The Legacy of Inyan

Words by Ruth H. Hopkins

For Indigenous people, rocks are so much more than the minerals they are composed of. They carry histories that can help teach us about the interconnectedness of our world.

In the beginning, there was… rock.


To the average westerner, stone is considered a lifeless object, and largely insignificant. Rocks may be picked up and admired for their appearance, and classified by scientists based on luster, hardness, and color, but they’re seen as little more than an earthy conglomerate of minerals at humanity’s disposal for extraction and manipulation.


For my People, the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation), the humble stone is so much more. Inyan (stone), is one of the most powerful spirits in our belief system, and it sacrificed much of that power to pull Ina Maka (Mother Earth) from the black void of Han (The Spirit of Darkness) and make her a life giver.


Inyan was there before the origin of life, with Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery), and Han. Inyan understood how powerful he was, but he was compassionate, too. It was that sense of self-awareness and benevolence that led Inyan to exercise his great power by creating the planet Earth as we know it. He gifted this new heavenly body with part of his own spirit, and he infused it with his blue, life-giving blood—water. Mni Wiconi, water is life. This is why my ancestors saw blue as a sacred color.


Giving away so much of himself cost Inyan greatly. Without his blood, he became hard. He lost a lot of his power in the process as well, but not before creating Wi, the Sun, to warm the Earth and provide her with light, and forming miniature versions of Mother Earth and Father Sky, human beings. Once he was finished, he became so weak he could scarcely move or talk. He still listens, though.


Inyan, as her creator, became forever bound to Mother Earth, mixing with, and becoming a part of her fertile soil for all eternity.


Inyan, the stone, is sometimes called by another name by my people: Tunkasila (Grandfather), because he was instrumental in our creation. The stone, like so much of nature, is not good or evil. They just are.

Inyan, the stone, is sometimes called by another name by my people: Tunkasila (Grandfather), because he was instrumental in our creation.

Ruth H. Hopkins

Today, astrophysicists postulate theories that emphasize the importance of rock in the creation of planet Earth. The giant-impact model tells a tale of a proto-Earth and Theia, another planet about the size of Mars. During a massive collision, pretty much all of Earth and Theia melted together into one body, with a small mass, void of water, spinning off and becoming Han Wi (the Moon).


Earth today is a rocky, terrestrial planet. It has a solid and active surface composed of land that forms mountain chains, canyons, and more, and water that covers 70 percent of the planetary surface. It has a central liquid metal core, rocky mantle, and a solid outer crust.


This connection to rock, and the knowledge that they are our original ancestors, is why they are an integral part of our first ceremonial rite, the Inipi, or Sweat Lodge.


My grandfather’s Native name was Stone Boy, and his name was passed down to my son, who also bears the Native name of Stone Boy. Stone Boy (Inyan Hoksila) is an Oceti Sakowin hero of legend, and he was the first to hold a sweat lodge ceremony.


According to legend, Stone Boy’s mother once lived with her four older brothers. Her brothers ventured out and hunted for wild game, while she gathered, cooked, made robes from hides, and tended to their home. One year, the brothers began to disappear. Each time they would venture out to hunt, one less would return. They realized they were in danger, but they had to keep hunting if they wanted to survive. Finally, all the brothers were gone, and the girl was left alone. She was terrified and heartbroken. She no longer had anyone to hunt for her and protect her, and this was a long time ago, before White Buffalo Calf Woman came and blessed our people with the ways of the pipe. For this reason, she didn’t know how to pray, dance, or hold ceremonies to call the spirits to assist her. She was starving and wanted to die. One day, she climbed to the top of a hill to cry. She picked up a small, round, white rock and swallowed it. Then, something magical happened. The stone began to move inside her, and it became a baby that developed very quickly. In a matter of days, she gave birth.

This connection to rock, and the knowledge that they are our original ancestors, is why they are an integral part of our first ceremonial rite.

Ruth H. Hopkins

At first, she was shocked. She placed the baby outside of her tipi, telling him she could not take care of him, but the boy grew so quickly that he was up and walking and talking in a very short period of time. He offered comfort to his mother and helped her. She loved him immensely, and they were happy, even though they were living on little more than berries, herbs, and roots.


One day, Stone Boy, as she called him, asked her why she cried and where her relatives were. She explained to him that he had four uncles, but they had all gone out to hunt and never came back. Stone Boy was not afraid and vowed to find his lost uncles. He would go out hunting for food, and in search of them. He fashioned a bow and arrow. Stone Boy was clever with stone, though. He chipped a stone to make the first arrowhead. Stone Boy’s mother did not want him to go, but he insisted.


He hadn’t walked for very long before he came to a tipi with a grotesque, boisterous woman living in it. She invited him in to eat, so he entered. She had four large bundles inside her tipi. After they ate, she said that her back hurt, and she asked him to walk on her back. As he walked on her back, he felt something sharp protruding from her backbone. It was then that he realized that she wasn’t just a human woman, and it had killed his uncles. He jumped upon it’s back as hard as he could, killing it.


Soon after, he felt the presence of his uncle’s spirits, and heard their voices. They were inside the bundles in the tipi. They instructed him to build a small lodge from willow sticks and hides, built in a similar shape as a beehive, and put red hot stones in a hole at its center. He was to place the bundles in the lodge, close the door, and pour water over the hot rocks, creating steam.


He did as his uncles’ spirits had instructed him to do, and with power from Inyan, the hot rocks, revived with Inyan’s blood, water, brought his uncles back to life.

Even that which is seemingly insignificant, like a tiny, lifeless rock, has a role to play in our Universe.

Ruth H. Hopkins

In another version of the story, the grotesque woman is Iya, the Camp Eater. She became a mighty black stone that flattened anyone who approached. Stone Boy bravely defeats her by returning to his original form—a small, round, white rock, and shatters her into a million tiny pieces.


Our stories may vary, because as Indigenous people, we follow the oral tradition. Legends can be tens of thousands of years old and have been passed down from just as many individuals over the centuries. Nonetheless, the key elements of our stories remain.


To the Oceti Sakowin, the Black Hills, which are full of rock formations, are sacred. One place, called Inyan Kara (Rock Gatherer), is linked directly to the legend of Stone Boy. It is considered sacred to mothers giving birth. On my Reservation, there is a sacred rock bearing the mark of the wakinyan (thunder beings).


Today, non-Natives are beginning to understand that rocks are more than the minerals they are composed of. They can possess many properties, like electromagnetism. They have different vibrations, frequencies, and levels of conductivity. Rocks carry the history of Earth and humankind, as well. Long after we are gone, they will remain, keeping our voices within them.


A key part of decolonization and indigenizing the world is unlearning the arrogance of settler assumption, like the idea that nature is a hierarchy where humans, and in particular rich, white, Christian, colonizer men are at the top of the food chain. That system is artificial. In reality, everything travels in a circle. We are all connected, and everything affects everything else, no matter how big or small. Even that which is seemingly insignificant, like a tiny, lifeless rock, has a role to play in our Universe. Until we embrace our connectedness, humanity will remain on the wrong path.

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