All My Relatives


All My Relatives

Exploring Lakota Ontology, Belief, and Ritual

David C. Posthumus

New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies Series

294 pages
7 illustrations, 3 maps, index


July 2018


$99.00 Add to Cart

May 2022


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2018


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

In All My Relatives David C. Posthumus offers the first revisionist history of the Lakotas’ religion and culture in a generation. He applies key insights from what has been called the “ontological turn,” particularly the dual notions of interiority/soul/spirit and physicality/body and an extended notion of personhood, as proposed by A. Irving Hallowell and Philippe Descola, which includes humans as well as nonhumans. All My Relatives demonstrates how a new animist framework can connect and articulate otherwise disparate and obscure elements of Lakota ethnography. Stripped of its problematic nineteenth-century social evolutionary elements and viewed as an ontological or spiritual alternative, this reevaluated concept of animism for a twenty-first-century sensibility provides a compelling lens through which traditional Lakota mythology, dreams and visions, and ceremony may be productively analyzed and more fully understood.

Posthumus explores how Lakota animist beliefs permeate the understanding of the real world in relation to such phenomena as the personhood of rocks, ghosts or spirits of deceased humans and animals, meteorological phenomena, familiar spirits or spirit helpers, and medicine bundles. All My Relatives offers new insights into traditional Lakota culture for a deeper and more enduring understanding of indigenous cosmology, ontology, and religion.

Author Bio

David C. Posthumus is an assistant professor of anthropology and Native American studies at the University of South Dakota.


"All My Relatives is an important contribution to the anthropological and ethnohistorical research on Lakota religion. It sets several standards for the field, showcasing the richness of sources, the complexity of theological Lakota argumentation, and how these sources can be analyzed in a meaningful way."—Sebastian Braun, Journal of Anthropological Research

“In this superb ethnography of North American animism, David Posthumus paints a vivid and poetic picture of what it meant for the nineteenth-century Lakota Sioux to live in a world beyond the human that they shared with scores of animal persons and spirits. A remarkable achievement.”—Philippe Descola, author of Beyond Nature and Culture

"All My Relatives provides us with a look into the core beliefs and practices of the Lakota people from an ontological view as well as an ethnographic one. Posthumus's firm grasp of Lakota history and culture adds clarity and historical significance to text, which is vital to understanding the Lakota people, their beliefs, and their rituals."—Victoria Sprague, Great Plains Quarterly

"This is a must-read for the student of Lakota ontology, belief, and ritual. Posthumus adds to the field of collected works that capture once again the adage, 'We have much to learn from the American Indian.'"—Maka Akan Najin Clifford, Nebraska History

"All My Relatives is a work that challenges the modern West's collective memory of American Indian spiritual beliefs, a relic of nineteenth-century Christian colonialism through missionary enterprises. Most impressive is the author's use of Lakota language to offer a more accurate translation of words and phrases that the Christian missionaries defined and employed to portray Lakota religion as void of any spiritual value. To the contrary, Posthumus argues that in an animist ontology, the principle of relatedness is at the heart of Lakota spirituality."—Lisa Barnett, South Dakota History

"The serious reader will be richly rewarded in working through the book given Posthumus's sophisticated explication of Lakota interspecies relations and their implications for ritual enactment. . . . His work clearly demonstrates the promise of the new animism for indigenous research, and its application to Lakota lifeways specifically, and to Native American sacred traditions in general."—Fritz Detwiler, Reading Religion

“The subject of Lakota ontology, belief, and ritual has enduring value and significance for all who are interested in the Sioux, in the literature of Black Elk, and in Plains ethnohistory generally. . . . All My Relatives is very strong in its command of Lakota sources, notably the writings of the Delorias, of ethnohistorical records, and of relevant secondary sources.”—Jennifer S. H. Brown, professor emerita of history at the University of Winnipeg and editor of Ojibwe Stories from the Upper Berens River: A. Irving Hallowell and Adam Bigmouth in Conversation

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Hallowell, Descola, Ontology, and Phenomenology
2. Situated Animism and Lakota Relational Ontology
3. The Living Rock, Grandfather of All Things
4. Persons and Transformation
5. Spirits and Ghosts
6. Nonhuman Persons in Lakota Mythology
7. Nonhuman Persons in Lakota Dreams and Visions
8. Nonhuman Persons in Lakota Ritual
9. The Dynamics of Life Movement
Glossary of Lakota Terms and Phrases

Also of Interest