Thank You, Pilamayaye/pilamayayelo, Wopila, Otuhan....

topic posted Sat, September 1, 2007 - 8:57 PM by  Unsubscribed
All right, the discussion we're having on the other forum I belong to,, which is a Lakota forum, went like this. (I edited the names out.) The discussion is still going on, so I'll post more when it comes available.

P1 - “Pilamaye”


P2 - “Currently and personally I understand it to mean 'you make me feel grateful'.”


P3 - Seems to me that Grandpa used to really "get on" the kids for saying simply "pilamaye". He said that If you were going to speak Lakota, do it right - and say Pilamayaye (f) or pilamayayelo (m). Simply "pilamaye" is a shorter, "common" contraction, that is genderless and incorrect.... P2 - anyone ever said this to you...or have you anything to say about that??


P2 - My grandparents and relatives say 'pilamayaye' too. In my visits with elders I hear things like the concept of 'pilamayaye' is recent, like in the last 150 years and internalized by the reservation experience. Like the gov't and churches telling the native population to be thankful because of the help or 'gifts' they receive from them(churches and gov't) The early rez days were very difficult and many Lakota or small bands told or did what the wasicu wanted to to get food and survival items. Even so-called books that utilized Lakota resources are now in question. Much of the Lakota cutural concepts maybe distractions(lies to the whiteman). The Lakota knew the wasicu more than the wasicu realizes. The Lakota elders still chuckle about how Lakota history is written.
I think 'pilamayaye' is mentioned in the Bushotter and Sword interviews.(about mid 1800's)


P4 - I believe i once read somewhere, “White man says thank you with his tongue, natives say thank you with their heart.”


Me - If they didn't say "thank you"...perhaps they reciprocated the kindness with other kindness?


P2 - Back in the day, I think wopila was an acknowledgement of a need fulfilled, and not a want. When a person received a gift he/she/they felt glad, happy, etc., and thus made the person feel grateful. Maybe today, 'pilamayaye' has been mis-understood and mis-used. I have a story that might point this out.


Me - Ok...I was not familiar with the term "wopila" so I looked it up.

I am seeing it as two things...the Giveaway, and as a term of gratitude.

"Wopila Tanka"
"Lila Wopila"

Would it be a stretch for someone like me to try and make some connection that the Wopila Ceremony is like...a "Thanksgiving" Ceremony? Sort of like...a Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas presents rolled into one...and I use Xmas as an example as the host/hostess of the ceremony is the one giving gifts to the guests, as well as...

Ok...maybe that was a very bad example to use...scratch that.

Hmmm...but do you see where I was trying to go with it?

Or did I just put myself back into the canned worm aisle? LOL

Maybe someone could explain the Wopila to me. I understand it to be a...not so much "ceremony" as much as an event where gifts are given to the guests from the host/hostess in some form of celebration or mourning (although...I suppose it could be said that a Wopila given in regards to a death IS a celebration of that deceased's life and sharing it with those who remained...).

Was the Wopila a way to show gratitude to those who attended by giving gifts? Was it more than that, a sharing of one's fortune with those of the tribe/family and friends? Both?


P2 - Wihpeya is when a death occurs. It is done by the grieving family.

Isobael, research this Lakota word - 'otuh'an'.


Me – P2,

From what I know so far, “'otuh'an'” or otuhan, is the honoring of people or special events with a giveaway, sharing much, if not ALL of what they have, with others, and thus showing Wacantognaka, or generosity.

That, or it’s the Sycamore tree, chosen for its height for the Sun Dance.

Knowing does not mean understanding.

So…now I have two terms used for the giveaway.

'otuh'an' and wopila.

Would the 'otuh'an' be the giveaway in order to honor a person/people/special event, and the Wopila be the giveaway to show gratitude to others?

Or am I so lost that you are either shaking your head in exasperation, or rolling on the floor, laughing?
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  • Thank you for sharing this. It is indeed confusing. Unless one has grown up in the culture, it is difficult to follow. The teachings usually begin as a small one, with grandparents teaching the old ways while the mother and father worked to provide. In another week, I will be starting Tsalagi I. Knowing how to speak the language will not make me Tsalagi, it will only help me to communicate better with friends who are Tsalagi. It also helps in the preservation of the language. The more who know it, the less likely it is to die off.
    I wonder also, if it is a dialect issue. Depending on whether you are Eastern band or Western band you would either say Wado or Sgi for thank you.
    When I send donations to the St. Joseph Indian School which works with the Lakota kids, I usually get a Pilamaya for a response. Of course, that could be the Christian influence as you mentioned.
    • Unsu...
      I have heard both used. I had the thought, although no one ever clarified it to me that the "yaye" was ummm say with more feeling/respect/gratefulness...if that makes any sense. Also I think there is a gender pronunciation which indicates male,female, or general audience. It may also depend on which part of the Lakota you come from...there is Lakota, Dakota, Naktoa which make 3 distinct Siouxian dialects...each of these also have ummm...7(?) bands...which may extend the dialect further.
      Although I am not an expert onthis...maybe someone out there can verify this.

      Peace out
      • Unsu...
        From what I know/understand...the two "endings" on Pilamaya are depending on if it was a woman or man who spoke it.

        Pilamayaye is what a woman would say.

        Pilamayayelo is the masculine.

        The leaving off of the ending, to just say Pilamaya would be the "slang" and thus is the matter of contention among the speakers...

        We'll also add in a part about who the white conquerors twist the language...

        Original "article" here:

        To speak the Lakota Language, one needs to be aware of the Lakota perspective so that the correct words will be used. This is achieved by either growing up among Lakota People whose first language is Lakota and who live in their homelands. Or it can be introduced by a Lakota who has lived that perspective all of his life. Because of the experience of Natives with western civilization, meanings of some words were altered by those from the dominant society to attempt to change and control the Natives. They did this hoping it would tame us.

        During the early part of the 20th century, the american government set up boarding schools to "civilize" Native children so that they would be able to function within american society. They realized that the earlier they took the Native children away from home, the easier it was to transform them. They also realized that the further away from home they took these Native children, the easier it was to break them down emotionally. These schools offered low paying salaries and not much benefits. Thus, a lot of teachers of questionable character were hired to "civilize" these Native children.

        These children were taken hundreds of miles away from their extended, loving families to these boarding schools. When they arrived there, one of the the first things they had to do was to stand in a line to get their hair cut. In most Native cultures, hair contains the essence of the soul, and this is why most Native peoples grew their hair long. The only time when they were to cut their hair was when a relative died. This hair cutting was done in a ceremoniously way, as this was a cultural rule. Thus as these children were forced to stand in line to have their hair cut was really shocking. So these children thought that someone in their families must have died. And since they all had to stand in the same line, they thought that all of their families must have died. And then they felt that they were now facing death, as well. That had to have been a most traumatic shock experience.

        Then they were told their language and culture was evil and from them devil. When these Native children spoke their language or talked about their culture, they were severely beaten, molested and made to feel ashamed to be Native. Soon many of them died in those schools from broken hearts, as well as the physical, spiritual and emotional abuse. And some adopted the abusive ways of the teachers, priests and other authority figures in these schools, as the older students began to abuse those they considered weaker than themselves. Thus, these children grew up away from their extended families that normally would have helped them to learn to process their emotions and thoughts, as they grew to become adults. And instead they were grew up facing constant abuse and with no emotionally healthy adult role models to emulate.

        When these children became parents themselves, they did not want their children to speak their language or to know their culture, so they did not teach them much concerning these things. This process continued for several generations and surprisingly, some of them thought the best way to survive was to adopt the ways of the christianity; thus, many of these children were brainwashed. And when they returned home after they were finished with their "schooling", this brainwashing was continued by the christian and catholic priests on the reservations by their perverted mistranslations of certain Lakota concepts and teachings. They must have felt that their "old" ways were now being corrected by the priests.

        When the christian and catholic priests first came to the reservations in the early 1900's, they wanted to convert us to their religions. One step they chose was to learn our language. Some attempted to translate bible information into the Native tongues so that they could better approach the Natives, which would also make for an easier conversion. These churches later built schools on the reservations, which were havens of constant abuse from the priests against the Native children. More Native children began to accept what they were being brainwashed with, as it led away from this abuse. And those who still spoke their Native tongues accepted the perverted translations of some of their Native words, as they accepted the new ideologies being forced upon them. In some instances, the priests built themselves up to be the literal ears of their god. Thus, these priests would have the Native children ask them for forgiveness of their (Native children's) sins. This put the priests ABOVE the natives. From this experience, the priests mistranslated the sacred Lakota word "unsimala" to the covert and oppressing expression of "have pity on me".

        HOWEVER... THROUGH LAKOTA EYES... "unsimala" means "I have a genuine need and I need your help". If I am need of assistance and I say "unsimala" to someone, that person has a choice to help me or not. If he/she chooses to help me, the Lakota Natural Law of Generosity goes into action. This Natural Law states that the energy a person uses to communicate with others will return to him/her fourfold. Thus, that person chooses to help me, the result will be that he/she will be receiving good medicine fourfold (x4). And my need will be met, also. When I said "unsimala" to that person, I was presenting an opportunity for that other person to receive blessings fourfold. The original definition of "unsimala" is very different from the christian and catholic priests' definition.

        In the recent past Lakota history beginning in the early 1950's, a USA government program called Relocation was created for Native peoples. Under this program, the United States government would pay all expenses for Native people to move off the reservation and into a major U.S. city. The USA government promised that if the Native people would sign up for this program, that these Native families would receive good jobs, nice homes in nice neighborhoods, nice schools with high quality education for their children, among many other promises. Thus, a lot of Native families signed up for Relocation.

        When these Native families arrived in the cities, nothing was the way it was promised to them. Instead, they ended up in ghettoes where many times even the African-Americans and Mexicans gave them a difficult time, in addition to the racism gifted to them from white America. Thus, they had racism coming against them from all those around them who were not Native. As such, there was a lot of injustice committed against them and they basically had no place to turn to for help, as even the law enforcement and the courts handed out more injustices upon them. Some Natives returned to the reservations. Even though the economic situation was worse on their home reservations, they still felt it was better than the extreme difficulties they had to go through in these cities.

        However, a lot of them stayed in the cities. In time, things got better. Not perfect, but better, and many began to prosper materially, as well. However, spiritually and emotionally, the city Natives were still suffering. Also, back then it was very unpopular to be Native. By this time, Native people have already suffered the boarding school experiences of the early 1900's and now they were suffering under the Relocation experience. And even moreso than before, many more of the original Native beliefs were neglected and forgotten. Also, the Native Relocation people began to lose their tribal perspective, as they were adapting to the big city life. Some began to lose the full meanings of what little cultural information they still had. As a result, these city Natives began to think with a perspective very similar to the western way of thinking. And those who still knew a little bit of their language began to speak it from a western & christian perspective and not their own traditional perspective.

        One mistake is when people take non-Lakota expressions and translate them into Lakota. When they do this, they think they are "speaking Lakota". One example, is the expression "Wakan Tanka nici un". This is an expression that is not from the Lakota Perspective. Rather, it is non-native expression translated into Lakota. However, translating a non-Lakota expression using the Lakota language does not convert it into a Lakota expression.

        Before our Lakota ways were perverted by christian and catholic priests of the past, "Wakan Tanka" meant "an organization of spiritual and physical entities", whose ways were a Huge Mystery. Thus, the true definition of "Wakan Tanka" is "The Great Mystery". It does not mean "the great spirit" or "the creator" or any other "one god" concept, such as that found in christianity. Our belief system is merely a different one from the christian view. But because of the christianizing process that happened on the reservations in the past, many of the original teachings became tainted, as a brainwashing technique, to bring Native people to "see the light" and "error" of their past "evil" ways. Thus, "Wakan Tanka nici un." is NOT a Lakota expression. When traditional Lakota people hear "Wakan Tanka nici un", to some it is funny, and to others it is insulting. Lakota translations of expressions, which are not from the Lakota Perspective, actually contradict the Lakota Perspective and the Lakota people themselves.

        The Lakota language was never written until just recently. As such, our language has developed attributes that involve the frequencies of combinations of certain sounds that affect unseen dimensions. If someone says something in Lakota that at first sounds "ok" but without the Lakota Perspective, he might be effecting something dangerous to happen. Thus, teaching this language requires teaching the Lakota Perspective, as well. The Lakota Perspective is based on several important Natural Laws. One of them is called the 7th Direction, which is about taking care of the four parts of the self (mind, body, emotions and soul) as best as can so that we establish inner peace within ourselves. Nature projects the state of being in our inner world to the world around us. Thus, if we do not maintain our 7th Directions, then we contribute to the continuing violation of our Mother Earth. Also, speaking the Lakota language without the Lakota Perspective affects one's 7th Direction, as well. The Natural Law of Generosity states that the energy we use to communicate via thoughts, feelings, actions and words will return to us fourfold. Thus, speaking the Lakota language without the Lakota Perspective can bring harm to the person speaking it.

        However... in honor of my relatives who suffered and survived the "civilizing" process forced upon them by the boarding schools and churches they were forced to attend, I teach and I will continue to teach the Lakota Language according to the way it was spoken before this "civilizing" experience. Our language has existed for tens of thousands of years. Thus, it developed characteristics that most other written languages do not have. Some of these characteristics involve actually feeling the connections to animals and plants, and communication with the spiritual realms.

        When I think of the souls of those Lakota children whole lived and died through this boarding school experience, I want to do my best to teach the language and bring it back to an everyday usage. This is why when I teach the Lakota Language, I also teach the Lakota Perspective. This means, I teach and live ... LOOKING THROUGH LAKOTA EYES.

        Hau, Mitakuyepi, hecetu welo. [Copyrighted 1997 by David Little Elk.]
        • Wow, thanks for this. It is a great piece. It also explains a lot. We take for granted a lot of what we learn thinking that it comes directly from the Nation we are interested in. Yet, when we look closely, even the names that we have come to know the tribes by are either names given to the tribes by other tribes, or names given by the Europeans. Take Huron for example, this was not the name of the nation, it is the name given them by the French, as this bit from Wikipedia explains:

          The Wyandot, or Wendat, is an indigenous people of North America, originally from what is now Southern Ontario, Quebec, Canada and Southeast Michigan. They are culturally identified as an Iroquoian group, and were a confederacy of four tribes. They grew corn and sunflowers. Early French explorers called them the Huron, either from the French huron (peasant), or, according to Jesuit Father Gabriel Lallemant, from hure, the rough-haired head of wild boars. The Wyandot homelands, near Georgian Bay, were known as Wendake.

          Other Tribes are also known by names given them by others, like the Sioux. Once again, a quick lookup up in Wikipedia finds that the Sioux derived that name by:

          The name "Sioux" is an abbreviated form of Nadouessioux borrowed into French Canadian from Nadoüessioüak from the early Ottawa exonym: na•towe•ssiwak "Sioux". It was first used by Jean Nicolet in 1640.[3] The Proto-Algonquian form *nātowēwa meaning "Northern Iroquoian" has reflexes in several daughter languages that refer to a small rattlesnake (massasauga, Sistrurus).[6] This information was interpreted by some that the Ottawa borrowing was an insult. However, this proto-Algonquian term most likely is ultimately derived from a form *-ātowē meaning simply "speak foreign language", which was later extended in meaning in some Algonquian languages to refer to the massasauga. Thus, contrary to many accounts, the Ottawa word na·towe·ssiwak never equated the Sioux with snakes. This is not confirmed though, as usage over the previous decades has led to this term having negative connotations to those tribes to which it refers. This would explain why many tribes have rejected this term when referring to themselves.

          Some of the tribes have formally or informally adopted traditional names: the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is also known as the Sicangu Oyate, and the Oglala often use the name Oglala Lakota Oyate, rather than the English "Oglala Sioux Tribe" or OST. (The alternative English spelling of Ogallala is considered improper).[3]

          The Cherokee use seems to be a twisting of the name Tsalagi. Once again, a quick turn to wikipedia finds:

          The spelling "Cherokee" is believed to be from the Cherokee language's name, "Tsalagi" (ᏣᎳᎩ)—this then may have been rendered phonetically in Portuguese (or more likely a Barranquenho dialect, since Hernando de Soto was Extremaduran) as chalaque, then in French as cheraqui, and then by the English as cherokee.

          The word "Cherokee" is a derived word which came originally from the Choctaw trade language. It was derived from the Choctaw word "Cha-la-kee" which means "those who live in the mountains" – or (also Choctaw) "Chi-luk-ik-bi" meaning "those who live in the caves". The name which the Cherokee originally used for themselves, and some still use to this day is Ah-ni-yv-wi-ya (literal translation: "Principle People" or "these are all the human people"). Most American Indian tribes' names for themselves mean approximately the same thing. However, modern Cherokee call themselves Cherokee, or Tsalagi.

          I am sure that if you were to go through Wikipedia or Google, and search on your local tribe, you might find that they too carry the name given to them by others and not the name they know themselves by.

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