Lakota, Dakota, Nakota - The Great Sioux Nation
photo by Heyn, 1899.
image available for photographic prints
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
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,
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
Dakota. The Dakota, or Santee Sioux,
live mostly in
Nebraska, while the smallest
of the three, the Nakota,
primarily reside in South Dakota,
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
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
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
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.
Sometimes also spelled
"Lakhota,” this group consists of seven tribes who were known as warriors
and buffalo-hunters. Sometimes called the Tetons (referring to their
dialect and location west of the Dakota on the plains) the seven tribes include:
Ogalala ("they scatter
their own," or "dust scatterers")
Sicangu or Brule
Hunkpapa ("end of the
beside the stream"),
Sihasapa or Blackfoot
(Ntote confused with the separate Blackfoot tribe)
Itazipacola (or Sans
Arcs: "without bows")
Boilings" or "Two Kettle")
Sioux Tipis, 1902.
image available for photographic prints
painting by Alfred Jacob Miller,
Walters Art Gallery.
This band migrated west
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.
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
Lakota tribes dominated the region.
As white settlers
continued to push west onto Sioux lands
and multiple treaties were made and broken, the
retaliated, resulting in three major wars and numerous other battles and
The first major clash occurred in 1854 near
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
Cloud’s War was fought that ended in a treaty granting the
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.
the ensuing conflict,
General George Armstrong Custer and 300 troops were killed at
Bighorn on June 25, 1876, by the Sioux
Sitting Bull and his warriors.
After that battle the
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
resistance until modern times.
Today, the majority of
live at the 2,782 square mile Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South
called the Santee Sioux, originally migrated northeast into Ohio and
Minnesota. The name "Santee" comes from camping for long periods in a place where
they collected stone for making knives Woodland people, they thrived on
hunting, fishing and some farming. It was from the Dakota,
Lakota stemmed, moving further west into the great plains.
There are four bands in the Dakota
tribe, who primarily live in
In the 19th century, the
railroads hired hunters to exterminate the
buffalo herds, in order to
force the tribes onto reservations. As the buffalo quickly came
almost extinct, both the Dakota
and Lakota were forced to accept white-defined reservations in
exchange for the rest of their lands. Domestic cattle and corn
were given to the Sioux in
exchange for buffalo, making the Sioux
dependent upon the government for food and payments guaranteed by
map courtesy the History Channel
Site of Treaty of 1868.
Battle of Wolf Mountain,
In 1862, after a failed
crop the year before and a winter starvation, the federal payment was
late to arrive. The local traders would not issue any more credit to
the Dakota and the local federal agent told the Dakota
that they were free to eat grass. As a result on August 17, 1862, the
Uprising began when a few Dakota
men attacked a white farmer, igniting further attacks on white
settlements along the
River. The US Army put the revolt down, then later tried and condemned
303 Dakota for war crimes. President Abraham Lincoln remanded the
death sentence of 285 of the warriors, signing off on the execution of
38 Dakota men by hanging on December 29, 1862 in Mankato,
the largest mass execution in US history.
also known as the Yanktonai or Yankton Sioux,
split from the Dakota and moved to the prairies in the region that is
They were divided into three bands: Yankton who are now on the Yankton
the Upper Yanktonai who are split between the Standing Rock
and the Devil's Lake Reservation in
and the Lower Yanktonai who are split between the Crow Creek
and the Fort Peck Reservation in
In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
Indians were entitled to an award of $17.5 million, plus 5%
interest per year since 1877, totaling about $106 million in
compensation for the unjust taking of the
Black Hills and in direct contravention of the
Fort Laramie. The Sioux have refused to take the money and sits in a trust fund in
Washington, collecting interest.
Today, there is division among the Sioux as to
whether to claim the money, therefore relinquishing their rights to the
forever, or to press for the return of the
Nation covers 2,782 square miles in
and neighboring states. Constituting one of the largest
American groups, the Sioux
primarily live on reservations in
North Dakota, South Dakota and
Montana. The Pine Ridge Indian
is the second largest in the United States. Many are engaged in farming
and ranching, including the raising of bison. The Shakopee Mdewakanton
Sioux have a
large casino on their reservation in
but Oglala efforts to establish one at impoverished Pine Ridge have met
with only partial success. Indian
Country Today, a successful Nativ American newspaper, was started at Pine Ridge in 1981; it is now based
in Rapid City,
In 1990 there were more than 100,000
Sioux in the
United States and more than 10,000 in Canada.
On many reservations, there is violence, drunkenness, apathy and despair.
School drop-outs rates range from 45 to 62%. Suicide among the indigenous
people is twice the US national average and unemployment runs around 80%.
have formed The Alliance of Tribal Tourism Advocates, whose goal is to
enhance prospects of tourism development in accordance with the nation
organizations, beliefs and priorities. In 1999, Shannon County,
South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation, was identified as the poorest place
in the country.
of America, updated September, 2014.
Sioux at an
oasis in the
image available for photographic prints
Fort Laramie Treaty
Myths & Legends of the
Native American People
Sioux Indian Wars
Totems & Their
images available for photographic prints & editorial downloads
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