Dakota and Lakhota

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Dakota and Lakhota

LOCATION: United States (North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana); Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba)
POPULATION: approximately 150,000
LANGUAGE: English; Dakota Sioux
RELIGION: Traditional
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 2: Native North Americans


The term Sioux (a French form of Nadowi-is-iw, "little adders," a name given them by their enemies, the Chippewa) has been used for a large group of bands and tribes who spread historically from Minnesota to the prairies of the Dakotas and as far as Montana. Speaking a common language with dialectical variations, these peoples today, as in the past, refer to themselves as Dakota in the east, Nakota in the central region, and Lakhota in the west. In all three regional dialects, this term means "allies," and it was extended to affiliated tribes such as the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, both Algonkian speakers who fought alongside them in war. The unity of the Allies is symbolically expressed in the term oceti sakowin—the Seven Fireplaces. The easternmost Dakota groups are the Mdewak'ant'unwan ("Spirit lake village"), Wahpek'ute ("Leaf shooters") Sisit'unwan ("Fish scale village"—although the meaning of this term is debated), and Wahpet'unwan ("Leaf village"). These four groups are collectively referred to as the Santee (Isan t'i—"Knife dwellers"— referring to the name of a lake). The central groups also call themselves Dakota, which sometimes was pronounced Nakota. These are the Yankton ("End dwellers") and the Yanktonais ("Little End Dwellers"). These two groups are classed together as Yankton or "Middle" Sioux. The westernmost groups, known collectively as the Teton Sioux (Titunwan, or "Prairie dwellers") form the third division. They subdivided themselves historically into seven further fireplaces: Oglala ("Scatters their own"), Sicangu ("Burned thighs"), Mnikowoju or Miniconjou ("Planters by water") Oohenunpa ("Two kettles"—literally, "Two boilings"), Itazipco or Icazipo ("Without Bows"), Sihasapa ("Black Feet"), and Hunkpapa ("Campers at the opening of the circle"). Today these people use their own language for self-ascription, the Tetons calling themselves the Lakhota and the others using Dakota. In 19th-century literature, these groups were collectively called Sioux or Dakota (and thus the Dakota Territory, which is, in fact, occupied in the west by the Lakhota and the east by the Dakota).

The Allies originally kept their own historical records in the form of winter counts. These pictographic documents highlight each "winter" or year with its most significant event. By their reckoning, the Allies have hunted and gathered on this continent since their emergence into this world, and in any case since long before the coming of Europeans. Items of European culture such as horses, cloth and later guns were initially acquired through trade with other Indians and later directly with Europeans through the fur trade (late 1700s until about 1851). Early contact resulted in widespread epidemics of European diseases that ravaged native populations.

The first written mention of the "Naduesiu" by Europeans was by Jean Nicolet in 1639, with the first recorded contact between the Dakota and the explorers Radisson and Grosselier in 1660. The first fur trading post was established on the Mississippi in 1683. The Dakota territory was "claimed" by the King of France in 1689 and later "purchased" by the young nation of the United States in 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase). Louis and Clark visited the Dakota territory in 1804, and the first treaty with the Eastern Allies was signed with Zebulon Pike, ceding two parcels of Dakota land on the Mississippi river for American forts. The Dakota allied with the British in the War of 1812. Fort Snelling, the first military outpost in the country of the Dakota, was built on one of these parcels in 1819. Fort La Framboise (later renamed Ft. Pierre) was built in 1917.

The first large-scale outbreak of hostilities between the military forces of the United States and the western Lakhota took place in 1854 when a Lakhota was jailed for the killing of a cow owned by a Mormon settler. Known as the Mormon Cow incident, Lieutenant Grattan and 29 of his men were killed in retaliation, and this sparked the Sioux War of 1855. A peace treaty was signed with the Lakhota in 1856, and the Lakhota who had killed the cow was released.

As the 19th century went on, the Eastern Dakota were increasingly pressed by settlers wanting their land. The United States government habitually delayed meeting its treaty obligations and did nothing to discourage encroachment of settlers into Dakota territory. In an attempt to maintain their land and resources, Inkpaduta killed 40 settlers and took four captives in 1857, but a year later the Yanktons ceded their eastern lands, retaining only a small parcel on the east bank of the Missouri River. Further pressure from settlers and continued delays in the government's treaty payments resulted in the Minnesota Dakota conflict of 1862. During this conflict some Dakota fled to Canada and the west. By 1864 the remaining Santee were removed from their homelands to Nebraska.

When gold was discovered in Montana in 1863, settlers traveled to the gold fields by way of the Bozeman trail, disrupting game ecology and splitting the great buffalo herd in two. Hostilities continued with the unceasing expansion of whites through and to the territory of the Lakhota. The first Fort Laramie Treaty was signed with the Lakhota in 1851, but when the U.S. Army failed to fulfill its obligation to keep settlers off of Lakhota land, hostilities erupted, most notably resulting in the death of Captain Fetterman and 80 of his men in the Wagon Box Fight in 1866. In 1868 the Red Cloud War ended with the signing of the second Fort Laramie Treaty. The United States abandoned the forts along the Bozeman Trail, which was closed to white migration, and the Lakhota agreed to allow a railroad to pass through their country. This treaty also established the domain of the Lakhota: the lands to the west of the Missouri River in the present state of South Dakota and parts of its border states, as well as hunting rights in lands contiguous to the territory.

Once again whites abrogated their treaty agreements when gold was discovered during the Custer expedition to the Black Hills in 1874. The United States attempted to acquire the territory legally in 1875 and, when that effort failed, set up a commission in August of 1876, which fraudulently declared the territory was legally ceded according to the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty. On 31 January, 1876 the United States military announced that all Native Americans must leave their hunting territories and report to reservations. General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry went out to round up the Lakhota who would not follow this order. Custer's command was crushed in the Battle of the Little Big Horn on 26 June, 1876, but only a year later, the Oglala under Crazy Horse came in to Fort Robinson. Crazy Horse was murdered on 5 September while in custody at the Fort. By 1878 the Tetons were all on reservations except for Sitting Bull and his supporters, who had fled to Canada. Homesick and missing their relatives, Sitting Bull and the majority of his people returned to their territory in 1881, taking up residence on the reservation.

The United States hoped to assimilate the Native Americans, making them independent landowners and dissolving both religious and civil authority. U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant instituted the Grant Peace Policy 1869, whereby each reservation was allocated to a single Christian denomination to administer and proselytize (this policy was rescinded in 1882). Land allotment to individuals under the Dawes Act sought to dissolve the vast land holdings of the natives and sell the "excess" lands to white settlers. The first attempt to parcel out the Great Sioux Nation territory was in 1888 and the second in 1889, when the government managed to acquire the ¾ signatures necessary to cede land.

By the late 1880s the status of the Allies had been so drastically reduced that spiritual remedy was sought. The Ghost Dance, begun by the visions of a Paiute Indian named Wovoka (Captain Jack) in Utah, spread throughout the Plains in the late 1880s. This faith taught that through prayer and dancing the earth would roll up and be renewed. The ancestors and the buffalo would return and the Europeans would disappear. Some Lakhota also claimed that sacred shirts would protect them from the bullets of the whites. The Ghost Dance movement gained strength in 1889, a year of drought and famine. The killing of Sitting Bull by Tribal Police on 15 December 1890 further disheartened the people. The Indian Agent at Pine Ridge panicked over this situation and called in troops, which violated an understanding he had with the Lakhota. At the same time, Chief Big Foot and his Miniconjou and Hunkpapa followers traveled down from the Cheyenne River agency to Pine Ridge to meet with Red Cloud and receive horses from him. They were arrested to the west of Pine Ridge and brought to Wounded Knee Creek. While the Lakhota were being disarmed, a shot was heard, and the soldiers began shooting into the encampment, massacring 368 men, women and children.

The Lakhota and Dakota struggled against great odds to preserve their cultural life. In the 1880s some Santee returned to Minnesota and small reservations were granted. In 1905, the first individual allotments were made on the Pine Ridge agency itself. All Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924. Allotments continued until the United States reversed the policy of forced cultural assimilation and destruction of traditional cultural and political institutions through the Indian Reorganization Act, which allowed Indian tribes to constitute themselves as legal entities and again own and control land communally. The IRA was a mixed blessing; while it gave the tribes some autonomy, it also imposed governmental structures (tribal councils) that are derived from American civil government rather than from traditional forms of authority.

The Lakhota and Dakota continued to struggle for their legal, cultural, religious, and territorial rights, working through extended family governance as well as other traditional forms of social organization. The United States set up the Indian Claims Commission in 1946 to settle outstanding treaty claims on the part of Native peoples. Although the Supreme Court has recognized the illegality of the seizure of the Black Hills by the United States government, the Lakhota and Dakota people involved in the suit refuse to accept the monetary settlement prescribed by the Federal government and continue to press for a return of the federally controlled regions of the Black Hills to their rightful owners. In the 1970s, Indian groups became more visible as contemporary peoples as they protested their political and cultural plights, particularly with the occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM) (27 February–8 May, 1973), which brought world attention to Native issues. Legislation such as the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act (1975), the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978), and the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) helped bolster Indian rights in the judicial and governmental arenas. Contemporary concerns of the Lakhota and Dakota people include tribal sovereignty, religious rights in general as well as protection of religious rituals from exploitation, return of the Black Hills, jobs, language retention and revival, cultural and political autonomy.


Some Lakhota claim that their people inhabited the Black Hills since the beginning of time. Others hold that the Allies emerged from a cave or from under a lake to inhabit the upper world. Anthropologists and archaeologists, who believe the inhabitants of this continent migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait, place origin of the Dakota people in the southeastern United States. At earliest European contact, the Dakota and Lakhota occupied the woodlands of a territory centered in what is now known as Minnesota. By the late 1700s the Lakhota spread westward to Montana and Wyoming and were successful on the plains as warriors as well as horsemen and hunters. They fought prolonged wars with the Crows, Pawnees, Shoshones, Omahas and Kiowas, who blocked their westward migrations.

Today Lakhota and Dakota live on a number of reservations: in South Dakota—the Lake Traverse, Standing Rock, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Yankton, Flandreau, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud Reservations; in Nebraska, the Santee Reservation; in Montana, the Fort Peck Reservation; and in North Dakota, the Fort Totten Reservation. There are also Dakota and Lakhota in present day Canada in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. As many as 85% of Native Americans live in urban areas, so it should be no surprise that there are many Lakhotas and Dakotas in off-reservation cities such as Pierre, Rapid City, Scotts Bluff, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the 1990 United States Census, there are 103,255 Sioux people, making them the fourth largest native group in the United States. Two of the ten largest reservations in the United States are Lakhota: Pine Ridge (28,000 persons), which is ranked second, and Rosebud (over 20,000), which is ranked sixth.


Lakhota and Dakota are still spoken today and are commonly used during religious ceremonies and traditional social events. Great pains are taken today to preserve and expand the number of speakers of these dialects. Lakhota, Dakota and Nakota are mutually intelligible dialectical variants of one of many languages of the Siouan family. Formal study and recording of Dakota by Euro-Americans was first carried out by the Pond brothers and Stephen Returns Riggs, all of whom were Protestant missionaries. Fr. Eugene Buechel, S.J., continued this work among the Lakhota, building on a dictionary first started by the Pond brothers and published by Riggs. Native Dakota scholar Ella Deloria and Lakhota scholar George Bushotter also worked on the language, recording native stories in their original dialects.


The Dakota and Lakhota have a tradition of oral literature that continues into the present. Many stories are shared among the different groups of the seven fireplaces, and some stories have been picked up from the many surrounding cultures. The ability to tell stories well is honored. Many Dakota stories were recorded in Dakota by Stephen Riggs and Ella Deloria. Dakota stories in English were also written by Charles Eastman. Lakhota stories were recorded in the native language by George Bushotter and Eugene Buechel, S.J. Dr. James Walker recorded many stories narrated by George Sword, including stories of the creation of the word and the behaviors of the spirits.

Stories of the trickster Iktomi provide moral lessons by showing how not to behave. There are also many versions of the story of how the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the Sacred Pipe to the Lakhota. Magical, handsome heroes come to save the people, and still other stories tell of war and peace, love and conflict, and every other human occurrence. Many stories are very funny and are told both to entertain and instruct.


The religion of the Dakota teaches various ways to gain assistance from spiritual powers in order to live this life well. Sweat lodge rituals are used to purify an individual for contact with the divine. Individuals pray, make sacrifices, and endure suffering to make themselves pitiful so that the spirits would come to their assistance. The Dakota also adopted the mdewiwin ritual from the nearby Ojibway, with several levels of initiation into a healing lodge that helps individuals and the community through life.

The famous Lakhota spiritual leader Black Elk described Lakhota religion as consisting of seven rites: Wanagi Yuhapi, the keeping of the soul; Inipi, the rite of purification (sweat lodge); Hanbleceyapi, the rite of crying for a vision; Wiwanyag Wacipi, the sun dance; Hunkapi, the making of relatives; Isnati Awcialowan, preparing for womanhood, and Tapa Wanka Yap, the throwing of the ball. There are also a variety of healing ceremonies called lowanpi, "sings," or yuwipi, a ceremony in which the spiritual leader is tied and later unbound in the darkness by the spirits. Lakhota and Dakota continue to rely upon a variety of healers who used both prayers and various medicines to help their patients. Smudging and praying and offering food for the departed spirits are also important religious practices, as are acts of generosity and hospitality.

In the 19th century some Dakota and Lakhota became Christian. Traditional spiritual leaders like George Sword and Black Elk also became Christian leaders. While some individuals held exclusive allegiance to one or the other belief, others participated and still participate in both religious forms. Both the government and the missionaries initially attempted to suppress traditional religious beliefs. Today both groups have a deeper respect for traditional religion. Some Dakota and Lakhota follow what are called the traditional ways, while others belong to one Christian denomination or other, and some, as in the past, pray in both groups. The majority of Lakhota and Dakota today hold that all religions seek to contact the same God and see prayer as a way to unify the people. There is controversy over non-Lakhota or Dakota conducting traditional ceremonies. For example, charging admission for such things as sweat lodges is disrespectful.

Some Lakhota and Dakota belong to the Native American Church, a group that combines Christian and traditional beliefs with the use of peyote as a sacrament that brings wisdom to those who use it. Native American Church congregations vary, based in how much Christianity and tradition they incorporate into their ceremonies. Individuals from other tribes often visit to participate in all-night prayer services.


In the past different groups came together for the annual Sun Dance, although the Lakhota and Dakota were so far-ranging by the end of the 19th century that it is unlikely they were all ever able to meet as a single body. Buffalo hunts were sometimes occasions for summer gatherings, as were trade fairs with other tribes. Trade with fur traders and at Army forts were also important social occasions. With the official ban on religious ceremonies, traditional religion went underground, and people substituted American civil and religious holidays for their own annual religious and economic gatherings. Thus the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Veterans Day, and other holidays became important on the reservations. The public Sun Dance was revived on Pine Ridge in 1961 and has become centrally important. Today, there are many Sun Dances in a single season. Powwows are important secular as well as religious events put on by different communities as well as reservations, often with prizes for dancers and singers. Most of these gatherings occur in the summer. The Sisseton Wahpeton Wacipi (wacipi means dance) is the oldest continuously celebrated event in the state of South Dakota. Many of the summer powwows are open to whomever wishes to attend in a respectful manner.


Dakota and Lakhota children, were and some continue to be, treated ceremonially at birth with traditional naming and ear piercing. Names have never been static, for as individuals achieve social recognition or are healed of a serious illness or are adopted by other extended families, new names are granted. Girls underwent a "sing" and were instructed in arts and manners proper to women when they reached their first menses. Boys would undertake vision quests, although individuals could do this at any time when they needed spiritual aid. Marriage was not ceremonialized in the past. Individual males could be initiated into various societies of curers, dreamers, and healers, and women had special associations for their various arts such as quill work. Leadership also conferred a different status on an individual, although in the past leadership was situational and transitory. For the Dakota, entrance into the Mdewiwin, or "Medicine Lodge," was accomplished through a series of ordeals and rites of passage to convey new status.

The most important and extended rite of passage was for the dead. In the past, there would be a long period of mourning during which those close to the deceased would show their sorrow through self-mutilation, such as cutting one's hair. In some instances, the soul would be ceremonially kept in a special bundle by a designated keeper for a period of a year and then released.

Dakota and Lakhota rites of passage are very much alive today. There has been a revival of the girl's puberty ritual, and many individuals participate in the rites of passage mentioned above. These rites are all public and are accompanied by large feasts and give-aways (a distribution of gifts) to honor those undergoing the rituals. Young boys are taken out on vision quests. Boys and girls will be given a new name after a great achievement such as finishing a military tour of duty. Graduations from high school and college are marked in a traditional way by tying on an eagle feather (for men) or eagle down plume (for women), and giving the graduate a star quilt. There are also prayers and handshakes to mark these sacred events. Both Christians and Traditional people honor the dead with prayers, honoring songs, large feasts and giveaways, both at the time of death and to mark the one-year anniversary of the death. Food is also placed out to feed the spirit of the deceased.


The basis of Dakota and Lakhota life is kinship. Those related by birth and marriage are counted as kin, as are other human beings sometimes formally included through the hunka (adoption) ceremony. The extended family remains the focal social unit. Indeed, kinship is projected to the entire universe. Thus Lakhotas end their prayers with the phrase mitakuye oyas'in, which means "for all my relatives."

Dakota and Lakhota society was once based in small roving bands organized by leaders according to needs. This leadership would be extended over larger groups at times of communal hunts and in warfare. Individual freedom was and continues to be highly prized. If a person was not content with how things were done, he or she was free to form another group. The smallest social group was the tiyospaye, "residential group or band," and consisted in cooperating families and individuals who attached themselves to that group. A number of these bands would comprise an oyate, "people," such as the Sicangu or Oglala.

The coming of the Europeans modified group structures, and a split arose between those who wanted to adopt white ways quickly and those who did not. The native governance of the Dakota and Lakhotas became more centralized and stable to deal with the European incursion into the territory and lives of these people.

In contemporary Lakhota and Dakota life, personal freedom remains essential, but this is balanced by obligations to one's extended family and tribe. So, too, many Dakota and Lakhota enter the United States military services and are respected for that; one is expected to sacrifice for the people and to be generous and kind to everyone, but especially to the poor and elderly.

The Lakhotas describe themselves as ikcey wicasa, ordinary people, and no one is supposed to be boastful. Even important governmental or religious leaders are expected to act humbly. Dakotas and Lakhotas are wonderfully humorous and enjoy teasing one another as well as making self-deprecating remarks. Individuals are expected to excel but never to separate themselves from the group.

Dakotas and Lakhotas today frequently perform the hunka (adoption) ceremony to increase the size of their families. Both Lakhotas and Dakotas, as well as outsiders who have grown close to certain families, will be honored in this way. Special songs are sung and a name is given to the adopted, sometimes the name of a deceased relative whom the adopted one resembles in some way. The relationship of a kola (Lakhota) or koda (Dakota) is also vital and represents a deep bond of friendship existing between two individuals.


Before the coming of the Europeans, the Dakota and Lakhota were mobile peoples. The Dakota who lived in the woodlands had bark houses supported by poles in the summer and skin tents called tipis (tipi means "they dwell." Lakhotas generally use the word tiobleca for these dwellings) in the winter. These dwellings were comfortable and warm. In winter they were surrounded by wooden windbreaks for added protection from the elements. As the western Lakhota moved onto the prairie, they used tipis almost exclusively. With the advent of horses, dwellings could be larger and were carried further than when the Lakhota depended on human and canine transport. In the east and west, life could be difficult with frostbite, snow blindness, and starvation, as well as attacks from enemies or wild animals.

During the reservation period, Lakhotas and Dakotas adopted European-style log cabins, and today they have wooden frame houses. Originally, the Lakhota settled according to families along creek bottoms, but the government wanted to centralize construction of new dwellings in housing developments. This caused further social disruption. Agency towns tended to hold the largest concentration of people since jobs with the government, schools, and missions were more available there.

In the 1950s the United States government sponsored a relocation program to help people find employment in the cities and to become more assimilated. Many people left the reservation but eventually returned. Today the Dakota and Lakhota continue to be a highly mobile people; some live far from the reservations but return to renew family bonds. While some of the dwellings look poor, the mark of a prosperous Lakhota or Dakota is not money or lavish surroundings but good relationships with one's family.


Lakhota and Dakota people stress individual freedom, so each person is expected to make decisions for himself or herself. Children, too, are respected in this way and treated as adults, as they are allowed to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. In the past, prosperous men might marry a woman and her sisters and form a household. Extended families continue to be very important, and there were strong kinship obligations in terms of respect and mutual assistance. There was no marriage ceremony, but marriages were sometimes arranged and often sealed with a ritual exchange of property, such as the groom bringing horses to his bride's parents. Once married, one was expected to avoid direct contact with one's in-laws. Children have always been honored as especially sacred beings.

Grandparents have an especially close relationship with their grandchildren. Anyone related to a child who is two generations away is considered a grandparent (rather than a great aunt or great uncle as in Euro-American society).

Women's roles in traditional Dakota and Lakhota society included gathering food, cooking, and making clothes and tipi covers. Women have traditionally been treated with respect and dignity. Today, women as well as men are active in family and tribal affairs, serving as educators and political leaders. Women are healers and also have important roles in the Sun Dance and in Native American church services.


Before the trade for European-manufactured cloth, Dakotas and Lakhotas used tanned and dressed animal skins, such as deer and buffalo, to protect themselves from the weather as well as to indicate their social status. There is a great seasonal variation in the weather of Dakota and Lakhota territory. In the harsh winters moccasins and leggings were used to protect feet and legs. Mittens and gloves protected hands from frostbite. Early Europeans and Euro-Americans frequently commented on the careful ornamentation and good taste exhibited in native dress. Face paint as well as hair style were done with care by both men and women. There was ordinary clothing for daily life and special dress for social events.

Today Dakota and Lakhota wear contemporary clothing for everyday purposes. Some men wear cowboy boots and broad brimmed hats. Women wear dresses or pants. For powwows, men and women will wear beautiful dance costumes decorated with intricate beadwork. Women wear leggings, moccasins, buckskin dresses, and shawls. Men wear breechclouts, moccasins, leggings with bells, and different types of headdresses. Individuals wear everyday clothing for most prayer ceremonies, traditional or Christian, but special dress for those dancing the Sun Dance. Men sometimes wear ribbon shirts for special occasions, while women sometimes wear ribbon dresses. Indian-style clothing is having a significant effect on the fashions of non-Indians, as styles are borrowed back and forth.


The buffalo served as the staple food for the Dakota and Lakhota in their pre-reservation days, but they also ate deer and other game, as well as wild fruits and plants, ducks and geese, and less often, fish. The Dakota harvested wild rice and grew some corn. The Lakhota traded for corn and other produce. Eating was not only for nutrition but also a social event. This is also true today. When someone is to be honored, the family of that person will feed whoever comes for the ceremony. Food is freely shared and special attention is paid to the poor and the elderly. Early Euro-American observers consistently remarked on and benefited from the generosity of the Lakhota and Dakota peoples.

At religious and social rituals today, the food served is a mixture of traditional and contemporary items. Dakotas and Lakhotas still serve dried corn, timpsila (prairie turnips), wasna (pounded dried meat, berries, and fat), wojapi (berry pudding), tripe, boiled beef or buffalo and soups when they are available. Fried bread, although made with flour introduced by Euro-Americans, is considered part of traditional fare. This food may be supplemented with fried chicken, soda crackers, store-bought bread, fruit cocktail, potato salad, beans, pies, and cake. Food is distributed by the providers, and it is always abundant. Those attending feasts bring their own dishes and plenty of containers to carry back food they cannot finish. This extra is called wateca, and the mark of a good feed is the over-abundance of food that will be used for days thereafter.

Venison and Wild Rice Stew

½ pound shoulder of venison, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 quarts water
1½ cups wild rice, washed in cold water
2 onions, peeled and quartered

Place the venison, water, and onions in a large kettle, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let simmer uncovered for 3 hours until the venison is tender. Add the salt, pepper, and rice. Cover and let simmer another 20 minutes. Stir, then let simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Makes 6–8 servings.

(Adapted from Kimball and Anderson, The Art of American Indian Cooking. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965, p. 102.)


Dakota and Lakhota children learned from observation and imitation without coercion. They learned from the people around them the practical skills they needed to survive and the artistic and religious dimensions of life to enhance their existence. With the coming of the reservation system, the government and churches insisted that the children enter formal schooling. While the Dakota and Lakhota were interested in learning European ways, they had already adopted much of this foreign technology. They wanted their children to learn how to deal effectively with the outside world, but they were not in favor of the loss of their own culture that these schools caused. Boarding schools deliberately sought to separate children from their native culture and language, considering both as inferior. Children did learn well in these schools and acquired skills that were helpful to them but at a high psychological and cultural cost. Most damaging was the fact that children were not parented; they were raised for long periods of time in institutions and thus never learned effective parenting skills themselves.

Today there are few boarding schools, and education is largely in the hands of the tribes and reservation communities. Mission schools also have local community school boards to advise them. There are Bureau of Indian Affairs schools on the reservations as well as contract schools (government schools run by the local community) and mission schools. Dakotas and Lakhotas off the reservation attend public or private schools, and local Indian centers set up cultural educational programs. Schools stress education in the local culture and language as well as western education.

In addition to primary and secondary schools, there are a large number of colleges on the reservations chartered and administered by the tribes. Some of these colleges are Oglala Lakhota College (Pine Ridge Reservation), Sinte Gleska University (Rosebud Reservation), Sitting Bull College (Standing Rock Reservation), Sisseton Wahpeton College (Lake Traverse Reservation), Fort Peck College (Fort Peck Reservation), Little Hoop College (Fort Totten College), and Nebraska Indian College (Santee Reservation).

Today, nearly 70% of Dakotas and Lakhota over the age of 25 have at least a high school diploma, and 40% have attended college, though less than 9% have managed to attain a Bachelor of Arts degree or higher.


In literature Charles Eastman is known for his many works on Dakota life and belief, as well as his eye-witness account of the tragedy of Wounded Knee. George Bushotter worked with the Bureau of American Ethnology to record linguistic and cultural data about his people, the Lakhota. Luther Standing Bear told of his life during the reservation and boarding school periods. Dakota Ella Deloria was an accomplished linguist who worked with Franz Boas and also wrote a novel called Water Lilly about the life of the Lakhota at the time of contact from the perspective of women. Vine Deloria, Jr. is a lawyer, educator, and author. He brought the situation of the contemporary native people to the consciousness of larger American society through such books as Custer Died for Your Sins and God is Red. Lakhotas such as Oscar Howe, Arthur Amiotte, and Martin Red Bear have excelled in the visual arts. Kevin Locke is an internationally known traditional flute player. Matthew and Nellie Two Bulls are well known for their traditional singing as well as their composition of songs. There are several well-known singing groups that travel around the country. Billy Mills won Olympic gold medals for running. Tim Giago is the Lakhota publisher of Indian Country Today, a national native newspaper.


In the past, men and women had separate spheres of work. Men hunted and acted as warriors. Women dressed skins, cared for children, gathered wild fruits and roots, and ran the household. All worked together when moving the camp. Certain individuals acted as healers and spiritual leaders in addition to their every day roles. Dakotas and Lakhotas excelled in many things but never tried to separate themselves from the group. One's first duty was always to care for one's family.

Today, unemployment is very high on the reservation due to the marginality of the land and its remoteness from urban and industrial centers. Some Dakota and Lakhota work in tribal government or with the federal government. Some are religious leaders, both traditional and Christian. Others are community or district leaders. Some work as educators, educational administrators, doctors, drug and alcohol counselors, and nurses. Some work as ranchers or farmers. Some Dakota and Lakhota go off to cities to find employment because of the lack of opportunity on the reservations, but the tribes work hard to bring employment to the reservation that will be culturally appropriate for the people.


The Dakota were very fond of a ball game similar to lacrosse. Different bands or villages would oppose one another in these games that were religious in character. It was a game that tested both physical endurance as well as tempers. Women also played a ball game that entailed knocking a ball with clubs on a surface of ice. Foot races as well as target shooting with bow and arrow were popular. Lakhotas were known for their fondness of horse racing.

Dakotas and Lakhotas also play and excel at Euro-American sports such as basketball, football, and track and field events. High school sports are followed with particular relish on the reservation, especially basketball. Many also follow national sports from couches as do other Americans. Rodeo is also a sport in which many Lakhota and Dakota participate successfully.


Children slid down hills on pieces of bark or using barrel staves. On the prairie they used the ribs of buffalos. Sometimes the boys would "surf" down the hills while standing erect on their sleds. Young men and boys also played at snow skates, glancing sticks off an ice surface so that they traveled great distances.

Dakotas and Lakhotas are traditionally fond of gambling and often bet on ball games. Other betting games involve guessing. One game required the person on the opposite team to guess where an object (a pit or sometimes a bullet) was hidden in a series of four moccasins or mittens. These guessing games were quite lively and were accompanied by singing and drumming, physical movement in rhythm with the music, and psyching out the opposite team. Women gambled using plum stones in a dish that were tossed to reveal certain patterns that individuals would bet on. Betting never interfered with daily life, and individuals had a detachment in losing objects. No one was deprived of food or livelihood in these exchanges.

Today, Dakotas and Lakhotas have revived traditional guessing games. A hand game in which one guesses the position of two marked sticks out of four is played to the accompaniment of singing and drumming. Money may change hands.

Children today ride bikes and horses, go to movies, play on swings and monkey bars, watch television, and play music. They dance both traditional style and like their Euro-American neighbors. Adults attend dances or movies and watch their favorite sports or movies on television.


Dakota and Lakhota have a long tradition of artistry. Daily utensils and containers were decorated with paints and dew claws (parts of a deer's foot). Women used dyed, plaited porcupine quills to decorate household objects, moccasins, and clothing. Hides were also tanned by women and painted by men. Women originally learned quilting from missionaries and favor the star quilt design. Women are experts at sewing, and groups of women can turn out a beautiful finished star quilt in an evening if required for a ceremony or religious event. Some women design beautiful ribbon shirts. European trade goods allowed artistic creativity to be expressed in new media. Glass beads replaced porcupine quills, and ledger books and paper replaced hides for artistic expression. Quilting and beadwork continue the fine artistic achievements of the past. It is not uncommon to see pens, salt shakers, and even sneakers decorated with beadwork. Some families continue to do quillwork, and both men and women make silver jewelry and other crafts. Dakotas and Lakhotas engage in the fine arts as well as musical and dramatic performances. Today both men and women excel at the decorative arts and create their own costumes for traditional dancing.


The incursion of whites into the territories of the Dakota and Lakhota caused widespread social and economic disruption. The buffalo herd was hunted to near extinction, and bands were restricted to smaller and smaller territories that were economically marginal. The Dakota were finally exiled from their own territories after the Minnesota-Dakota Conflict. The government and churches also disrupted cultural and leadership patterns in an attempt to weaken the resolve of these groups and assimilate them into American society. Economically, the reservations continue to be marginal and depressed. Much of the crime on the reservations can be linked to the use of alcohol. Dakotas and Lakhotas have higher rates of suicide (particularly among the youth), alcoholism, diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, heart disease, and other maladies than do the neighboring white populations. More and more, the people themselves are looking at developing culturally appropriate solutions to these problems, and a new generation of leaders is arising.

The Pine Ridge reservation has some of the nation's highest unemployment, with the percentage of unemployment being nearly 50%. Life expectancies for males and females on the Pine Ridge reservation are some of the lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere. Female life expectancy is around 52 years, while male life expectancy is around 48 years. Suicide rates on Pine Ridge are four times the national average.


The Siouan peoples recognize four genders: male, female, two-spirit males, and two-spirit females. There is still debate on the sexual orientation of the fourth two-spirit female gender. Some scholars argue that based on 19th century ethnographic evidence that the two-spirit females were lesbians. Other scholars, including some Lakhota argue that the 19th century accounts are wrong on several counts, and that lesbians did not exist in traditional Siouan societies.

Third and fourth gendered individuals in Siouan societies had received visions. The koskalaka is a woman who receives a vision from Anukite. Anukite is a supernatural being who was punished for her beauty through the addition of a second, horrid face. As a result of this vision, the koskalaka chooses not marry, develops her skills in traditional arts and crafts, and becomes more sexually active than is the norm for Lakhota women. If a man receives a vision from Anukite, he will have to choose between male and female utensils. If he chooses the latter, he will become a winkte, or a woman-man.

There are various attitudes towards winkte in Lakhota society. Some accounts of these attitudes indicate fear, disdain, and other negative biases. Other accounts speak of winkte as almost holy in status, demanding a high degree of respect. It is likely that the influences of Christianity have impacted these attitudes. It appears that there is a growing attitudinal change whereby winkte are now being accepted and valued as important members of Lakhota society.

The most important sacred artifact of the Lakhota is the pipe. White Buffalo Calf Woman, or Wohpe, is responsible for bringing this to the Lakhota so that they could carry their prayers to the spirits. Wohpe is the daughter of the Great Sky Spirit and is partly responsible for bringing order in the cosmos. She mediates between the Lakhota and their ancestral spirits and is also responsible for refining the important Sun Dance ceremony.


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———. Lakhota Tales and Texts. Paul Manhart, ed., Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Indian School. 1978.

Demallie, Raymond. "The Sioux in Dakota and Montana Territories." In Vestiges of a Proud Nation. Burlington, VT: Robert Hull Fleming Museum.

DeMallie, Raymond and Douglas Parks, ed. Sioux Indian Religion, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

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Her Many Horses, Emil, ed. Identity by Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women's Dresses. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

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Pond, Samuel. The Dakotas or Sioux in Minnesota as They Were in 1834. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986.

Riggs, Steven Return. "A Grammar and Dictionary of Dakota." Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, 4. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1852.

———. Dakota-English Dictionary. J. Dorsey, ed. Contributions to North American Ethnology, 7. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1890.

———. James Owen Dorsey, ed. Dakota Grammar, Texts and Ethnography. Contributions to North American Ethnology, vol. 9, pp. 1-232. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office 1893.

Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

—revised by J. Williams