Story of Lakota Ceremonial Masks

Donald Montileaux's latest series of work explores the idea of a protective masks. They were inspired by his friend Dakotah Hollow Horn Bear's story about a Lakota ceremony:

A long time ago, prior to the Reservation Period, the Lakota people were a warmhearted, family oriented people who freely roamed the Plains in search of buffalo and lived a happy life…but, there were also times when they were forced to become aggressive, to go against another people and do things they normally wouldn't do.

During these times of aggression, the men - the warriors of the tribe - would come into a sweat lodge and take a ceremony to prepare them for what they had to do.

At a certain point in the ceremony, the men would see an elder - a man who had been there for eons, a man who has always been there. He would have a little bag…and when he reached into this bag, he would pull out masks, one for each warrior.

These masks were not physical masks, but instead, they were spiritual coverings. When the elder presented a warrior with a mask, he also bestowed upon him the abilities he would need - swiftness, agility, fearlessness, courage, strength - and they would then go to battle with these gifts.

Upon their return, the warriors would again go into the sweat lodge and meet with the Elder. Making his presence known, the Elder would take each man's mask and put it back in his bag. In doing this, the Elder would rid them of everything the warriors had experienced in battle - all they had seen, all the bad thing they were forced to do. He would take all their thoughts and actions and put back them in the bag.

When each warrior left the sweat lodge, his experiences in battle were no longer a part of him. He was once again a compassionate, kindhearted man who could love his family and hold his children without the ghosts of battle lurking behind him.

"When my friend Dakotah Hollow Horn Bear first told me this story, I was captivated with this idea of ridding yourself of the bad by letting your "mask" take the experience; once the mask is taken off, you've removed it from your being, you're free of the ghosts."

Montileaux met Dakotah Hollow Horn Bear here at Prairie Edge - Dakotah was a member of the staff and Montileaux maintains a studio here.

He says of Dakotah,”He was a dedicated follower of Lakota tradition, a much loved employee of the gallery…and a very good friend of mine. He was known for his love of Lakota culture, wonderful stories, and wealth of information - from buffalo robes and elder shirts, to how to make bows and arrows or tan hides – and also his willingness to share these things with others. He passed away in 2008 at the young age of 29.”