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Winter Hawk joins Smokey and Woodsy to educate youth

Booklet cover
Cover of the new Pine Ridge Junior Ranger booklet.

NEBRASKA – Through the invaluable guidance of Lakota Elder Rick Williams, the USDA Forest Service has brought to life Frank Winter Hawk. Winter Hawk is a new Native American avatar developed by the Nebraska National Forest & Oglala National Grassland Pine Ridge ranger district to highlight the district’s close relationship with the Lakota people. Native people lived on and conserved the land long before the Forest Service began managing it.

“Frank Winter Hawk and his trusty horse remind us that tribal people have been connected to the lands since time immemorial,” said Williams. “Tribal people are still here taking care of the land.”

The Winter Hawk story is one in a series of new Nebraska National Forest and Oglala National Grasslands Junior Ranger booklets. Through the story of Frank Winter Hawk, this booklet walks young readers through a sample of Lakota culture and language. It includes a recipe for a traditional chokecherry dish called Wojapi, teaches the importance of star knowledge in navigation and storytelling, and shares words from the Lakota language. Winter Hawk continues practicing traditional land conservation as a Forest Service ranger.

Along with a group of designers, Williams’ participation ensured the booklet was authentic to Lakota culture and language. Having grown up in Nebraska near the Pine Ridge district, he told stories of riding horses and learning about nature, similar to Winter Hawk riding his horse, Súnkawakhán, and picking chokecherries to make Wojapi.

Susan Johnson, Julie Johndreau and Linda Hecker, along with other contributors, created the booklet to present stories of the indigenous people who are the original stewards of the lands now identified as the Nebraska National Forests and Oglala National Grasslands. 

As a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, Susan Johnson was inspired to create Winter Hawk to demonstrate that Native American youth hold important traditional knowledge that the Forest Service values. “Winter Hawk will create an opportunity for Native American children to see themselves as a forest ranger,” said Johndreau. 

“Providing the opportunity for Native American youth to witness the contributions of their ancestors as the original stewards of the land can translate into relevant conservation practices to sustain, maintain and promote traditional ecological knowledge,” she said. “Indigenous knowledge and understanding are important contextual contributions to understanding and protecting natural resources for all of us.”

Winter Hawk’s story is one that will resonate with indigenous youth as well as expose all children to the unique Lakota culture. To meet Frank Winter Hawk and Súnkawakhán, please visit Pine Ridge Junior Ranger Booklet.


Artwork: New FS mascot Frank Winter Hawk and his horse Súnkawakhán
Frank Winter Hawk and his trusty horse Súnkawakhán