There are many meanings associated with different animals in the Lakota tradition. The meanings depend on who is interpreting the symbols, and their contexts (e.g. the meanings might be different in different ceremonies). Therefore, the meanings that I present here are only possible interpretations.
Animals are often used as totems for people, or sort of spirit guides which help the people through their lives. A person may discover his/her spirit guide by meditation, vision quests, or other rituals. The animal associated with each person usually has something in common with the person, based on the person's personality, and those things attributed to the animal. In this way, the animal world collectively becomes representative of the life of the community generally, and those individuals who comprise that community.
"The buffalo or bison is considered by many tribes to be a symbol of adundance for it was the meat of the buffalo that fed the people, the hides that provided clothing and shelter, the bones and sinew provided tools of survival. The Lakota's trace the origin of the sacred pipe to the appearance of the White Buffalo Woman who promised abundance for the tribe as they honored, by prayer, the Great Spirit and all of their relations, meaning the other creations of nature."1
The bear, while very large and strong, are often associated with humans because of their incredible gentleness. Because they hibernate, they are associated with dreaming. They are considered introspective and in touch with the cycles of the earth, but they also have a ferocious side. Their return to the earth each winter also suggests a strong feminine aspect, and they therefore also represent nurturing and protection.
The eagle represents courage, strength and bravery. Because they fly, they are often associated with high pursuits. They soar majestically, and are therefore considered to be closest to the creator. Because of this, their feathers are said to have great medicine. They are used in prayer and ceremonies as a kind of medium for communication with the creator.
The deer is associated with grace and beauty. They have very well developed senses and intuition. People associated with the deer said to be very powerful in healing. They are very in touch with their surroundings and can use them effectively. They are community oriented, traveling in herds and always staying near the family.