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 Moon, 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 told of how humans won 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by one of the best-known and most prolific Native American writers of the early twentieth century—remained unpublished.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 remarkable work, more than eight decades after its completion. Five Eastman descendants contribute essays that offer new and personal perspectives on Charles Eastman’s life and family, his work as an Indigenous artist and writer, and the impact of these stories on today's Dakota communities.
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 Indian, From the Deep Woods to Civilization, and eleven other books.
Gail Johnsen is a retired teacher in upstate New York. She is the great-granddaughter of Charles Eastman.
Sydney Beane (Flandreau Santee Sioux) is an educator, community activist, and documentary filmmaker. He is the great-grandson of Eastman's brother John. Beane lives in Plymouth, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis.
- Size: 5.5" x 8.5"
- Illustrations: 12 b&w
- Pages: 152
- Publication: 2023. Minnesota Historical Society Press.