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Lakota, Dakota, Nakota - The Great Sioux Nation

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Sioux Indians on horseback

Sioux Indians, photo by Heyn, 1899.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



There was a time when the land was sacred,
and the ancient ones were as one with it.
A time when only the children of the Great

Spirit were here to light their fires in these

 places with no boundaries...
In that time, when there were only simple ways,
I saw with my heart the conflicts to come,
and whether it was to be for good or bad,
what was certain was that there would be change.


- The Great Spirit



The Sioux are a confederacy of several tribes that speak three different dialects, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. The Lakota, also called the Teton Sioux, are comprised of seven tribal bands and are the largest and most western of the three groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. The Dakota, or Santee Sioux, live mostly in Minnesota and Nebraska, while the smallest of the three, the Nakota, primarily reside in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana.


The name Sioux derives from the Chippeway word "Nadowessioux" which means "Snake" or "Enemy." Other definitions trace it to early Ottawa (Algonquian) singular /na:towe:ssi/ (plural /na:towe:ssiwak/) "Sioux," apparently from a verb meaning "to speak a foreign language", however, the Sioux generally call themselves Lakota or Dakota, meaning "friends, allies, or to be friendly."

The Sioux were a proud people with a rich heritage. They were the masters of the North American plains and prairies, feared by other tribes from the great lakes to the Rockies.

Migrating west from Minnesota, the Sioux became nomads of the plains, taking advantage of horses which were originally brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 1500s. Following the buffalo, they lived in teepees to allow them quick mobility.

Though the Sioux were known as great warriors, the family was considered the center of Sioux life. Children were called "Wakanisha” which meant sacred and were the center of attention. While monogamy was most often practiced, Indian men were allowed to take on more than one wife. However, infidelity was punished by disfigurement.

The roles of men and women were clearly defined with the men expected to provide for and defend the family. Hunting was taken very seriously and infraction of the hunting rules could lead to destruction of a man’s teepee or other property. Women were the matriarchs, ruling the family and domestic lives of the band.

The Sioux were a deeply spiritual people, believing in one all-pervasive god, Wakan Tanka, or the Great Mystery. Religious visions were cultivated and the people communed with the spirit world through music and dance. Rituals of self-sacrifice, by inflicting slashes upon themselves or other self-inflicted wounds, asserted their identity as Indian warriors. This was also practiced by mourners during burial ceremonies.




War and battles were another underlying principle of the Sioux people, because through it, men gained prestige, and their prestige was reflected in the family honor.


The Lakota


Sometimes also spelled "Lakhota,” this group consists of seven tribes who were known as warriors and buffalo-hunters. Sometimes called the Tetons, meaning "prairie dwellers,” the seven tribes include:

  • Ogalala ("they scatter their own," or "dust scatterers")

  • Sicangu or Brule ("Burnt Thighs")

  • Hunkpapa ("end of the circle"),

  • Miniconjou ("planters beside the stream"),

  • Sihasapa or Blackfoot (Ntote confused with the separate Blackfoot tribe)

  • Itazipacola (or Sans Arcs: "without bows")

  • Oohenupa ("Two Boilings" or "Two Kettle")

Sioux Tipis

Sioux Tipis, 1902.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


Fort Laramie painting by Alfred Jacob Miller

Fort Laramie painting by Alfred Jacob Miller,

Walters Art Gallery.


This band migrated west from Minnesota after the tribe began to use horses. There were about 20,000 Lakota in the mid 18th century, a number which has increased to about 70,000 today, of which approximately 1/3 still speak their ancestral language.

The Lakota were located in Minnesota when Europeans began to explore and settle the land in the 1600s.  Living on small game, deer, and wild rice, they were surrounded by large rival tribes. Conflict with their enemy, the Ojibwa eventually forced the Lakota to move west. By the 1700s, the Lakota had acquired horses and flourished hunting buffalo on the high plains of Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas, and as far north as Canada. The Tetons, the largest of the Lakotatribes dominated the region.


As white settlers continued to push west onto Sioux lands and multiple treaties were made and broken, the Sioux retaliated, resulting in three major wars and numerous other battles and skirmishes.


The first major clash occurred in 1854 near Fort Laramie, Wyoming , when 19 U.S. soldiers were killed.  In retaliation, in 1855 U.S. troops killed about 100 Sioux at their encampment in Nebraska and imprisoned their chief.  In 1866-1867, Red Cloud’s War was fought that ended in a treaty granting the Black Hills in perpetuity to the Sioux. The treaty, however, was not honored by the United States; gold prospectors and miners flooded the region in the 1870s.


In the ensuing conflict, General George Armstrong Custer and 300 troops were killed at Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, by the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and his warriors.

After that battle the Sioux separated into their various groups. The massacre by U.S. troops of about 150 to 370 Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in December 1890 marked the end of Sioux resistance until modern times.

Today, the majority of the Lakota live at the 2,782 square mile Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.


Continued Next Page

Ogalala Sioux at an oasis in the Badlands of South Dakota

Ogalala Sioux at an oasis in the Badlands.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


Sioux Dance

Sioux Dance.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



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