What are You Wearing? Lakota Thoughts on Dress

Despite what pop culture wants you to believe, the Lakota nation, and probably all indigenous nations DO NOT run about with one shoulder exposed in fringed buckskin dresses, or skimpy triangle shaped, belly baring tank tops. We are a very modest nation and we raise our daughters to be the same, without making them ashamed of themselves and their beauty.

Traditionally, we wore long dresses with leggings and moccasins, and ¾-length sleeves. It was not about being ashamed of what we had, but rather about respect. Respect of ourselves and respect for others, namely our elders. After all, excessive skin CAN be distracting.

Today, we have dumped (thankfully) the long buckskin dresses and leggings. We dress just as modern as wasicus, in jeans or shorts and t-shirts and modern day footwear. However, there are still some guidelines we must follow. When we dress for Wacipi or ceremony, we must be covered from neck to feet, to be respectful not only to the others in attendance, but to the spirits. When we go out, we must first consider where we are going, whose company we will be in, and what the occasion is. If we are going somewhere where there will be elders, we need to either wear a skirt or dress that is ankle length or at least below the knee; and wear an appropriate shirt.

As a result, every time I get dressed, what I wear is based on where I will be that day. Am I going up to the rez? Or am I hanging around the house, baking bread and pulling weeds? If I go up to the rez, it is just habit for me to put on a skirt, simply because I know that more often than not, I will run into an elder. I once had a clothing faux pas that I am not willing to repeat. As I said, when we are in the presence of elders, we should be dressed with long skirts or at least Capri’s on.

I had gone with my Uncici (mother-in-law) to a relay for life walk in a town north of the reservation, so I had thrown a pair of mid-thigh jean shorts on and a plain tee shirt, and thought no more about it. Well, we got to the destination, and I headed over to a group of people to socialize, and the two people I walked right up to, were an elderly woman and man. I felt as if I were naked. Now I doubt that they saw me as exposed as I felt, but it bothered me, because I know the protocol, and didn’t follow it. I am not sure why I doubted I’d see an elder at this particular event, but it was a lesson that has stayed with me.

I like that we have those guidelines on dress, because it allows us to be respectful for ourselves and others. It lets others know that we were taught the correct way and reflects well on our family name, as well as us individually.

As a Lakota Winyan, it drives me crazy to see the cartoon Pocahontas and all its paraphernalia, with her skimpy dress. It is so far off the mark of how indigenous people dress, it only adds to the over romanticized and incorrect ideas non natives have about Native people.

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