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Waniyetu Wowapi (winter count)

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Winter scene, with snow and trees - South Dakota

Waniyetu Wowapi (winter count)

A winter count is a pictographic record of historical/memorable events for a tiospaye (community). The winter count, used by many Plains Indians, is a method of preserving history. Important events are recorded for future generations. The pictures, which are used as mnemonic devices, are arranged in chronological order.

The Lone Dog Winter Count, Smithsonian Institution

Originally, the memorable events were recorded on rock (many paintings found on cave walls, canyons, and mountains throughout the Great Plains), on buffalo hide, deer hide, cow hide, and then ledger paper and muslin (cotton fabric). Natural dyes were used by the keeper to draw the images. The dyes used to record the images also changed over time. Berries, clay, plants, roots, and buffalo gall (liver bile), blood, and stomach contents were a few of the materials used to draw the images.

Each tiospaye designates a winter count keeper. (Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University, explains how the keeper of the winter count is selected.)

Victor Douville

Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University

Selecting a Keeper of the Winter Count


The keeper (traditionally a man) of the winter count is the historian for the community. Elders gather and consult with the keeper to select the most important event of the year (first snow to first snow.)

Winter Count Image, Smithsonian Institution


The keeper then draws an image on the winter count to represent the event. The images on the winter count are used as a reminder/aid to help the keeper remember the events. The keeper (oral historian for the tiospaye) then explains the events in detail. The keeper is responsible for providing an oral account of the images drawn. The image on the left was drawn by the winter count keeper Rosebud in 1880-1881. The image depicts when children were first sent to school.

Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University, explains how an event is/was selected for a winter count.

Victor Douville

Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University

How an event is/was Selected for a Winter Count


Related Video


Native American Winter Counts (PreK - Elementary) Learn about Native American winter counts in South Dakota and complete an interesting activity. This video is part of Activity Starters, which is an animated video series. In each episode an animated character introduces a concept and an activity.

Scott Simpson & Dancin' Moon Studio

Winter Count (Waniyetu Wowapi) A song written and performed by Scott Simpson, inspired by the Winter Counts of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and those Elders who are the keepers of the things that must always be remembered.

Educational Resources and Additional Comments from Victor Douville

- Waniyetu Wowapi: Winter Count (PowerPoint Show)

- Evolution of Wajaje-Cokatowela Shirts (PowerPoint Show)

Victor Douville

Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University

The Importance of the Winter Counts

Victor Douville

Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University

The Different Types of Winter Counts


Educational Resources and Additional Information

Winter Count, which Includes Image of the Treaty of Fort Laramie

Sioux Indian Museum, U.S. Dept. of Int., Indian Arts and Crafts Board
  • Blog (Image Right - Battiste Good (Sicangu Lakota))


PBS LearningMedia

Lesson Plans 


State Historical Society South Dakota

The Smithsonian


UNL: Winter Counts as Possible Precursors to Writing