My Grandfather’s Altar

My Grandfather’s Altar

(University of Nebraska Press, 2024)

By Richard Moves Camp, edited by Simon J. Joseph

My Grandfather’s Altar is an oral history memoir by Lakota spiritual leader Richard Moves Camp. Richard is the great, great grandson of Wóptuȟ’a (“Chips”), the holy man remembered for providing his friend, Crazy Horse, with war medicines of power and protection. Among the Lakota, the descendants of Wóptuȟ’a are remembered for their roles in preserving  Lakota ceremonial traditions for over five generations, particularly during the official prohibition period (1883-1934), when the United States government outlawed Indian religious ceremonies with the threat of imprisonment.

I first met Richard in the summer of 2017. I had contacted him a year earlier about an article I was writing about the history of the Lakota Yuwípi ceremony for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. We met at his house in Wanblee, South Dakota, our conversation ranging over a number of topics. Richard thought that it would be good to tell the story of his grandfathers, so in February 2020, we met again in Los Angeles and began working together on this book.

My Grandfather’s Altar represents a rare opportunity to hear the sacred family history of five generations of Lakota religious tradition.

Order the book here.


Simon Joseph and Richard Royce

Simon & Richard at UCLA in February 2020


“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
Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, Harvard University


My Grandfather’s Altar is an authentic and indelible biography filled with life lessons and loving tributes to those who taught and defined him, notably his medicine men ancestors … an engaging and remarkable gift for the next generations.”

Devon Mihesuah
Oklahoma Choctaw and Author of Ned Christie; ‘First to Fight’; and Choctaw Crime and Punishment, 1884-1907


My Grandfather’s Altar provides a return back to the spirituality of Lakota people. In order for healing to occur for the current and future generations of Lakota people, this book is needed for the present time … This book provides a contemporary perspective and contributes greatly to the spiritual or religious life of contemporary Lakota and non-Lakota people … Many times, as I read it, I felt it was a very personal conversation and I was being asked to listen … listen … listen; and learn.”

Delphine Red Shirt
Author of Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota ChildhoodGeorge Sword’s Warrior Narratives


“An excellent contribution to the literature on Lakota spirituality and worldview … 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. His writing reveals a sophisticated understanding of the impact of colonialism on Indigenous life … The whole volume resonates with truth and wisdom.”

Author of Remember This! and Indigenizing the Academy


“If you want to know more about American Indians, read this book. The book 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 … Moves Camp’s story will be read for generations to come.”

Tink Tinker (wazhazhe/Osage Nation)
Professor Emeritus of American Indian Studies


“Not since Luther Standing Bear has Lakota spirituality been portrayed with such sincerity … 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 … More than an autobiography, this is the story of olówaŋ wičháša, or spiritual code, of generations of Lakota people immersed in life way knowledge who transmitted that knowledge even when it was outlawed by the US government … This book has the power to resonate and linger with you.”

Christopher Pexa
Author of Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakhóta Oyáte


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 … Simon J. Joseph does an excellent job with the material and continues breaking new and exciting ground in Lakota studies. 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 Lakota: 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 first-hand. This book is a must read to anyone interested in Lakȟóta past and present.”

Rani-Henrik Andersson
Author of The Lakota Ghost Dance of 1890 and Lakota: 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 … 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


“Not since Black Elk Speaks have we been gifted such a heartfelt account of the lives and work of Lakota holy men during times of great change to sustain a culture for future generations.”

Suzanne Owen
Author of The Appropriation of Native American Spirituality


My Grandfather’s Altar is a moving and richly informative account of Lakota spirituality, as told through the medicine tradition in a single family. This eye-opening memoir is essential reading not just for anyone interested in Native American spiritual traditions, but also for understanding forms of religious consciousness more broadly defined. In more senses than one, the book is a revelation.”

Philip Jenkins
Author of Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality 

“A powerful, touching, and fascinating memoir that takes us into a magical, mysterious world known to but a few.”

Dale C. Allison, Jr.
Author of Encountering Mystery: Religious Experience in a Secular Age

Wóptuȟ’a’s gravesite marker, Hisle cemetery, South Dakota.

Wóptuȟ’a’s gravesite marker, Hisle cemetery, South Dakota.