My Grandfather's Altar


My Grandfather's Altar

Five Generations of Lakota Holy Men

Richard Moves Camp
Edited by Simon J. Joseph

American Indian Lives Series

234 pages
4 photographs, 1 glossary, 1 appendix


March 2024


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March 2024


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March 2024


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About the Book

Richard Moves Camp’s My Grandfather’s Altar is an oral-literary narrative account of five generations of Lakota religious tradition. Moves Camp is the great-great-grandson of Wóptuȟ’a (“Chips”), the holy man remembered for providing Crazy Horse with war medicines of power and protection. The Lakota remember the descendants of Wóptuȟ’a for their roles in preserving Lakota ceremonial traditions during the official prohibition period (1883–1934), when the U.S. Indian Religious Crimes Code outlawed Indian religious ceremonies with the threat of imprisonment.

Wóptuȟ’a, his two sons, James Moves Camp and Charles Horn Chips, his grandson Sam Moves Camp, and his great-great-grandson Richard Moves Camp all became well-respected Lakota spiritual leaders. My Grandfather’s Altar offers the rare opportunity to learn firsthand how one family’s descendants played a pivotal role in revitalizing Lakota religion in the twentieth century.

Author Bio

Richard Moves Camp (Oglala Lakota) is a fifth-generation Lakota healer, tribal historian, and spiritual leader. He teaches at Sinte Gleska University and lectures on Lakota history, culture, and traditions. In 2021 he was named a Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow. Simon J. Joseph is a lecturer in early Christianity at the University of California–Los Angeles. He is the author of five books, including A Social History of Christian Origins: The Rejected Jesus and Jesus, the Essenes, and Christian Origins: New Light on Ancient Texts and Communities.


“A profound recollection and a generous sharing of the experiences of holiness and power, humility and obligation, history and memory: a new classic in a long tradition of Lakota accounts of Lakota life.”—Philip J. Deloria, author of Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract

My Grandfather’s Altar provides a return to the spirituality of Lakota people in order for healing to occur for the current and future generations. . . . This book provides a contemporary perspective and contributes greatly to the spiritual or religious life of contemporary Lakota and non-Lakota people.”—Delphine Red Shirt, author of Turtle Lung Woman’s Granddaughter

“An authentic and indelible biography filled with life lessons and loving tributes to those who taught and defined Richard Moves Camp, notably his powerful medicine men ancestors. . . . My Grandfather’s Altar is an engaging and remarkable gift for the next generations.”—Devon Mihesuah, Oklahoma Choctaw and editor of Henry Mihesuah's First to Fight

“An excellent contribution to the literature on Lakota spirituality and worldview. Moves Camp tells his family’s story of well-regarded spiritual leaders from a grounded and insightful perspective. Most beautifully, he provides a compelling teaching about the importance of spirituality being linked to a way of life, an insight that provides us a healthy pathway for the future. . . . The whole volume resonates with truth and wisdom.”—Waziyatawin, author of Remember This! Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives

“If you want to know more about American Indians, read this book. It presents us with a deeply authentic voice of a traditional Lakota elder and spiritual leader; it is a narrative that displays the American Indian worldview in all its depth and complexity. . . . Richard Moves Camp’s story will be read for generations to come as a wonderful tool for holding onto important cultural truths.”—Tink Tinker, professor emeritus of American Indian cultures and traditions at Iliff School of Theology

“Not since Luther Standing Bear has Lakota spirituality been portrayed with such sincerity. . . . Richard Moves Camp’s My Grandfather’s Altar evokes the everyday relevance of Lakota beliefs and values with true-to-life detail. In recounting his grandfather’s story and legacy through family history, Moves Camp shows the reader a Lakota way of doing things, a wouncage, that is as meaningful today as it was during the time of Crazy Horse.”—David Martínez, author of Life of the Indigenous Mind: Vine Deloria Jr. and the Birth of the Red Power Movement

My Grandfather’s Altar is a revelation of intergenerational Indigenous survival in the face of omnicide. . . . More than an autobiography, this is the story of the olówaŋ wičháša, or spiritual code, of generations of Lakota people immersed in lifeway knowledge who transmitted that knowledge even when it was outlawed by the U.S. government. . . . This book has the power to resonate and linger with you just like that.”—Christopher J. Pexa (Mní Wakháŋ Oyáte, Spirit Lake Dakota Nation), author of Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakhóta Oyáte

“Richard Moves Camp’s story is unique, significant, and moving. It is an important contribution to both the living oral tradition of the Lakota people and the scholarly canon. My Grandfather’s Altar is an engrossing read. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Lakota culture, history, and ceremonial traditions.”—David C. Posthumus, author of All My Relatives: Exploring Lakota Ontology, Belief, and Ritual and coauthor of Lakȟóta: An Indigenous History

“Richard Moves Camp provides a rich, powerful narrative based on his family’s experiences. This book gives us an intimate window into Lakȟóta spirituality and way of life. This is a Lakȟóta story told in a uniquely Lakȟóta way by those who experienced it firsthand. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Lakȟóta past and present.”—Rani-Henrik Andersson, author of The Lakota Ghost Dance of 1890 and coauthor of Lakȟóta: An Indigenous History

“This is a remarkable, honest, and heart-centered book. In everyday language, Richard Moves Camp narrates the oral traditions of the distinguished Chips family, a history of suffering, spiritual accomplishments, miraculous events, and successful healings. The context is colonialism, and the consequence is a multigenerational struggle to maintain sacred authenticity and living connections to the spirit worlds. It is an honor to read such a book, a rare treasure, revealing the deep truths of Lakota spirituality.”—Lee Irwin, author of The Dream Seekers: Native American Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Editor’s Note
1. My Grandfather’s Altar
2. Wóptuȟ’a
3. Moves Camp and Horn Chips
4. Grandpa Sam
5. Present Times
Appendix: The Wóptuȟ’a Thióšpaye, a Family History

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