Dogs, Once Revered In Lakota Culture, Face A Shifting Tide

Written by: Claire Beaudreault

May 8, 2015

For the Lakota people of the Great Sioux Nation of the American Plains, dogs have long played an important role in society and culture. Before horses arrived on the scene, “sunka” (the Lakota word for “dog”) were employed to carry wood and other burdens. The pups featured heavily in spiritual and religious rituals. Sunka served as a security system—warning of and warding off intruders, and as a source of warmth in the winter.



Recently, instances of people being attacked by feral dogs have sparked debate regarding the fate of these once-revered animals. Mother of five Julia Charging Whirlwind of Rosebud Reservation and eight-year-old Jayla Rodriguez of Pine Ridge Reservation were both attacked and killed by packs of wild dogs. In response to this, community members have begun rounding up and killing wild dogs, and sadly, sometimes domesticated pets.


Spiritual leader Russell Eagle Bear of the Rosebud Reservation gives his perspective:

“We have too many dogs, and that’s kind of our fault, too…I believe we need to re-educate our own people on certain areas, especially our culture and our spirituality. But we’re walking the learning road, too. It’s been 150 years of taking that away. It may take that long to get back on track.”

lakota dog sioux 7-1952-6303-2-Dog-travois-optimized


In impoverished communities, many dogs are abandoned when their owners can no longer afford to feed or care for them, and eventually become feral. Rescues such as Lakota Animal Care and temporary high-volume spay-and-neuter clinics are helping to reduce the population of wild dogs, and hopefully restore the sunka to their former glory.

lakota man with dog

h/t Argus Leader
Featured image via North Dakota Studies (

Written by: Claire Beaudreault

May 8, 2015