BHSU professor leads development of website which records American Indian history related to birds and oral tradition

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, October 7, 2014/Categories: 2014

John Glover&rsquos affinity for peregrine falcons began in fifth grade during the years when this raptor was an endangered species due to widespread use of pesticides.  More than 40 years later, Glover&rsquos fondness for peregrines inspired a Black Hills State University video project capturing personal histories of some of the Great Plains&rsquo most respected American Indians.

           Dr. John Glover, professor of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University, led the Winged Messenger project providing a digital collection of American Indian oral tradition related to birds.

Those video interviews, released this week, are now available for public viewing on the Winged Messenger Nations:  Birds in American Indian Oral Tradition website  

"I heard about the peregrine reintroduction program in downtown Rapid City and wondered what the oral tradition of the American Indians might reveal about peregrines and other birds," said Glover, professor of American Indian Studies and Black Hills State University.  "My initial idea was to collect stories about predatory birds to see if we could find some themes."

The result from the project is bittersweet, said Glover, because Albert White Hat, Sr., and Rosalie Little Thunder have passed on since their interviews were conducted.
White Hat was a Sicangu Lakota educator, author, and tribal leader.  

Little Thunder was a linguist, artist, and long-time environmental activist who taught at BHSU for many years.  Including White Hat and Little Thunder, eight American Indian speakers are featured on the Winged Messenger Nations website.

Glover chose the speakers deliberately, selecting them because of their American Indian traditional expertise in the Northern Plains and their experiences teaching in college settings.

"This isn&rsquot someone else&rsquos written story about them rather, it&rsquos their interpretation of their own culture," said Glover.  "That makes it more valuable."

Jace DeCory, one of the interviewees and also assistant professor of history and American Indian studies at BHSU, said she grew up with the oral tradition of storytelling and conveying information by word-of-mouth.

"I wrote down the words of Grandpa Fools Crow and I share those words with my students," said DeCory.  "But it&rsquos exciting that through this project we now have video recordings capturing those priceless stories for future generations to learn from."

To support the project, Glover applied for and received a BHSU seed grant collaborating with BHSU faculty Dr. Garth Spellman, Dr. Rob Campbell, and Annie Woodle.  Several BHSU students and alumni also participated, including Justin Tibbitts, 2012 graduate from Hill City who majored in biology and American Indian studies Erica Gajda, 2014 graduate from Cheyenne, Wyo., who majored in political science and Prairey Walking, 2004 graduate from Lakeview who majored in sociology.  South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks biologist Eileen Dowd-Stukel also contributed her expertise to the project studying birds from the American Indian perspectives.

"The power of birds is to be respected and held in high esteem according to Northern Plains teaching," said Glover, describing birds as "winged messengers" providing vital communications and inspiring powerful insights.

The Winged Messengers project is supported by Black Hills State University the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and Native Educational Endeavors, Inc.

To listen to the interviews in their entirety, read bios of the speakers, learn about oral tradition, explore the native form of oral tradition, discover stories of winged messengers, or to read a commentary about animal nations, visit  

For more information, contact Dr. John Glover at 605-642-6003 or

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