Join the Lakota children, learn to make wasna!

St. Joseph’s first grade class has been studying the tatanka bison/buffalo in Native American Studies class.  The students took this an opportunity to give,

LaRayne is St. Joseph's Native American Studies teacher.
LaRayne, St. Joseph’s Native American Studies teacher

share and educate others in our school community about what they learned.

After understanding that the tatanka can be referred to as a bison or a buffalo, the learning began and, hopefully, will never end.  Our objectives for this unit of curriculum are understanding the history of the animal, how their many body parts are used as well as the spiritual connection of the buffalo to our Lakota (Sioux) culture.

We read stories, manipulated bones, and inspected pieces of the hide, meat and pictures to understand this animal better.  The books Grandfather Buffalo and Buffalo Woman are two stories that are fun and exciting for the students.

The Lakota children can see a life-sized buffalo in one of the museum’s displays!
Sasha and Chante have a chance to see how big this mounted buffalo actually is.

We created our own buffalo by tearing small pieces of brown paper to look like the hair of the tatanka, and gluing the pieces on the shape of a buffalo.  We discuss where the bones come from in the buffalo skeleton as well as what they were used for.  It is fun to see the look on the students’ faces when they find out that the tail was used for ceremonial purposes as well as a fly swatter, or that hip bones were used for paintbrushes!

At St. Joseph’s Indian School, we are also blessed to be able to visit the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, where we can see a life-sized buffalo mounted in a display.

To finish the learning unit, we made wasna, also called pemmican, to taste and share with some lucky teachers.  This year was the first year in my 12 years of teaching that ALL of the kids loved the taste of the mixture – they kept asking for more!

Wasna/Pemmican

You will need:

  • 1 cup dried cranberries, raisins or other dried fruit (blueberries, chokecherries, etc.)
  • 1 cup ( 8 oz)  jerky or dried meat
  • Rock/mortar pestle or a modern day blender used to pound and combine ingredients

Place jerky into a blender and blend until shredded. Add dried fruit and blend again. Eat a small portion (1/8 of a cup) to get you through the day as a snack or as a spirit food.*

To make your own jerky:

Marinate thinly sliced raw meat for at least ½ to a full day before cooking or drying. Marinade can be any combination of oil and your favorite spices – salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic, cayenne pepper, Tabasco sauce, etc. You must have enough to coat all the meat. Allow the marinade mixture to set into the meat for 6-8 hours. 

Bake in the oven on a low setting  (250 degrees) for at least 2 hours until it is no longer moist and takes on a dry texture. Time will depend on size of meat pieces.

Our Lakota (Sioux) people ate this as a meal when they traveled.  It kept you energized and feeling full for most of the day during the “tipi days.”

*spirit food is offered or eaten during some ceremonies or as an offering to the spirits on a “spirit plate.”

The Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center is open to the public and is also a great learning tool for the Lakota children at St. Joseph’s Indian School!
LaRayne takes her Native American Studies classes to the Akta Lakota Museum for lessons.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 89 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

3 thoughts on “Join the Lakota children, learn to make wasna!”

  1. Thanks you for this wonderful lesson! I am not sure I would like Wasna 🙁
    Tatanka.. remember that from Dances with Wolves. Have a good night

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