know the nature of God” to god is everywhere in all things but I call bullshit. Lakota world was not created by a sky king. Look up or ask about the creation story and make sure you’re not mixing it up with that Annashinabe story of the flood. We did not have one deity make us.
When we say Ate Wakan Tanka this is Christian and in particularly Catholic meaning Father God and was never used prior to contact with Christianity. The Native American Church, hmmm?, uses grandfather god in their prayers and is intentional fusing of peyote ceremony and Christianity.
But what about Creator? Sure, there is a lakota word that means one who creates but nobody uses it, you will not find it in the old songs or the new ones.
Guns are Maza wakan, horses are sunka wakan. Wakan doesn’t just mean holy, it’s also powerful mysterious life giving life taking a different part of the world that is not ordinary.
What about Tunkasila? They are the cardinal powers of the universe, they are also the spirits of animals, they are also our ancestors, and the name was used to reference the President of the United States so if your prayer goes unanswered now you know why. Kidding. But no where in that definition will you find a sky king.
So when I put out water or tobacco for a friend or family and I look to the sky and give gratitude for being alive or stare into that deep darkness between stars I say Taku Skan Skan. That which moves all things. It is not a he or my friend and it will not give me solace when one of my relatives commits suicide (seriously knock it off guys it’s getting old) but it simply IS. Down to subatomic particles to the blood moving in your veins into hurricanes crashing ashore out to galaxies colliding everything is in motion and in this great motion we see beauty. Something keeps everything in motion, it just does. Taku Skan Skan. So I’m an atheist and Lakota.
There is no Lakota word for god.
By Mark Tilsen
Mark Tilsen is an Oglala Lakota poet and educator