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Native American Religion

Lakota: The Circle

One of the most profound symbols in the Lakota culture is the circle. Being keen observers, the people realized the circle appears on many things no matter where you look in the world and beyond. The Sun is round. The Moon is round. The Earth is round. The seasons follow each other in a perpetual circle. And life itself is a circle, from birth to childhood to adulthood to old age to death, only to have another born to take the place of the one gone. It is for this seemingly endless circle of life that the Lakota sometimes call their existence "the hoop."

Sun Image

Years ago, the living space within the tipi was round, made from a circle of poles. The tipis were set also in a larger circle, and when there were many people and many tipis, the homes were set a circle within a circle.

The words of Lame Deer on the subject of the circle...

With us the circle stands for the togetherness of people who sit with one another around a fire, relatives and friends united in peace, while the pipe passes from hand to hand. All the families in the village were in turn circles within a larger circle, part of the larger hoop of the nation. The nation was only a part of the universe, in itself circular...circles within circles within circles, with no beginning and no end. To us this is beautiful and fitting, symbol and reality at the same time, expressing the harmony of nature and life. Our circle is timeless, flowing; it is new life emerging from death - life winning out over death.


Aspects of everyday life embrace the circle. Art includes the image in many different medium. Dance is done in a circle. Games, tools, hunting and war strategies, adornment, many things, all based in the round.

The symbol of the circle also suggests the concept of family. The traditional Lakota family is called tiyospaye and includes extended family - aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins and friends that were "made family." So one is a member of an immediate family, a broader circle of family and finally, the entire nation. Beyond that is the circle of the universe, which includes plants, animals, rocks, stars and all things, which also are considered "family."

This circle can be seen as one cohesive, harmonious organism that can be summed up as "life." The phrase "all my relatives" is common and heard often, and explains simply but profoundly the concept of interrelated being.

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