The Rule of Threes

The “rule of threes” suggests that organizing things or events into groups of three is inherently better than organizing them into groups of any other number. Take for instance this past week. We received three unsolicited email messages related to three projects we have created. 

The first was from Monica Knuppe, a middle school teacher at Red Shirt School in Oglala Lakota County. Her message begins:

“Good afternoon, I am working on Oceti Sakowin Origins and Development with my middle school students. An assignment I created is based on the table on Pages 14 and 15. The students were given a map of the continental USA and asked to do some research and determine where each of these treaties took place, mark it on the map with the date and nations involved.”

The book Ms. Knuppe mentions was produced by CAIRNS, and the table is “Oceti Sakowin Treaties.” It lists the 34 treaties that Oceti Sakowin oyates negotiated with the United States between 1805 and 1868. It also lists the dates of the treaties, the locations where they were signed, and the oyates that signed them. 

Ms. Knuppe’s message continued: “However, an interesting (to me) pattern showed up. Where they met for the treaties does not correspond at all strongly with the area indicated on Page 9. Most of the treaties (not all) were created much farther east and south of the Oceti Sakowin Homelands in 1849.”

This is a wonderful example of middle school students using treaty facts together with online research to geographically locate where the treaties were signed and then to compare that location to a map of Oceti Sakowin lands in 1849. It is a critical thinking assignment using Oceti Sakowin content that encourages students to enhance skills that they can use throughout their lives.

The second message was from Diane Knutson, who came up with the idea of South Dakota designating an official state constellation. Her initiative developed into House Bill 1267, “An Act to designate Tayamni as the official constellation of South Dakota.” Ms. Knutson emailed: “I’d like to be able to have a handout featuring the outline of Tayamni so the legislators can visualize the constellation. Do you have a chart you recommend and could send me so I can print out some copies for tomorrow’s meeting?”

The meeting she refers to is the House State Affairs Committee meeting that convened on Monday, February 24, 2020, during which the bill was voted down. “Tayamni” is a huge Lakota constellation that includes stars in three Greek constellations. We sent Ms. Knutson Pages 8 and 9 from our book, Tender Reverence: Explorations of the Lakota Universe, a companion to our Lakota Star Knowledge DVD. It shows a chart of the Tayamni constellation with Lakota star names, describes the stars that comprise it, and tells how to find the constellation in the night sky. 

The third message was from a Lindsey K. who attended a CAIRNS workshop last summer. “I took the Incorporating American Indian History class offered in Brookings last summer based on the Takuwe exhibit. This weekend, I went to the SD Art Museum to see the Articles of a Treaty exhibit. I just wanted to let you know I thought it was phenomenal. My husband and I took our 8-year-od daughter, and when we sat down in front of the large ‘Lakotacentric’ mural at the end, she put her thoughts together.”

“She said, ‘Mom, wait, I think I feel sad about this.’ When I asked her why she felt sad, she said: ‘well, the government made a promise to the Native American people and gave them the land after the big war. They promised to let them have the land to farm, and then I think they broke the promise and did other things with the land. It’s important to not break your promises. I feel sad about it like that boy. The government should have kept its promise to the people.’”

“Thank you for your work on the exhibit as we enjoyed the art, and I felt it was an incredible learning experience for our 2nd grader. I thought you might enjoy hearing about her takeaway from the experience.”

What an amazingly insightful 2nd grader! Her insights are due in part to the creative works of Lakota artists, poets and musicians who participated in Articles of a Treaty, an educational art exhibit about the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that we curated.  These three messages about events in a middle school classroom, at our state capital, and in an art museum, illustrate applications of American Indian content that is academically strong and culturally grounded.

(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)