25 min read

Are We Wrong About the American Horse?

New findings push back the origins of American horse culture. The secret? Knowing what questions to ask.
Are We Wrong About the American Horse?

Saul here. How did horses come to North America?

It should be an easy question. Europeans didn’t come to America all that long ago, and when they did, they wrote a lot down. Every wave of colonists sent home reports of life in the lands they had found — among potential converts, active customers or the recently conquered.

From these letters, journals and reports, we have an astonishingly vivid picture of many parts of the great Encounter that began around the middle of the 15th Century and how the shockwaves of the sudden connection between Europe and the Americas ripped both continents apart.

And from these documentary sources, we can peek into worlds of startling vividness.

We can visit the urbane Mexica nobles in their seminaries around Lake Texcoco, who crafted the antecedents of Mexican Catholicism. The Great Lakes imperial republic of the Six Nations, who gave Europeans their first experience with democracy as a practical science. The Pueblo townsfolk who came to the mission villages springing up in what was called New Mexico — came to realize, gradually and then collectively, that they had made a terrible mistake.

And who — as I learned it in school — set the great mustang loose upon the Plains of North America, where the Plains Indians and the festive cowboy could later gather them up?

As that story goes, in 1680, the Pueblo mission communities — till then, the furthest extension of Spanish imperial presence into the brown desert heart of North America — rebelled against, massacred and drove out the Spanish friars, soldiers and colonists.

And then — having been barred from riding horses themselves, and therefore have no use for them — the Pueblo set the horses free, and Apaches, who worked as stablehands and long traded horses with (or stole them from) the Spanish, also disseminated Spanish horses into the Plains.

And there (you are nodding along now, presumably), they led to a cultural and military revolution among such famous peoples as the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Lakota, who took to horseback in a manner often compared to the peoples of the Eurasian steppe, mobile villages that followed the herds, and who in military operations tended to blur the line between the hunt and war.

This story is so well disseminated that it is tough to remember just how little evidence there is. There are a few accounts from the erstwhile rulers of the Santa Fe colony. Then, 70 years later, Apaches and Comanches regularly show up on horseback. The Spanish connect the two events; their interpretation, centuries later, has calcified into received wisdom.

And just like calcite, it tends to crumble into little pieces when you rub on it.

I spoke with two experts — William Taylor and Yvette Running Horse Collin, who collaborated on a recent paper that pushed the first appearance of horses among the tribes back before the Pueblo revolt. The following interview exists in two parts and with some interpolations, but it's a fascinating glimpse into how indigenous knowledge and inquiry can help reframe existing ideas. We'll talk about the findings first, and then we'll dig into the philosophy.

It's Heat Death, everybody. Stay with us.

Can you explain what — and who — gets left out of the conventional narrative of the West?

William Taylor, University of Colorado, Boulder: This unique contradiction exists here. Across the world, when people think of horse cultures, they immediately think of the West.

But the history of when and how indigenous folks in this part of the world got horses has been built primarily out of one kind of dataset: the records written by Europeans in colonizing, minimizing and stripping away indigenous connections to the landscape, their history and culture.

[Europeans] tried to remove those contributions from the popular consciousness while at the same time writing the narrative of a very late — and a very European-centered — integration of horses into indigenous societies across the West.

Can you re-tell that conventional story?

One extraordinarily common inflection point often chosen as the origin of that story is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

That was when early Spanish colonists in New Mexico — who, of course, had brought horses and other kinds of livestock and had been permanently settled there since 1599 — were forcibly expelled through an armed uprising by Pueblo folks.

So suddenly — in that narrative — the horses are up for grabs.

This was the first moment the Spanish were no longer a variable, as it pertained to control over horses.

Many Euro-American folks like me have keyed in on this moment as a jumping-off point. There was a decade or more in which Spanish colonists were no longer there to exclude native peoples from access to horses.

And so (the narrative goes) that period was a bonanza for indigenous peoples finally getting access to horses and then disseminating them more widely out of the American Southwest and into places like the Great Plains, the Rockies and beyond.

That's the story we set out to test and explore, armed with some tools we've honed over the years working in horse cultures and periods in other areas of the world. [Editor’s note: The new science on the origins of horse-human interactions comes from studies into ancestral horse cultures in the Eurasian steppe, and I wrote more about that here.]

We looked first for archaeological horse remains across the western United States. Our initial concerns were that there wouldn't be a rich archaeological record of early indigenous-associated horse remains. But we immediately discovered that — because of existing assumptions in the science and museum world — many of those really important ancient horses hadn't been understood and documented as part of indigenous cultural heritage.

For example, we had a paper from one of our first forays into this, in which a horse came forward in the New York Times “Utah. a family discovers an Ice Age horse in their backyard.”

We were reading through the article, and it mentioned arthritis and the advanced age of this horse.

Which put up some red flags for us. Because typically, an animal living in the wild will not survive to an advanced age with a major impediment to their mobility.

Right, it will get eaten.

Yeah. So, we went and had a look at that horse.

And lo and behold, not only does this horse have the skeletal indicators that would tell us that it was ridden — but when we poked into the case, we found that this horse seemed to have been intentionally buried. We identified a pit that was glossed over in that initial exploration. And we identified cultural materials, such as flaked stone, that would point towards an indigenous cultural affiliation.

So, we did a full set of analyses and determined: yes, this was a domestic horse. It dates to the 17th or 18th Century and predates the Mormon [and therefore European] chapter of Utah's history.

So, what does that tell you?

That's where we started to wonder whether there was a richer archaeological record that may have yet to be recognized or understood.


Because of how it was being encountered by the scientific infrastructure and cultural heritage framework, there were a lot of assumptions there! 'Okay, here's the horse, and it must be either a 20th Century rancher's horse — or some ancient Ice Age horse.' Like, those are the two bins that it goes into.

So, we expanded our frame to look with an open mind at any horse that we could in museum collections across the West. And we set out to explore whether there was more to the story.

And we tried to build our assessment of how old something was or whether it connected to indigenous cultures from the ground up rather than from us starting with preconceived ideas.

Take me through what that looks like in practice.

We applied a wide range of techniques. One of those is osteology, or using skeletal indicators that show us aspects of an animal's life history: what activities it was doing, what health problems it encountered, and what health care it might have received.

We looked at stable and strontium isotope data, which allows us to look at [what the horse was eating and where its water came from when] the animal's tissues were forming.

Then we also can conduct genomic sequencing of each of those specimens, which tells us if the horse is male or female or what its genomic makeup might be. We applied this across a wide swath of the Western US.

We discovered from a sample of a few dozen ancient horses that we had a number of precision-dated horses with extraordinarily high confidence to long before this keystone date of the 17th Century Pueblo Revolt.

Radiocarbon dating is an estimate whenever you do it. But we have horses from places as far as Idaho, Wyoming, and Kansas, which are consistently radiocarbon dated to the earliest part of the 17th Century.

So, when we processed our collective group of dates, we could do some modeling. Given some conservative assumptions, we asked what's the likeliest early date we can infer from this dataset. Individual horses from the early 1600s can be identified in Idaho, Wyoming and Kansas.

So, they were all across the West by that turn of the 17th Century.

To recap: you found that there had already been a widespread dispersal of apparently human-linked horses by nearly 100 years before the great dispersal was supposed to have happened.

Exactly. In many of these areas — southern Idaho, for example — we're talking about a matter of two centuries before the first European guy with a notebook would have come over there and written down their thoughts about what was happening between people and horses.

And so, the inferences we can draw from this dataset tell us that, in most areas of the American West, the antiquity of that human-horse relationship significantly predates that [historic] First Encounter.

The different archaeological analyses that we did tell us that this was not just wild horses wandering northwards or — like some of the ideas you encounter in the literature — that there was like a secret, forgotten Spanish expedition. We can establish, based on isotopes, that, in many cases, these horses were born and raised locally.

Some of these horses have osteological indicators that they were used for riding, and other horses have indicators that they received special veterinary care. They were integrated into ceremonial traditions. In one case, we identified a horse that — in early to mid-17th Century Kansas — had been fed supplementary supplementally with corn to get through a tough winter based on the isotope signature we found in analyzing the teeth.

That dated to around 1650 or so — before the Pueblo Revolt.

When you said you're taking advantage of rising expertise and tools used to develop other horse cultures when we don't have documentary evidence — I assume you're talking about the steppe?

Much of my prior work has been in Mongolia and the Eurasian steppes. And actually, there's an interesting parallel there.

For a while, much of what was inferred about the antiquity of the human-horse relationship in Mongolia derived from Chinese historical records. Which have a similar flavor of minimizing, antagonism, and deep-seated ancient hostility that seeks to strip the credit and the antiquity of that relationship in Mongolia.

Right, which rhymes with "they only got the horses because we slipped up." So, how did you tell a broader story from the cultural and historiographic side?

In addition to our incredible partnership with [coauthor] Yvette [Running Horse Collin] and the Lakota, we work carefully in connecting our analysis there with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers from the Southwest from the plains — native archeologists connected with folks like the Pawnee, the Comanche, or the Pueblo that helped us recognize that these patterns we saw in the archaeological record were the same that you would find if you followed those oral traditions about when and how folks first encountered the horse.

And so even though we're working with all these different nations and cultures from across a broad region, that thread of the convergence of archaeology and oral tradition is a powerful link that unites all these different perspectives.

We started with the idea of an overreliance on one form of documentary evidence — written records. The other side of that seems to be an exclusion of oral records, which seem like just a different form of documentary evidence.

Absolutely. But archeologists have been oblivious to that fact for a long time. And part of the reason is that archaeology as a discipline arose out of that colonization process. It has not been interested in considering or elevating ideas from indigenous perspectives.

So, you're saying you found evidence for an earlier dispersal of horses and horse knowledge along existing trade networks from Spanish Mexico or something?

Obviously, the genetic data will only tell us a little about how horses got there. We can see that these horses we've identified are primarily of Iberian ancestry, which is the inference we offered in the paper. Perhaps there was this pulse of earlier exchange through indigenous networks.

There are, of course, a lot of indigenous peoples who say that they never lost the horse.

It's also important to note that our partner nations here might have a different perspective and story on that relationship with the horse.

We try to stick to the data — and that's something that archaeologists have not traditionally been very good at. But I think it was one piece of this work.

With so many different perspectives, it's been essential for us to find a consensus that is moving this aspect of the story that all the perspectives converge on.

Saul again. If horses came over earlier — well, just how much earlier? And might we broaden the question and ask how we know they ever left?

I first encountered Yvette Running Horse Collin as a rumor — an Indigenous activist I’d interviewed at the Standing Rock protests in 2016 had gone to work on a farm she operated in Alabama, where she was attempting to breed the Indigenous American horse.

That led me to her intriguing Ph.D. thesis for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in which Running Horse Collin argues that there was no hard evidence behind the story of the Europeans introducing horses to the Americas — and that it was equally plausible that, as many Plains Indians have long argued, horses and horse cultures never went extinct in North America.

This would suggest, in essence, a dual discovery (at least) of horse cultures in the steppe and on the Plains, something like the parallel discovery of city-dwelling, metallurgy and empire on both sides of the Atlantic.

The paper she published last month in Science is a work of great cultural fusion, drawing as it does on work by Taylor and his colleagues who study the Eurasian horse cultures. This practice uses a unique mix of oral history and cutting-edge archeology.

In her conversation with Heat Death, Running Horse, Collin argues that European ways of knowing risk painting themselves into a corner — from which Indigenous perspectives can help them escape.

Yvette, what is the broader message of these findings? Both historically and methodologically, it complicates our picture.

Yvette Running Horse Collin: Recorded history only goes so far and was done from a certain perspective. So, we've been there for — well, according to our elders, from time immemorial. According to our knowledge keepers — tens of thousands of years. So, we have an understanding of what happened before. For us, it's the Horse Nation, shunga wakan.

We know its evolutionary patterns, and we know its migratory patterns. But there's never been a place for us. Not in archaeology — and not in genomics, where we're invisible. And therefore, so have our horses been invisible. We haven't been a part of this conversation. And so, it's time now to change that.

And if we want to understand the horse-human relationship, we must go a lot farther back then than this.

SE: That immediately points to a methodological question. As I've been covering Indian country and Indian history, I've heard people say, "Nothing about us without us." What does this say about how to do a fruitful and respectful collaboration?

Both sides need to want this.

We have a review team. And it was set up to honor our traditions around shunga wakan, the transmission of traditional knowledge and sciences and sacred knowledge.

So that was key, and our collaborators respected that. That is very important. Our elder review board is made up of traditional leaders, and they know their stuff. And so, they weren't just sitting there saying yes, you can use our samples. They're participating in this and guiding this.

It was very clear to us early on; this would be a process, and this would be a long-term collaboration. You can't just insert something new and expect people to understand what you're saying — to be able to absorb that and process that. And so now, at least to this point, there's been this clear divide between the sciences and academia and history.

You have indigenous peoples on one side and Western-trained academics and scientists on the other.

And that — that isn't going to work anymore.

Can you explain how Lakota science looks at things differently from a more European approach?

Our sciences are based on sustainability. They come from a different perspective. We look at relationality. We don't look at what makes us different as a starting point — we look at what brings us together. We have used this process successfully for many 1000s of years. And we approach genomics in the same way. We don't call it that, but we certainly know how to work with the code for life. That was something this group of traditional leaders felt like exploring — scientifically.

They felt that the history of the horse would necessarily bring up the parts of connection and the parts of disconnection, and that would allow for a real discussion, and that discussion would benefit all life.

Another thing that's different about indigenous sciences: It's very purpose-driven. There's got to be a much larger purpose that serves your community; it serves the species that you protect and serves all life. This was such a starting point for us. And we wanted the strongest team possible on all fronts.

Some people think that when you collaborate with indigenous peoples, it lowers the quality of science. No way. We're not interested in that; it won't be what the world needs now. So, we were looking for the top partners that we could find to match our ability in this area.

What did that look like in practice?

Our elder review board wanted to understand if this [horse study] would be important for our youth.

For the youth?

We're trying to lay a foundation seven generations forward. And so, in participating and helping to stimulate this discussion, are we serving future generations? And it was decided that, yes, this was the case.

You asked Will: Would this infer that Spanish horses came up sooner? One of the things that I realized about a year into it is when I say horse and you say horse, we're talking about different things based on our reference points.

How have things changed with regard to mainstream governmental or university acceptance of indigenous ways of knowing, particularly around the history of the horse?

Until this study, we weren't part of the conversation, right?

Right now, the world seems ready for this.

They're paying attention. They're opening. People are starting to say; we might need some help here. Even Biden in 2021 — [the White House Commission on Environmental Quality] put out an MOU stating that federal agencies now had to include traditional knowledge and work with native peoples in their policy. That's something I never thought I would see. And that same office just put out guidelines for helping to make this happen.

UNESCO, they're asking for indigenous peoples to step forward. ‘If you guys have something right, let us know,’ because climate change is happening. This is one thing that our traditional leaders are watching, noting, and saying now's the time. Go forward. Let's have this conversation.

The Lakota always follow the horse; it's never been different for us. And so we're allowing it to lead this discussion now. And we're confident it will do what it's always done for us and around the world. The horses are a unifier, and they won't let us down this time, either.

So what is the bigger picture here? You're gesturing towards something larger than that.

Our gift, honestly, is the process. Both sides realized this as we started to work together, and that's how authentic our collaboration has been. Right? Neither side tried to silence the other. You know, we — this has never been done before. And there's great value in that because of the discussions we can have, right? This is what we're excited about.

What does it do to your science — if you’re not talking about starting from that assumption of separation? And how does asking the Lakota question let you do something different?

For this particular study, the Lakota question wasn't asked.


We would ask a question in a different way.

What is the Lakota question?

How much of the horse is the same?

Hmm. How does that contrast with how conventional academic science would have asked that question?

They would look at the samples and say, ‘Well, at least from a genomics perspective, determining what's the same isn't going to give you the information you're looking for. You're going to look at the variance, the part that looks different, and you're going to work within that part.”


[Saul here, with a quick aside. It took me a long time to understand what she meant, but I have it now. Here are two mildly drug-themed examples.

First: I just published a piece on The Hill about surprising brain activity at the point of death. In that study, I mentioned that scientists had found that the brains of rats contain the power psychedelic DMT — but that, although rats and humans are very similar, we cannot argue from these results that human brains do the same.

Or: In 2018, Congress accidentally legalized marijuana when they legalized "hemp," a plant that is the same species for all intents and purposes. Over the past five years, that decision — predicated on the idea that the two things were separate and could be kept apart — has led to the quiet reversal of marijuana prohibition across America, especially in the red states.

These two somewhat silly examples offer two case studies: over-focus on variation over relationality gets you, I think — you can handily carve reality into small pieces, but making an overarching leap, even an obvious one, gets harder and harder as silos get smaller.

Anyway: back to the interview.


So, we have these two ways of looking at the world: are they opposite or complementary?

YRHC: Let's take, as an example, our work in relationality.

In this case, over 99 percent of the horse genome for these samples was the same. Less than 1 percent Is that variant. But that's where the analysis focused. And that's where they're saying, 'Okay, we see that they're Spanish, and we see that they're European.'

Well, you put that together, and you got 100 percent. That has value! And so, we know how to work within that 99 percent. That looks the same with the current technology, and that's our realm. We've been focusing on that realm for thousands of years and know how to work within it. And if Western science knows how to work within that other realm, what do we have when we put it together?

So, what does that look like? Once you start looking at the sameness, what tools do you use to investigate that?

We did not create external measurement tools the same way that Western science does today. We had very specific training systems for our scientists, pretty rigorous. You have to have a very solid character; our societies were honed-in very carefully in our training. And so it was interesting for me to have both types of training now.

What could our future scientists be like if we had all these different types of training together? Us as scientists — we serve our community. That's the same. These other scientists, in general, serve the community; they serve the public. So for us, what scientists always ask is, 'Am I doing enough to serve my community.'

We extend that to all our relations, right? That includes the Horse Nation. If we see something that's not aligned, if we know something's not accurate, and things and things are getting creatures, life is getting hurt – and as soon as we find that opening, we're going to take it, right? That's part of our responsibility toward that creature. We have the same for the buffalo. We have certain life forms that we stand for.

Where does this point towards? If we're complicating the narrative of the horse in the Americas — and if many nations across the continent have a narrative of their horses being much older and maybe having survived the Ice Age, which is not the conventional narrative — how do we move forward on that?

We're not slowing down at all. Our team is excited; we're ready, we're expanding. Our elders have called for all horse societies to join us within the Americas and around the globe. Nobody needs to be left out of this story anymore.

And I know for us, for example, the Lakota — we don't leave our horses. I want you to think about that. Look at the way that Western science has charted human migratory patterns all over the world. There's so much here. Lakota don't leave their horses. I'm just going to leave that there for you to think about that.

Because the pattern, right, is that everything has to start in Africa. And it all has to go over that bridge.

Just keep that for yourself in the back of your mind.

A Dakota academic I crossed paths with a while ago told me English is a language for cutting things into pieces and quick understanding. In Dakota, you must listen for a long time before understanding it.

Our traditional leaders are looking at what's causing the imbalance. And they're saying, 'We're going to follow this, which will help us to get rebalanced together."

We don't just look out for ourselves. I have to look out for you. I have to look out for your family. That's the way we are. And now I've been over in France. I got to look out for them. As one of my colleagues said, 'It's a lot of responsibility to be Lakota!'

And I said, ‘It is, but we believe in it.’

This is a study, a long-term collaboration, that will reverberate positively throughout the sciences, right? And if we can learn how to work together, remember what I told you, we're 100 percent together. We can apply it to all scientific realms if we can learn how to do that. And that's what the world needs right now.

Does it bother you that these horses are from the early 1600s, not from much earlier than that?

We're not worried in the slightest. We know with us in the picture, we are going to get to the bottom of this. We are going to understand the history of the horses in the Americas.

It won't work anymore to act like we're not there. And to act like our horses are not there. To automatically categorize the older samples as Spanish, 'Because everybody knows all the horses went extinct in the Americas.'

That wasn't done in this part of the study. This is just the beginning. But if we want to understand what happened, we have to look at the areas where bias and assumption might have crept in and make a place for it and open that up.

Is this finding a step toward the Ice Age survival hypothesis?

I'll speak to you on behalf of the elder review team because they were just in France with us for a week preparing for the conference. They are a key part of the visionary process for this. And they see this as a first step. And we have many more steps to go because we're not trying to do this alone. We're trying to do this together. We're trying to communicate between scientific realms—different scientific systems. And we're trying to communicate cross-culturally, globally.

So if this is primarily the language and how people will hear the message, then so be it. So in that way, I was saying I'm not worried about it. I'm not scared of that. Because even though, as you said, this step might not seem to get us here — they're not worried. They know it's going to be a process.

One of my tasks was -- when they asked me to accept this opportunity — one of our coauthors is Joseph American Horse. He is a head knowledge keeper for our people and one of our traditional leaders. He's the grandson of American Horse, who you read in all the history books, right? The treaty signer.

He said to me, “Takoxha, Granddaughter, unci maka (grandma earth) is crying. And a Lakota always stands up for unci maka.”

He said, ‘You know, I was there.’ He meant that he went to Europe in the 1980s when he was tribal chairman and was working to get support for protecting the Black Hills.[1]  He said, 'I was there. And they didn't understand me, and I didn't understand them.'

And he wasn't speaking about English. He was saying their worldviews and perspectives were so different, right? That's what he was inferring. And he said, 'And we wanted to understand each other. We did. But we were having trouble. Challenges.'

And he said, ‘I think that you can understand them. And I think they can understand you.’

He said, ‘So we need you to go and do this. We need you to find a way that we can communicate together. Because life depends on this. So now you go, and then you come home to us.’


So, this was my mandate. And so being there in France and working and developing this collaboration was always with me every day I went in.

And our team has done a wonderful job. This is not easy. And to have somebody enter your laboratory who has a different knowledge base? And who stands in it? This is our world, and this is how it is for us. And it's a different framework.

Imagine discussing the horse with this type of team behind me. Right. And, for me to say, wow, we're talking about different things here. Even when you talk about horse species — we don't do it like that. Right.

I don't know how many — it depends on the scientist you're speaking to; they have all these categories, species, subspecies of horses — we don't break it apart like that. So Horse Nation is Horse Nation, and it evolves naturally as you and I evolve, right? You go to another country for a year, and your makeup will change. That's how it goes.

But I mean: Horse Nation is Horse Nation and Horse Nation also takes different aspects in different places. How do you get to interesting questions by starting from that wholeness?

YRHC: Well, the distinctions are not necessarily the important part to us. They happen, but they are a natural part of life. My child will have a slightly different lung capacity than I did when I was born, right?

We have different ways we have to be strong and survive. Diversity for us is not a negative.

The same applies to animal species. If horses want to mix, mix. If they want to create a relationship, that's respected by us. 'It's not; oh my gosh, keep that horse away. It's from somewhere else.' We didn't do it like that.

So as horses evolved because environmental conditions changed, we're very aware of those shifts. We're very aware that the horse size shifted, even when colonization began to happen, and changed the size of our horses. We have our type of documentation about that.

[Editor's note: Her point here seems to be that if there were indigenous Lakota horses, they would have begun to take on DNA from the new Spanish herd — regardless of where the rest of their genome came from or how it got there.]

Even though we didn't have direct contact as early as other Native nations, we knew that change was coming. Why? Because the animals showed us that with their behavior, the herds and their patterns were affected.

These are the types of things that have to be understood if we want to understand the horse: migratory patterns, horse-human relationships, how they, where they went, as the climate changed.

Anything that exists is from a really short moment in time, from our perspective.

And that was already when the pushing was so much that all life forms were changing. We had to move. We didn't do it like that and weren't that way with our horses until we all had to run. We had to move, stay alive, and protect each other.

And if you look at the way the Lakota handled things historically. What [European record keepers] value in us is how good fighters we were. And that was a last resort for us. The Oglala are peacekeepers and negotiators; if we do our job well, war is avoided. The things they admire about us — which is honestly not what we think is most admirable — is when the pushing became so great, we had to turn and fight.

But we never wanted to take out any life form completely. All life has a place. If I hurt you, I hurt myself. That's one of our key teachings. So we didn't want any of this to happen. We still don't want any of it to happen.

And so, our elder knowledge keepers have been waiting for that moment, and they never stopped trying. You'll find our leaders going to Washington over and over again. We say the same thing over and over again, and we're saying the same thing now.

But we will say it in a way that we hope the world can hear.

So -- at least in the conventional Western narrative based on the winter count pictographs — that the Lakota came to the Black Hills in 1776, roughly, so you argue there was a decent chance that they were mounted on the plains long before anybody on the West had thought and that they were in the Black Hills earlier too?

Of course. Absolutely.

But again, remember: we're trying to be very respectful of the Western system. So, do they want to go in increments? Okay, we'll go in increments. It's funny — I don't mean to laugh at people, but it is funny for us. Because they still don't understand us.

I mean, we moved. We moved seasonally, regularly. So, when they see us, but they didn't see us a month or two months before — that's to be expected. When we moved, we cared for life and managed the area with great purpose.

You want Lakota moving, right? Because we kept things healthy. So yes, these explorers or settlers or other chroniclers, wherever they were, would run into us, or they would run into somebody who knew about us.

And think about how difficult translating is and how poor earlier translators were! These people write their ideas but have no context or background. They don't understand our way of living and doing things. If you want to live sustainably, you don't stay in one place too long because you change the biodiversity too much. Right? You dirty the water. The plants around you get worn out.

So we moved because of our sustainable scientific systems. And so, when they run into us and say they were, 'they showed up in the 1700s' — well, I think you showed up in the 1700s! And you didn't understand this is how we do it.

So, we have a lot to clear up, but we're trying to be as respectful as we can.

And I'm not here to make fun of anybody or to act like anybody is somehow not intelligent because they don't know it. Rather, how would they know? If our narratives have been actively silenced, even well-meaning researchers could not access accurate information.

And that's what we're here to fix. We're not going to blame anybody, but we're going to give the opportunity to correct the narrative. And we're committed to going through the scientific process collaboratively; in the process, new things will have to be brought forward because they aren't out there. But they're important.

To what do you attribute to the federal government saying, 'We are going to take indigenous knowledge seriously?' What do you attribute that to? Why are the elders taking this step now?

I haven't asked them that directly and wouldn't speak for them.

But I do know this: I know that I'm a continuum of their efforts. And I know that they know they're a continuum of the efforts of those before them. So this has never stopped. Our people have never stopped trying, and they're not going to.

When you have that level of persistence —and more people are becoming aligned — you will see change, and we'll see even more change. If more collaborations like this happen, we're going to get there. If you were at Standing Rock, you know: what do we say all the time? Mitakuye oyasin, right? [Ed’s note: An invocation of “All my relations,” or even “All, are my relations.”]

That is our scientific principle: relationality. And so you and I are connected.

And that's more scientific, I believe — and our review team believes — and more scientific effort and studies need to be focused on that. Right? If people understood the relationality between life forms, if they understood that we are a compilation of so many life forms …  they would take care of things more and be more aware and conscious of what comes out of them. Right? If you understand that you're made up of millions of microbes — more than that, even — and they need you to eat well. You owe it to them to take care of the host. We would have fewer eating disorders. Our mental health would be better. These are teachings that will benefit everybody.

Certain cultures have pushed them away for a while. But they need them just as much as we need them.

And one more thing: I didn't go to Europe and assume our way was better or that I was going to change everything. I spent time with them, and I saw that there was a need.

And that's one of the things the [elder] review team asked me. They said to Yvette, 'Where are the Lakota needed? Can you find that out?'

And I reported back: ‘We are needed everywhere.’

And they said, 'Okay.'

That's this week's Heat Death, everybody. If you like our work, why not grab a paid subscription and help keep us going?