Native Americans treasure nature and earth. The people’s close connection to nature is seen in their calendars, which can be explained and described by the seasons and moons.
Though calendar types vary from tribe to tribe, nearly all tribal calendars begin in the spring. To the Native American people, spring symbolizes the start of a new year through the birth of new plant and animal life.
Wétu — Spring
The Moons of Renewal and Growth
Each spring, the tribal camp began moving to higher ground in anticipation of the snow melt. The men spent their time fixing and creating weapons and resumed their hunting duties. The women spent their time gathering early berries and roots. Spring was also the time for women to repair the tipis. The children enjoyed the outdoors after being confined throughout the winter.
Blokétu — Summer
The Warm Moons
Throughout the summer, the camp moved often to follow the migrating buffalo. Packing, transporting and unpacking the family’s belongings was the responsibility of the women. They were also busy with preparing food and making and setting up of the tipis. The girls received instruction in quillwork and helped prepare food by gathering firewood and water. Boys began honing their hunting skills while hunting small game. The men spent their time making weapons, hunting for wild game and defending the camp. The summer months were also the time for ceremonies and celebrations.
Ptaŋyétu — Autumn
The Moons of Change
In preparation for the cold winter months, the women took time to prepare buffalo meat that the men hunted. Large quantities of firewood were gathered and stored. Before winter arrived, enough dried meat and fruit was collected to fill multiple underground storage caches.
Waníyetu — Winter
The Cold and Dark Moons
Due to the frigid cold, the coming of winter signified the beginning of a quieter time. The camp stayed at a single location throughout the winter months. Women spent their time making and mending clothing. Men took part in raiding parties to ensure their camp’s strength and safety. The children gathered around the warmth of the fire to listen to the stories of their elders, preserving history for another generation. Winter was also a time for family, games, dancing and visiting one another.
The Lakota (Sioux) identifies 13 months in a year because of the 13 new moons; each moon has 28 days from one new moon to the next.
The Lakota (Sioux) observed the changes occurring with each new moon. Each moon was identified in descriptive terms by the occurrences of that month. The name of the moon was never permanently set due to new moons gradually moving to a different time each winter. This explains why you might see alternate names for each moon.
Lakota moons did not follow today’s 12-month calendar. Instead, the moons followed each season. Spring, summer and fall each had three moons, while winter had four.
Below is the breakdown based on today’s calendar according to the Lakota Language Consortium.
Wiótheȟika wí — Moon of Hard Times
During this time of year, everyone experienced difficulties. Food was in short supply. The weather was fierce. Yet, the Lakota people prevailed.
Čhaŋnápȟopa wí — Moon of Popping Trees
As the new moon arrived, the Lakota people noticed a great change. Trees on the Great Plains popped and burst as their branches became laden with winter snow and ice.
Ištáwičhayazaŋ wí — Moon of Snow Blindness
Spring was on the horizon. However, the next moon phase continued the cold winter tradition. Now, the people were subjected to blinding sun rays reflecting off the snow.
Wihákakta čhépapi wí — Moon of Fattening
This moon was named for the female animals. During this time, those carrying babies were at their largest before giving birth.
Čhaŋwápetȟó wí — Moon of Green Leaves
Warmer weather made its way onto the prairies in this moon phase and the pleasant temperatures meant it was time to plant.
Wípazukȟa wašté wí — Moon of Good Berries
As hunters and gatherers, the Lakota people gauged seasons by the types of food they could find. During this moon, the berries were fresh, tasty and red.
Čhaŋpȟásapa wí — Moon of Chokecherries Blackening
Chokecherries and other berries grew sápa — black — as the summer wore on. This moon phase also marked a time for one of the most sacred Lakota rituals … the Sun Dance.
Wasútȟuŋ wí — Moon of Harvest
This phase was a time to harvest what had been planted. The Lakota people were great stewards of the land and used every part of their harvest.
Čhaŋwápe ğí wí — Moon of Brown Leaves
The weather began to change, and soon the trees responded. This phase was named for the beautiful shades of autumn leaves.
Čhaŋwápe kasná wí — Moon of Falling Leaves
Autumn weather settled into the Great Plains at this time. As the Lakota people prepared for winter, the trees also prepared by dropping all their leaves.
Waníyetu wí — Moon of Winter
This moon brought about the cooler temperatures. Everyone started thinking about winter.
Tȟahékapšuŋ wí — Moon of Shedding Horns
Cold winter temperatures and blistering winds were upon the prairie during this time. However, the Lakota people noted the moon by the deer shedding their horns.
Lakota Language Consortium (2012). Lakȟótiya Wóglaka Po! Speak Lakota! www.lakhota.org
Lakota Language Consortium (2008). New Lakota Dictionary