Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

David M. Stein


David M. Stein


Barre Toelken


Richley Crapo


Gretchen Gimpel


Bereavement beliefs and practices in the modern, American culture have been well documented. However, virtually no research has been conducted on traditional and contemporary death, dying, grief, and bereavement beliefs and practices among native tribes, such as the Lakota.

The present study was conducted with the Lakota, and fulfilled two goals. iii First, the contemporary and traditional death, dying, grief, and bereavement beliefs and practices of the Lakota were documented and summarized. Such documentation may help bereaved Lakota tribal members who are experiencing problems with death and bereavement, and may help preserve traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices. Second, the consensus of opinion among Lakota tribal elders about death, dying , grief, and bereavement practices and beliefs was qualitatively evaluated and compared with that of mental health and substance abuse workers who serve the Lakota.

Two main theoretical conclusions to this study were reported. First, the Lakota elders' preferred interventions for bereavement for their people included family, social, community, tribal , and ceremonial activities. These findings likely resulted from the functional aspects of these types of culturally appropriate practices not only to help the bereaved Lakota individual, but also to help "fill the hole in the circle" left by the death of a tribal member. A cultural mechanism for continued tribal unity and wholeness is provided by these tribal bereavement practices. Second, the ancient historical Lakota ceremonies used to ameliorate grief within the tribe appear to have been fragmented over time, but these rituals still exist and their derivatives are used in various contemporary forms.

Two main clinical findings were reported. First, a careful clinical assessment of the bereaved Lakota client's level of acculturation is required as a prerequisite to treatment planning. Second, intervention with grieving Lakota clients should include informed attention to both "western" bereavement treatment methods and traditional Lakota family, community, and social bereavement practices.

The relative value of various Lakota family, social, community, and tribal bereavement practices and a rank ordering of various Lakota ceremonies were provided. These ceremonies and Lakota tribal practices were compared to modern "western" bereavement treatment methods.



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