Wintercount: an important part of tribal history

The Lakota people have had a tradition wherein they've recorded significant events in their tribal history in pictographs. The record is referred to as the wintercount and it has become an important part of their tribal history.

Traditionally, it was the responsibility of the men to keep the count. However, it was not only their input that decided what would be represented. The decision was made by a group of elders.

Kiowa wintercount by Anko, covers summers and winters for 37 months, 1889-92, ca. 1895.

Kiowa wintercount by Anko, covers summers and winters for 37 months, 1889-92, ca. 1895.

Although that tradition is no longer shared in the same way it had been, as a pictograph the wintercount's importance is still evident. Written language evolved, and there is no lack of history available through tribal writings. Stories are still one of the most important aspects of Indian life. Winter is the time for stories. It is a time of remembering.

Appropriately, it is the time between the solstice, the time when winter begins, a time of healing for our Mother Earth and for us, and the return of the light as the days get a little longer each day, and the arrival of the New Year.

Some years ago, I started keeping my own version of a wintercount. My personal adaptation begins with me taking some quiet time between solstice and New Year’s to review the past year.

I like posting a large piece of blank newsprint or large piece of paper on the door to my office, but it could just as well be a notebook.

I use these headings, but you can pick whatever works for you your own wintercount:

Things I am so done with!

My gratitude’s

My wishes

My goals

During the next weeks, I write the year’s memories, failures, successes, wishes, or the beginning buds of a new adventure into one of the columns.

It has been interesting to see what comes up in my mind’s eye in the review of the year. Taking the time to find the natural rhythm in the unfolding of life is a great blessing and a great way to begin the new year.

I find I am better able to look toward the future when I can see where I have been.

Our elders possessed that knowledge, and passed it down to us. By reflecting on the year, as they did, they saw what was important to the tribe and made an accounting of that portion of the tribal story.

Here is some additional information:

Information/interaction for youngsters:


Happy New Year, let’s look towards the future we wish to create.

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2 Responses to “Wintercount: an important part of tribal history”

  1. Josie Setzler

    I agree with Michele. It’s still January and it’s not too late for me to try this. I’m off to find my journal, Valerie!

  2. Michele Joseph

    Even if I missed the period between solstice & the new year, I’m going to do this anyway. I can see right away how this would make me more succcessful & effective.

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