Carnegie for Kids

The Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians, which opens on June 6, tells about four different American Indian societies: the Tlingit of the Northwest Coast, Hopi of the Southwest, Lakota of the Plains, and Iroquois of the Northeast. American Indian cultures are all very different, but they all share a deep respect for nature.

There are many stories about stars in American Indian cultures. The Lakota used the stars to help them figure out where they were, and to time their hunting and gathering and rituals. The new hall at the museum has a sky theater where you can learn more about the stars and the different Indian legends about them. The story here, from the Lakota people, is about the birth of Fallen Star, an important character in many Lakota stories. The illustrations are by Nancy Perkins, an artist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. You can see more pictures in the hall when it opens.

Fallen Star: A Lakota Tale

Long ago, two Lakota maidens were outside looking up at the stars.

One said: "How pretty the stars are this evening! I wish that big one were a human being and I would marry him."

The other young woman said: "I wish that little star were a man. I would marry him."

Suddenly two men appeared, saying: "You have just promised to marry us." The maidens agreed and went with them to the star world, where the two stars became their husbands.

The star world was beautiful. The young women, who were soon to become mothers, were warned not to dig any wild turnips.

One of the women was fond of turnips and began to dig them anyway. When she pulled out a turnip, a hole opened. She could look down to see the Earth and her village.

She was homesick and wanted to go home, so she braided the turnip plants to make a rope. She let herself down through the hole. But the braid didnít reach to the Earth and she crashed to the ground. When she landed, her baby was born.

A meadowlark raised the baby, named Fallen Star. Fallen Star grew up in days instead of years. He was taller than other men and light shone from him. He traveled around Lakota country, and wherever he went, he was anticipated and treated with respect.

At one tipi camp in the Black Hills, every day a red eagle swooped down and stole a young girl to eat.

All the men from the camp tried to shoot the eagle, with no success. They prayed for Fallen Star to come.

In seven days, after seven girls had been abducted, he arrived. He shot the eagle and placed the seven girls in the sky as stars.

The Lakota call this constellation wicincala sakowin, meaning Seven Little Girls. We know it as the Pleiades.

More about the Stars

Wicincala sakowin, or the Pleiades, is a cluster of 400 to 500 stars. It is 415 light years away from our solar system, and is one of the most striking constellations we can see without a telescope. It is too close to the sun to be seen in May or June, but starts becoming visible early in the morning in July.

If you want to see at home what the Pleiades looks like, trace the pattern below on a piece of paper. Then take the tracing and poke holes where the stars (black dots) are. Hold the tracing over a light or flashlight and see the stars projected on the ceiling.


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