Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Story About the Relationship of the Lakota Concept of "Kola"


Among my people there is a type of relationship between men called “Kola.” In today's world, it has lost its true meaning. This happened because everyone uses it as you would use the word friend.

The term friend however does not describe the true meaning of the Lakota concept of Kola. A Kola was much more then a friend. It was a term that meant that your Kola was closer to you then your brother. If the opportunity ever arose you would literally lay down your life for your Kola.

The best description that I know of personally was the story of my Uncle Buddy Red Bird and his Kola Norman Red Thunder. This relationship was the personification of the Lakota concept of the Kola.

My uncle was a single man with a big smile who had an infectious laugh that would make you want to join in even though you didn’t know why he was laughing. He was a friendly, outgoing, happy person who made you feel important and always welcome to sit, drink coffee and visit. He was a person who shared what he had from stories to food in the true Lakota way.

He and Red Thunder met while in boot camp during World War II and fought in five battles. To understand how significant five battles were. The men of the 101'st Airborne Division of which the "Band of Brothers" is based on were in three battles.

The story I was told, as I was growing up, was that before each battle Red Thunder would say to my uncle. “Kola, if anything happens to me—I want you to marry my wife and raise my son.” My uncle, of course always would respond by telling him that he would be alright and that they would make it home together. Well Red Thunder didn’t make it; he was killed during the last battle they were in.

Being the true Lakota and living up to the true concept of the Kola. When he returned and was discharged he went to Montana, married Red Thunder’s wife and raised his son.

As a child I loved this story – it was so romantic and yet so very sad. I've thought about my Uncle Buddy over the last two days – I wished I could have spent time with him and asked him questions about his experiences. But like so many of the men who fought in WWII he is now a memory. So during the Memorial Day weekend I try to watch a movie about that war. So this year I watched the entire ten episodes of the "Band of Brothers."


  1. What a beautiful article... thank you for sharing this intimate story of Lakota values and ethos. I love this literal description of the word "kola" also. I am blessed to enjoy kinship with a very special Lakota friend. He recently used the word in refernce to me. Now I feel humbled and honored beyond words.

  2. This is very typical of those Lakota people who have retained their ancient and sacred ways of living. Even today, the word "kola" retains its special and deep spiritual meaning amongst the Lakota and their true believers and adherents. I can testify to that personally because I have experienced this true brotherhood-friendship with several men and women who have committed their lives to the Lakota "red road" - a simple path, but extremely difficult. This small group of true friends, in the sacred Lakota meaning, have remained as such for nearly 20 years, always helping and caring for one another regardless of circumstances, time, money, or physical hardship even unto death. This story, handed down from generation to generation, is simply one demonstration of how Lakota peoples deeply cherish and practice the term "kola". They do so because The Great Spirit (God) created it, and it is therefor consummately sacred. It goes light years beyond the traditional understanding of "love" as today's world understands it. We all would do well to follow this Native American road.