In the Beginning, the Sun: The Dakota Legend of Creation

In the Beginning, the Sun: The Dakota Legend of Creation

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A never-before-published book by famed Native American author Charles Eastman recounts the stories of the Dakota creation cycle as they were told a century and a half ago.

In the 1860s and 1870s, the boy who would become known as Charles Eastman was growing up in a Dakota community in Canada. On long winter evenings, he listened to elder Smoky Day tell the twelve legends of the Dakota creation cycle. They include stories of the marriage of the Sun and the Earth, the parents of all living things; the animal tribes and their councils; the misdeeds of the trickster Unktomi; the education of the first human, Waceheska; the war that Unktomi fomented between Waceheska and the animals; and much more. These stories describe how humans earned the right to use the bodies of animals for their needs, but only if they respect the animals’ spirits and do not destroy them wantonly.

In the 1880s, as a young man at college, Eastman wrote down the twelve stories. Shortly before his death in 1939, he revised the text for publication, but no book was ever released. For more than 80 years, this manuscript—written by one of the best-known and most prolific Native American writers of the early twentieth century—remained unpublished.

In this new publication, descendants of Charles and his brothers John and David Eastman have come together to present this extraordinary work, more than eight decades after its completion. Gail Johnsen, Charles's great-granddaughter, describes finding this manuscript in the family papers she inherited and turning to her relatives in Minnesota to learn more. Sydney D. Beane, great-grandson of John, outlines Eastman’s career and the history of the Dakota community at Flandrau, South Dakota. Yvonne Wynde, great-granddaughter of David, recounts her early memories of Charles's many relatives and identifies current Dakota practices that reflect the teachings in the legends. Yvonne's daughter Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan offers new perspectives on Charles's work as an Indigenous artist and writer. And Kate Beane, daughter of Sydney, discusses the power and beauty of these teachings for Dakota people today.

Review

"A writer ahead of his time."
—Louise Erdrich, on Charles Eastman
 

About the Author

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa, 1858-1939) was a prolific writer, a physician, an advocate for Native American rights, and the best-known Indigenous person of his day. He was the author of The Soul of the IndianFrom the Deep Woods to Civilization, and eleven other books.

Gail Johnsen, the great-granddaughter of Charles Eastman, has a PhD in linguistics and spent many years as a language teacher. In retirement, she has focused on working on family history, in addition to expanding her efforts in volunteer services to her community. She lives in Hadley in update New York.

Sydney Beane (Flandreau Santee Sioux) is an educator, community activist, and documentary filmmaker. He is the great-grandson of Charles Eastman’s brother John. Beane serves on the boards of Native American Public Telecommunications (Lincoln, Nebraska), Native Public Media (Oakland, California), and Migizi Communications (Minneapolis). He was the co-producer, writer, and director of Native Nations: Standing Together for Civil Rights, a documentary on the American Indian Civil Rights Movement. He is the executive producer of Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian. Syd and his wife Becky currently reside in Plymouth, Minnesota.

Kate Beane (Flandreau Santee Dakota and Muskogee Creek), PhD, is the director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art and serves on the boards of Vision Maker Media and the Native Governance Center; she chairs the board of the Lower Phalen Creek Project in St. Paul. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Alexander Eastman's brother John.

Gabrielle Wynde Tateyuskanskan (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) is a visual artist, writer, and poet who lives in the rural community of Enemy Swim on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota. She is a long-time member of the Oak Lake Writers Society. Tateyuskanskan is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Eastman's brother David.
 

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 18, 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1681342332
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1681342337
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 10.4 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.75 x 0.75 x 8.75 inches

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