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The Story of ‘Wapaha win’ Bernice White Hawk



I am Bernice White Hawk, an eighty-three year old Traditional Lakota Woman. I’m not going to tell you about all eighty years of my life. I’m just going to tell you about these things that are important to me now. These things I am proud of. 

My father was from Rosebud. His name was Raymond Eagle Hawk. His mother’s name was Alice Skunk Eagle Hawk. My grandfather’s name was Louis Eagle Hawk. My great-grandfather’s name was John Eagle Hawk and they came from the Chief He Dog Band. My great-grandfather’s Brother was Daniel Medicine Horse. When Sitting Bull went to Canada, Medicine Horse went with him. That was where he met his wife. They went to Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana where they stayed. My mother was from Pine Ridge. Her name was Louisa Cut Grass Eagle Hawk. Her mother’s name was Bertha Plenty Wounds. Her father’s name was Fred Cut Grass. 



I was born to my parents in Manderson, SD. An old lady delivered me. Her Indian name was “Makigli win” which means “Location Woman.” She told my mother I would live to be an old woman. She gave me the Indian name “Wapaha win” which means “War Bonnet Woman.” She prayed for me to live long and she said I would have white hair. 

When I was with my mother and father I was happy. I was never sad and I never say boring. Then we lived with extended family. We all stayed together, prayed together and we were happy together. I went to school at Holy Rosary Mission School. I did not stay there to long because I was not happy there. During that time there was no work, so we left Manderson. We lived in Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. After moving around we came back to the Reservation for a little while. 

It was 1949 and I met Eugene White Hawk at a Rodeo. On April 18th, 1950 we were married at a Catholic Church. We had six children: Ardegene, Martyna, Vina, Eugenio, Ray and Inez. Eugene went to Dallas Texas for vocation school. Eugene went to Chicago and worked for a welding company. By that time we had Inez our sixth child. Then we all came back to Los Angeles, CA for relocation. The children and I did not like it over there. We bought a car and came back and went to Rapid City, SD for five years. During that time Eugene worked as a carpenter at Buckingham Saw Mill. In 1962 my father passed away. In 1971 my mother-in-law passed away. My father-in-law said, “Stay home. Don’t go anywhere else.” He gave us land and a house to take care of our children. He died when he was 91 years old. In 1974 my mother passed away. 

My children all left for school. Eugene pushed them all to go and get an education. All my children have been Pow Wow people. I lost one son, his name was Ray. He was in the army. I have a granddaughter who was a Champion Jingle Dress Dancer. Her name was Lynnette Goggles. She won Miss Black Hills Nation in Rapid City, SD. She also won Miss Indian America, second runner up, at United Tribes Bismarck, N.D. She was also a Police Officer for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Public Safety and a C.I. (Criminal Investigator). Her mother, Ardegene, was also a police officer. One of my daughters, Vina, I am very proud of her. In 1972 she was a Mormon Missionary. She took part in the 1986 Original Ride of the Memorial Big Foot Ride. She was the only woman. At that time her son Joe was ten years old and went with her. My children and grand-children have been in the Memorial Big Foot Ride since then. My son Eugenio was a Police Officer of twenty-five years. Today he is Chief of Police of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Public Safety. In 1996 Eugenio, Martyna and my grandchildren Burt, Kaline and Victoria White Hawk went to Hungary on an airplane for a Horseback Archery Competition.

In 1973 I was at the Riot at Custer. I also joined AIM in 1973. At that time there were a lot of things going on with the Tribal Council. At the same time, I demonstrated at the BIA in Pine Ridge.  In 1973, my family was at the Wounded Knee Occupation. Russell Means and Dennis Banks had charges brought against them and I stood up for them. Eventually they were acquitted of all charges. My husband Eugene was a Treaty Man. In 1974 to 1975 they were trying to talk to the President. A bunch of Treaty people went to Washington, DC. They would only talk to one person for five minutes. In 1976 my family and a bunch of Treaty people took part in The Longest Walk. The walk was from San Francisco, CA to Washington, DC.  In 1999 we started “The Grandmother Society.” It is a grass roots organization we started after the Red Cloud tribal building take over. We are Freedom Fighters.

In 1966 I started Sundancing and I was the first woman to pierce in Pine Ridge. I am also very proud to have our own Sundance. We started it in the year 2000. It is called “Pte San Win Wiwangwacipi”, which means “White Buffalo Calf Woman Sundance.” I have now been Sundancing for 50 years. In eighty-three years of my life, sometimes I am having a hard time. Sometimes I am happy. My children have come first and now my grandchildren. They all have their own homes, jobs and families. Sometimes bad things happen to me and sometimes good things happen. It was Eugene that kept me strong. He always talks good to me. We raised our children together with both good and strong grandparents from the White Hawk and Eagle Hawk families. 

I am a Veterans’ daughter, a Veterans’ niece, a Veterans’ sister, a Veterans’ wife, a Veterans’ mother, a Veterans’ Aunt and a Veterans’ grand-mother. My father Raymond was a WWI Veteran in 1918. Also in 1918 my fathers’ uncles were fighting. In that time, Daniel Medicine Blanket was killed overseas and Henry Medicine Blanket was wounded and came back. They were Forgotten Warriors. My Brother Eugene Eagle Hawk was a WWII Veteran. My husband Eugene White Hawk is a WWII Veteran in Army Air Force. My son Ray was 6 years Veteran of The Army National Guard in the Persian Gulf. My daughter Inez is a Veteran of four years in the US Navy. My grandson Burt was a Marine Corps Veteran. I have two White Hawk nephews that are Vietnam Veterans. One received a Purple Heart. 

All over I have friends and relatives. There are a lot of different tribes in my family; half Lakota half Eskimo. They are Goshutte Shoshone in Nevada and Kiowa from Oklahoma. There are Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone, Sac and Fox, Taos Pueblo, Hopi and one from the Blood tribe in Canada and also Thailand. Eugene has a daughter who is half Lakota, half Potawatomi from Kansas. My blood is everywhere. I have one brother, Chris Eagle Hawk. He is my mother’s sister’s son that she raised. He’s still here. Sometimes I really depend on him. He comforts me. Chief Leonard Crow Dog is my brother. I have 4 Hunka brothers: Floyd Running Hawk in Pine Ridge, Bruce Black in AZ, Chris Smith in FL and Pete Phillips in SC (Cherokee). I have other Hunka sons: Chubbs Thunder Hawk, Andy Elk Shoulder (Cheyenne), Tom Cook in NY (Mohawk), Mauri Kingi from New Zealand, Sam Spencer (Navajo), and Stephen H. Smith in NC (Cherokee), and a Hunka grandson, Matt Stoops in GA. My Hunka nephew is The Pipe Keeper, Orville Looking Horse. I also have 2 Hunka sisters: Emma Waters and Marie Randall, from Wanblee, SD. They are both part of our Grandmother Society with me here on the reservation. 

This year will be sixty-five years of marriage, and we’re still married. We have 28 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great-grandchildren. We have 5 generations of us together today. For 50 years I have been a Pipe Carrier. I have 45 years of sobriety. I am not a perfect woman. I have not had a perfect marriage. I am proud of where I have come from. I am proud of who I am. I am proud to be an American Indian. 

So this is my story for people. I have people who respect me. I have families everywhere. California, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. I am a Horse Woman. My family has had a lot of horses. I wanted to cry one time. My daughter told me not to cry… that I have family and friends everywhere. I was born poor and I will remain poor, but humble, until I die.

So that woman who gave me a name, she told my mother, “Someday she will have a white hat.” Here I thought it was a real hat, but, I realize now it was white hair!

Mitakue Oyasin

(Amanda L. Rankin can be reached at

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