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  • Fallen Star
  • Ella Deloria

I have been steeped in Dakota lore and seen and felt it around me ever since childhood, it is in fact the very texture of my being.

—Ella Cara Deloria

Born on January 31,1889, to Mary and Reverend Philip J. Deloria on the Yankton Reservation, Ella Cara Deloria spent much of her life deeply immersed in the Dakota and Lakota oral storytelling traditions.1 As a member of the Dakota nation, Deloria was familiar with both storytelling traditions because shortly after she was born, her family moved to the Standing Rock Reservation, where she was exposed to the Lakota dialect and also began attending boarding school. In 1910 Deloria graduated from All Saints Boarding School and continued her education at the University of Chicago, Oberlin College, and Columbia College. At Columbia College, Deloria met the famed anthropologist Franz Boas, who hired her in 1927 to correct and retranslate Dakota and Lakota texts collected by early nineteenth-century missionaries and ethnologists who desperately wanted to preserve traditional oral stories as a record ofa primitive people rapidly nearing extinction.

In 1938 Deloria began interviewing tribal storytellers and historians on the Flandreau Reservation to learn more about these traditional oral stories. Deloria's letters to Boas hint at several discrepancies between oral and print versions of "Fallen Star."2 For example, Deloria observes that the tribal storytellers and historians she interviewed were troubled that these early translations often seemed to conflate the Dakota oral storytelling tradition with Christian and Greek mythology. Although Deloria expressed these concerns to Boas, he largely dismissed them, eventually republishing Stephen Riggs's translation with just a few minor grammatical corrections. Deloria, on the other hand, seemed to take these concerns to heart and completely rewrote "Fallen Star" as well as several other ohų'kaką tales to reflect a tribal worldview that honored and celebrated the Dakota way of life.

These nineteen stories are part of Deloria's unpublished manuscript "Dakota Legends," housed in the Ella Deloria Archive at the Dakota Indian Foundation (DIF) in Chamberlain, South Dakota.3 I would like to thank the DIF for preserving Deloria's incredible body of work and for giving English Language Notes permission to publish "Fallen Star" for the first time. Wopila! [End Page 158]


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Notes

1. The epigraph is found in Ella Deloria to Virginia Dorsey Lightfoot, August 8,1949, Dakota Indian Foundation, Chamberlain, South Dakota.

2. Ella Deloria to Franz Boas, June 28,1938, Franz Boas Archive, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

3. The DIF and Indiana University have made this work available at zia.aisri.indiana.edu/deloria_archive/index.php.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2573-3575
Print ISSN
0013-8282
Pages
pp. 158-177
Launched on MUSE
2020-07-01
Open Access
No
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