Sioux Nations: Dakota

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Sioux Nations: Dakota


Dakota (pronounced Dah-KO-tah) is the tribe’s name for themselves and may mean “friend” or “ally.” It comes from the Santee word, Dahkota, sometimes translated as “alliance of friends.” Another meaning for the name is “those who consider themselves kindred.” The Dakota are also known as the Santee Sioux.

The Sioux tribes (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) were once given the name nadowe-is-iw-ug, which means “little adders (snakes)” by their enemies, the Ojibway. The French mispronounced the Ojibway word as nadewisou and shortened it to “Sioux,” the name by which the tribes are collectively known. Because the name was intended as an insult, many of the people dislike being called Sioux.


Archaeological evidence indicates that the Dakota occupied what is now western Ontario and eastern Manitoba in Canada prior to 1200. The people later moved south into present-day Minnesota in the United States. Before the arrival of Europeans they occupied lands east of the Mississippi River along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. In modern times they live on nine reservations in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and Nebraska, and on several reserves in Canada. The largest reservation is Lake Traverse in South Dakota.


In 1839 about 3,989 Dakota lived in the Minnesota territory. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 107,321 people identified themselves as Sioux, and 10,999 people as Dakota. About 12,500 Dakota lived on Canadian reserves in 1996. According to the 2000 census, a total of 113,713 Sioux resided in the United States; of those, 22,988 did not specify a specific band. Those who called themselves Dakota numbered 1,771 and the Santee numbered 2,207. Others identified themselves by reservation or community.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

The Dakota belong to the Great Sioux Nation, which includes the Lakota and Nakota peoples. Some Sioux creation stories trace their origins back to the Black Hills of South Dakota, but in other stories the origination point was the Minnesota woodlands, where they lived at the time of first contact with Europeans. Seven Sioux bands made up the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires. At some point the Nakota and Lakota broke away from the Dakota and moved west. There are four Dakota groups: Wahpeton,Mdewakantonwon,Wahpekute, and Sisseton.

Dakota enemies were the Ojibway to the north, and the Mandan, Potawatomi, Winnebago, and Sac.

The Dakota tribe is considered the parent of the Great Sioux Nation, which also includes the Lakota and Nakota tribes (see entries). The Dakota enjoyed a comfortable life among the great natural abundance of Minnesota until white settlers overran their lands in the mid-nineteenth century. The tribe tried to accommodate the newcomers but were forced into the bloody Santee War of 1862. After that they endured much hardship, but kept their culture intact.


Tribal divisions

Before European contact the Sioux lived as far north as Mille Lacs in present-day Minnesota. They say they once hunted, fished, and planted on nearly 100 million acres of land in the region. In the distant past the tribe split into three groups. The Nakota moved to the prairies of South Dakota, and the Lakota moved to west of the Missouri River. The Dakota, the largest of the three groups, stayed in Minnesota. All three groups maintained close ties.

In the mid-1700s the Dakota were pushed south out of Mille Lacs by the Ojibway (see entry), who used weapons they had acquired in trade with the French. (The Dakota also traded with the French, who arrived in the region in about 1640, but the Ojibway may have received more ammunition and guns.) The Dakota moved into the southern half of Minnesota and built villages along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Where they had once lived in villages year-round and planted gardens, they now adopted a Plains lifestyle of gathering wild rice and migrating part of the year to hunt buffalo.

Important Dates

1805: The Mdewakantonwon band of Dakota signs a treaty with Zebulon Pike.

1837-51: More treaties are signed. The Dakota lose most of their land and move to a reservation in Minnesota.

1858: The Dakota reservation is cut in half.

1862: Santee War is fought; afterwards, 38 Dakota warriors are executed.

1863: The Forfeiture Act is passed, taking away all Dakota treaty rights.

1870s: The Dakota move to reservations in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Canada; some Dakota attempt to return to Minnesota.

1889: The Sioux Reservation is broken into six small reservations; remainder of land is opened to white settlers.

From British to American hands

When England gained control of French lands east of the Mississippi River in 1763, the Dakota traded with the British. When the American Revolution (1775–83; the American colonists’ fight for independence from England) began the Dakota sided with their trading partners because they believed American expansion posed a greater threat to their way of life than the British did. The British lost the war, and within a few decades American settlement on Dakota lands began.

In 1805 the American soldier Zebulon Pike (1779–1813) explored the region and obtained land for a fort. Pike signed a treaty with the Dakota to exchange 100,000 acres of land for $2,000 and some presents. In 1819 the U.S. government built Fort St. Anthony (later renamed Fort Snelling) at the mouth of the Minnesota River. Throughout its history the fort served as a meeting place for Dakota, American soldiers, and government officials.

Meanwhile white settlers poured into Dakota lands in Minnesota. More treaties were signed; soon the Dakota had given up most of their land and were crowded into a small reservation along the Minnesota River. Altogether they yielded control of more than 24 million acres for about 12.5 cents per acre, paid in cash, food, and other supplies. The treaties stated that much of this money would go directly to traders, who deducted large amounts (claiming the tribe owed them money for supplies) before giving the rest to the Dakota people.

Events leading up to Santee War

On the reservation the Dakota could not hunt or move about as they once had; when they ventured off the reservation to hunt, they had trouble with whites. Missionaries arrived, hoping to change Dakota culture and spiritual beliefs. The tribe’s resentment grew.

In 1862 the crops failed, and the cash the U.S. government owed the Dakota did not arrive when due. In July thousands of Dakota gathered outside the headquarters of the Indian agent who was supposed to distribute the money. A rumor spread that the money was not coming because it was being spent on the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery). When the agent refused to release food from the full warehouse until the money came, the Dakota, by then starving, were furious. A white trader even said: “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”

In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970) author Dee Brown described the reaction of Dakota leader Little Crow (c. 1810–1863) to these words:

For years he had tried to keep the treaties, to follow the advice of the white men and lead his people on their road. It seemed now that he had lost everything. His own people were losing faith in him, blaming him for their misfortunes, and now the agents and traders had turned against him. Earlier that summer [his people] had accused Little Crow of betraying them when he signed away their lands by treaties.… In the old days he could have regained leadership by going to war, but the treaties pledged him not to engage in hostilities with either the white men or other tribes.

Soon after a starving group of young Dakota men shot five white settlers in a dispute over a hen’s nest and a few eggs. Tensions escalated into a full-blown battle called the Santee War.

Aftermath of Little Crow’s war

Before the Santee War ended Little Crow and his Dakota warriors had killed between 450 and 800 settlers and soldiers. On September 26, 1862, the Dakota surrendered at their own camp, renamed Camp Release.

Hundreds of Dakota were rounded up, imprisoned, and tried in military court. More than 300 men were found guilty and scheduled to be executed, but President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) reduced the number to 38 men. They were hanged at Mankato, Minnesota, but not before many of them denied participating in the fighting.

The other men were imprisoned, and 1,700 Dakota women and children were sent to Fort Snelling, facing assaults and taunts by angry white settlers on the way. Little Crow fled from Minnesota into Canada, but later returned to Minnesota. On July 3, 1863, he was shot and killed while picking berries with his son, Wowinapa. Little Crow was scalped, and his remains were taken and later displayed at the Minnesota Historical Society. In 1971 his bones were returned to his family and reburied near Flandreau, South Dakota.

Minnesota cries for removal

Even after the 38 Dakota were hanged and Little Crow was killed, settlers still called for the removal of all Dakota from Minnesota. The Minnesota governor, echoing this sentiment, declared that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” In 1863 the Minnesota legislature passed the Forfeiture Act, which took away the Dakota reservation and the tribe’s treaty rights. They were also ordered to leave Minnesota.

Many Dakota were transferred to the Crow Creek reservation in present-day South Dakota. The soil was no good for farming, and there was scant rainfall as well as little drinkable water or wild game to hunt. The people suffered from terrible living conditions, starvation, and disease. Some communities fled to the Devil’s Lake reservation in North Dakota and the Sisseton reservation in South Dakota. Still others moved north to Canada in search of safety and land. After three terrible years at Crow Creek, the Dakota living on the desolate reservation moved to the Santee reservation in northern Nebraska.

Over the years a few families slowly moved back into Minnesota from scattered locations and formed communities at Prairie Island and Prior Lake. The Dakota who ventured back into Minnesota were required to carry papers from the government, declaring them “peaceful Indians.”

Struggle for identity

The Dakota faced many of the same problems on their reservations as had other tribes. They lost much of their land following the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Act), which divided reservations into individual plots and opened leftover land to white settlement. (The purpose of the Allotment Act was to force the Native Americans to become more like whites, each one farming a small plot rather than owning the property jointly with the whole tribe.)

Missionaries and government officials tried to force the Dakota to give up their religion and customs. Despite the loss of their land and repeated attacks on their cultural and spiritual beliefs, many Dakota maintained strong ties to their communities, the Great Sioux Nation, and their traditional beliefs. Efforts to reclaim their lands and their heritage continue into the twenty-first century.

Dakota in Canada

The Dakota who fled to Canada now live on reserves (the Canadian name for reservations). Some became commercial farmers, producing specialty crops for sale. Other made their living as woodworkers, cattle ranchers, and laborers, Many still have these same professions in the present day.

Because the Canadian government sees the Dakota as an American tribe, the people are treated as immigrants. While other tribes in Canada made treaties with the government, the Dakota were not entitled to any benefits other groups received. This meant less land for reserves and less economic support. The Dakota continue to press for their rights; they have banded together and formed an association to represent them politically called the Dakota Nations of Canada.


The Dakota believed that every aspect of the physical world, including the Sun, Earth, stars, thunder, rocks, trees, and animals, contained spirits that should be honored and worshipped. All spirits were made and controlled by Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit), who also created the universe. Because Wakan Tanka placed spirits everywhere, the Dakota say that they do not have a religion, but a way of life. Spiritual beliefs influenced their everyday activities, from harvesting corn to hunting for elk.

The Dakota performed the Sun Dance, a religious ceremony conducted by many buffalo-hunting tribes (see “Festivals and ceremonies”). Christian missionaries in the United States and Canada banned the ritual in both countries. The tribes performed the dance in secret until attitudes towards Native American religious freedom changed in the twentieth century.

In modern times many Dakota mix traditional practices with Christian beliefs, learned from the missionaries who arrived in the 1830s. Others belong to the Native American Church, a mixture of traditional and Christian elements, featuring an all-night ceremony of chanting, prayer, and meditation. (For more information on the Native American Church, see Makah entry.)


Originally the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota spoke the same language. But as the Lakota and Nakota moved away from the Dakota, the three developed their own form of the language. All three could still understand each other because the languages remained similar. For example, the word for friend is “koda” in Dakota, “kona” in Nakota, and “kola” in Lakota. All three dialects (varieties) of the language survive into modern times, although the Nakota branch is less common than the other two.

A Congregationalist missionary named Stephen Return Riggs (1812–1883) began his work among the Dakota in the 1830s. He and his wife, Mary Ann, studied the Sioux language and prepared translations of the Christian Bible in Sioux. The first Bible entirely in Sioux was printed in 1879.

In the mid-2000s the Dakota were making efforts to revitalize their language through community and school programs.

Dakota Words

  • ate … “father”
  • cistina … “little”
  • hanhepi … “night”
  • ina … “mother”
  • ista … “eye”
  • kte … “to kill”
  • mani … “walk”
  • nape … “hand”
  • paha … “hill”
  • siha … “foot”
  • yanka … “to sit”
  • waziyatan … “north”


Each of the four Dakota bands was an independent unit, and the band council was the governing body. The council consisted of a chief and representatives from each clan. They discussed important matters and took a vote; then messengers went about the villages announcing the council’s decisions.

The council appointed akicita, outstanding warriors who served as hunt policemen. During a buffalo hunt four men took charge, and they had absolute power as long as the hunt lasted. They were assisted by the policemen, who made sure no one disrupted the hunt.

Long ago the chief was chosen for his wisdom, but at some point the position became hereditary (passed down from father to son). In modern times elected tribal councils govern the various reservations. Although the people are scattered over a wide area, they still consider themselves one people, the Great Sioux Nation.


Dakota men and women contributed equally to the survival of their villages. Women made maple sugar, farmed, gathered food, and helped collect wild rice. Dakota men hunted, broke up the soil for planting, collected wild rice, and fished. White observers often commented on the hard lot of Dakota women, and even called them “slaves” to their husbands. Both men and women played important, though different, roles in the economic survival of their communities.

The Dakota traded surplus items with other tribes. Before the Europeans arrived, the Dakota had an extensive trade network. They journeyed to the James River in South Dakota each year to meet and trade with their Lakota and Nakota kinsmen at a gathering known as the Dakota Rendezvous (pronounced RON-day-voo).

On the reservations the Dakota struggled for years to make ends meet. A great number were forced to sell off their land to survive. Today the Dakota people have learned to adapt to life in cities or on reservations. Many are involved in the tourism industry; others are farmers. A few reservations still have high unemployment rates, but casinos and bingo halls have helped to create jobs and provide funds for cultural revitalization programs.

Daily life


A Dakota household was usually made up of a maximum of four related families, each consisting of grandparents, their daughters and their daughters’ husbands, and grandchildren. They had a complicated system in which certain aunts and uncles were considered like an individual’s parents, and the children of these aunts and uncles became additional brothers and sisters. With so many mothers and fathers, few children could become orphans. If they did lose their parents, children were absorbed into the larger family.

The Dakota had strict rules for how different people interacted with one another. For example, daughters-in-law were not supposed to talk directly to their fathers-in-law.

Dakota Population: 2000 Census

In the 2000 U.S. Census, a total of 113,713 people identified themselves as Sioux. Some further classified themselves as members of specific bands or reservations. But 22,988 failed to do so. They simply called themselves Sioux, without indicating whether they are Dakota, Lakota, or Nakota. Those who are members of Dakota Sioux bands or reservations are shown below. To further complicate a count of the people, some Nakota live on the Spirit Lake (formerly Devil’s Lake) and Fort Peck reservations. Because the census no longer lists groups with populations less than fifty, no current figures were available for Lake Traverse, Prior Lake, or Wahpeton.

Dakota Population: 2000 Census
Dakota groupPopulation
Flandreau Santee353
Fort Peck2,383
Spirit Lake (formerly Devil’s Lake)2,569

“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.


Dakota boys learned from their parents to hunt, make war, or become medicine men, while girls learned to build homes and gather food. Grandparents taught proper behavior and tribal customs and beliefs.

For many years the Dakota endured a mix of government, church-run, and public schools, where little sensitivity was shown to their culture. Finally, in 1975 the Lake Traverse Reservation Tribal Council drew up plans for two schools that would emphasize tribal values. They are Tiospa Zina Tribal School and Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College. The college is recognized as a leader in distance education, offering interactive Dakota language courses and a course in Dakota history and culture on an Internet home page. Education is also important to the Dakota people in Minnesota. Two reservations there have their own charter schools, even though the populations are very small. In Nebraska the Santee Sioux own Nebraska Indian Community College.


Women built and owned the Dakota homes. The tribe lived in two different types of dwellings depending on the season. During the warm summer months families resided in villages so the women could cultivate crops. The summer communities consisted of roomy wood and bark homes that families returned to several years in a row. The women built these sturdy homes by setting wooden posts in the ground to create a frame. They covered the posts with elm bark to create walls and a roof. Inside were benches covered with buffalo robes, which served as beds, tables, and chairs.

During the fall and winter months the Dakota needed portable homes so they could follow wild game. They relied on the cone-shaped tepee. The walls and floors were covered with buffalo or deer hides, and a space was left in the center of the floor for a fire. Tepees were warm and comfortable during the cold, wet months of fall and winter.


The Dakota homeland in Minnesota was filled with abundant resources, and each community enjoyed a healthy, varied diet. The Dakota, who were once primarily farmers, became hunters and gatherers after they moved to the Plains.

In the spring (the Dakota new year), the men and women scattered from their winter villages and went their separate ways. The women, young children, and elders camped near maple tree groves, where they collected sap for maple sugar. At the same time, the men divided into small hunting parties and left in search of muskrat and buffalo, which they either used for food and furs or traded for other provisions.

In the late spring Dakota families and friends reunited in their summer planting villages. The women plowed and planted small gardens of corn, pumpkins, and squash. Then the village disbanded again, although members still used it as a base. The men left on short hunts for deer, duck, turtle, and geese or to fish in the lakes and streams. The women went off to pick ripe fruits and vegetables, including cherries, plums, and berries, the psincha and psinchicha (roots found at the bottom of shallow lakes), the mdo (potato), and wild turnips. Some women and children remained behind to scare crows away from their cornfields.

In the fall the women and some of the men collected wild rice from nearby lakes. They stood in canoes and beat the heads of the rice plants with a stick to release the grain. They also harvested corn and dried what they did not need right away. Some men left for the deer hunt. As winter set in the communities broke up into small groups of one to three families to hunt for deer, buffalo, or other sources of meat, or to ice fish. When spring arrived, the cycle started again.

Corn Balls (Wahuwapa Wasna)

This recipe by Louis Garcia includes berries that were popular with many Native Americans—chokecherries or Juneberries, also called Saskatoons. Most tribes dried these small, round berries and used them in pemmican. Chokecherries are red with a sour taste. Juneberries look like blueberries after they are ripe, but they can be eaten while they are still red (before they ripen).

  • Tallo[w] or Lard (or substitute water)
  • Dried Chokecherry or Juneberry (Saskatoons)
  • Ground Dried Corn Kernels

Grind dried flour corn kernels in a hand grinder.

Grind dried Chokecherry or Juneberry (Saskatoons).

Mix the corn and berries together at a ratio of 4 corn to 1 berry.

Put tallo[w] in a frying pan and lightly brown the mixture.

Dig into the corn mixture with the fingers and an elongated (four fingers wide) mass is formed. Thats why they call it in Dakota Wahuwapa (corn cob). Note: In English they are called Corn Balls probably because some tribes formed them into egg or ball shapes.

Dry them in the sun for later storage.

Garcia, Louis. “Corn Balls.” Native Tech: Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes. (accessed on on August 11, 2007).

Clothing and adornment

Long ago Dakota women relied on buckskin and buffalo hides to make clothing. When trade began with Europeans, they turned to cloth. They made skirts from a single piece of cloth, sewn together at the side and looped over a belt. Cloth leggings reached from their knees to their ankles, where they were tucked into their moccasins. Most of their clothing was decorated with bead and quillwork. They wore bead necklaces and earrings. They rarely painted their faces, but did paint a strip of vivid red in the part of their hair. They wore their hair in two or more long braids, sometimes wrapping the braids with otter fur.

In the summer men wore cotton shirts, leggings, and breechcloths (garments with front and back flaps that hung from the waist). In the winter they wore long coats that reached past their knees. Their clothes and moccasins were also adorned with bead and quill work. They cut their hair in the front, but wore the rest long in two or more braids fastened with silver ornaments or wrapped with otter fur. Headwear ranged from headdresses made of eagle feathers, to war bonnets, sashes worn as turbans, or hoods to keep out cold or mosquitoes.

Healing practices

The Dakota believed that diseases were caused by spirits, so their wakan—medicine men and women—appealed to the spirit world to cure a sickness. To bring a patient back into harmony with the spirit world, the wakan used chants, rattles, and dances or sucked on the infected area. They also used various roots, vegetables, berries, and bark to treat ailments.

Medicine men and women were initiated into a medicine lodge, a secret order that could only be joined by those who had earned the honor. Membership was by invitation only. A medicine dance was held, and a period of probation followed, until the men and women proved themselves worthy and learned the secret methods of curing diseases.


Festivals and ceremonies

The Dakota did not overuse food-gathering areas. To honor the spirits, they offered feasts and sacrifices before harvesting wild rice or hunting for animals. For example, they held a dance before an elk hunt, and made an offering to the spirits after the elk was killed. During wild rice gathering, men and women staged feasts and offerings to the “water god” to ensure that they would not drown during the harvest. Later, after more ceremonial offerings, the rice was harvested and prepared for more feasting and eventual storage.

In addition to these everyday practices, the Dakota conducted important ceremonies throughout the year, such as pipe ceremonies, medicine dances, Wakan (spiritual) feasts, and inipis, or sweat lodge ceremonies that purified people.

Sun Dances

In the summer the Dakota often gathered with their scattered Lakota or Nakota relatives to perform the sacred Sun Dance. According to the Sun Dance tradition, warriors or others who found themselves facing certain death, offered a prayer to the Sun for their survival. If they survived, they participated in the Sun Dance the next summer to offer thanks and to atone for their weakness in the face of death. Before the dance a sturdy pole was set up in a clearing. After the opening ceremonies participants danced without stopping for a day and night, gazing at the Sun, and blowing on an eagle bone whistle. Late in the dance incisions were made in the participants’ chests, and wooden skewers were placed through the cuts and attached with thongs to the pole. The men would then pull until the skewers broke free from their chests. The dancers’ sacrifice fulfilled their vow to the Sun.

The Dakota still hold Sun Dances and sweating and pipe ceremonies throughout the year. On the anniversary of the hanging of the 38 men at Mankato they hold a ceremonial powwow to commemorate their deaths. According to the participants, 38 eagles always appear overhead during the ceremony.

The Eagle and the Beaver: A Dakota Tale

Out of the quiet blue sky there shot like an arrow the great War-Eagle. Beside the clear brown stream an old Beaver-woman was busily chopping wood. Yet she was not too busy to catch the whir of descending wings, and the Eagle reached too late the spot where she had vanished in the midst of the shining pool.

He perched sullenly upon a dead tree near by and kept his eyes steadily upon the smooth sheet of water above the dam.

After a time the water was gently stirred and a sleek, brown head cautiously appeared above it.

“What right have you,” reproached the Beaver-woman, “to disturb thus the mother of a peaceful and hard-working people?”

“Ugh, I am hungry,” the Eagle replied shortly.

“Then why not do as we do—let other folks alone and work for a living?”

“That is all very well for you,” the Eagle retorted, “not everybody can cut down trees with his teeth, or live upon bark and weeds in a mud-plastered wigwam. I am a warrior, not an old woman!”

“It is true that some people are born trouble-makers,” returned the Beaver, quietly. “Yet I see no good reason why you, as well as we, should not be content with plain fare and willing to toil for what you want. My work, moreover, is of use to others besides myself and family, for with my dam-building I deepen the stream for the use of all the dwellers therein, while you are a terror to all living creatures that are weaker than yourself. You would do well to profit by my example.”

So saying, she dove down again to the bottom of the pool.

The Eagle waited patiently for a long time, but he saw nothing more of her; and so, in spite of his contempt for the harmless industry of an old Beaver-woman, it was he, not she, who was obliged to go hungry that morning.

Eastman, Charles A. and Elaine Goodale Eastman. “The Eagle and the Beaver.” Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folk Tales Retold. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

War and hunting rituals

Warfare was an important way for Dakota men to prove their manhood. They earned honor and prestige for their bravery and skill in war. Men organized war parties, carried out frequent raids against their enemies, and remained ever on guard against attacks on their summer planting villages.

A man—and sometimes a woman—usually organized a war party after a dream or vision. The call went forth to form an expedition, and volunteers joined the leader to fulfill the vision. Early observers called Dakota men “savage,” but Dakota warriors respected their enemies and showed their strength and bravery by selecting and attacking key enemy warriors, not by destroying everyone in a village. A warrior who faced certain death sang a special death song; the 38 warriors at Mankato sang the song just before they were hanged.

Men made their own weapons for hunting and war, and women were forbidden to touch them. Women made war bonnets to be awarded to successful warriors, but once the bonnets were finished, the makers could never touch them again.

Courtship, marriage, and babies

A young man had to earn his adult name before he could court a young woman. He courted her by playing sweet music on an instrument made of wood or of a bird’s wing or by offering to help with her chores. Once he gained her affection, he gave gifts to her parents to show what a good provider he would be. Or he might move in with her family for a while, and during that time the young woman would prove she could keep house. If all went well, the young woman and her female relatives built a tepee and held a feast, then the groom took his bride to their new home.

When a child was expected, the husband sometimes left the village to hunt or visit his family until the baby was born. The expectant mother was assisted in the birth by the older women of the village, who tied the newborn onto a wooden board called a cradle board. Young children slept with their parents or grandparents until they were about four years old.

Naming practices

Dakota people received several different names in their lifetimes. When babies were born they received a name based on their place in the family. For instance, the first male child was always called Caske and the first female child was always named Winona. When the child reached five or six years old and had developed a personality, a nickname was given. At the age of twelve children participated in a naming ceremony, where they accepted a name they had earned.

Death and burial

Old people were respected in Dakota society. When an elderly person sensed that death was near, he or she sometimes left the village to die alone. If the group moved to a new location, a sick or dying person might stay behind so as not to be a burden.

When a person died family members wailed over the death, cut their skin or hair, and gave away possessions to show grief. Sometimes a lock of hair was removed from the deceased to make a “spirit bundle.” The bundle was hung in the family’s lodge, and a dish of food placed under it. After one year a feast was held, and the spirit bundle was buried.

The deceased was dressed in his or her best clothes and new moccasins for the journey to the Land of Ghosts. The body was then wrapped with blankets or buffalo robes, and prized weapons or items were bound up in the wraps or placed nearby. The Dakota placed the body on a scaffold (a raised platform) so that the remains could fall back to Mother Earth.

Current tribal issues

Despite their separation among various reservations throughout the United States and Canada, Dakota people have shared many similar experiences. They have filed claims against the federal and Canadian governments for land losses, and some of these claims have been successful. For example, residents of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation (or Lake Traverse Reservation) received money for some of the land taken from them during allotment. Some land claims are still pending.

For example, in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills legally belonged to the Great Sioux Nation. The court awarded the tribes more than $105 million for the Black Hills and over $40 million for lands east of the Black Hills, but the Sioux refused to accept the money. They declared, “One does not sell their Mother.” A survey conducted in 1996 revealed that 96 percent of the people agreed with this decision, although many of them are living in poverty. The settlement money set aside for them continues to accrue interest and is now worth more than $863 million, but the Sioux refuse to touch it. For them, justice will only be served when these lands are restored to their people.

Throughout the Dakota nation, efforts have been made to bring home the remains of deceased ancestors housed in museums and historical societies. Minnesota Dakota worked with the Park Service to remove a campground from a known Dakota burial site.

The Dakota and the other members of the Seven Council Fires (Sioux) continue to stress the importance of presenting a united front on land and water rights, gambling, and other issues. For example, in November 1996 the Santee reservation in Nebraska seemed ready to accept money for land lost to the federal government. The other Sioux tribes strongly opposed this move and urged the Santee not to take actions the other nations might have to follow.

Notable people

Charles A. Eastman (1858–1939) was born in Minnesota and raised in a traditional Santee setting. He had little contact with American society until he went to school in Flandreau, South Dakota. He received a degree in medicine in 1890, then became a physician at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the first Native American in a position of authority there. Eastman wrote about Native American culture and the differences between Native beliefs and those of U.S. society in his autobiographical works Indian Boyhood (1902) and From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916). He was active in the Young Men’s Christian Association and was one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. His other works include Red Hunters and the Animal People (1904), Old Indian Days (1907), Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folktales Retold (1909), The Soul of the Indian (1911), The Indian Today (1916), and Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains (1918).

Gabriel Renville (c. 1824–1892) was chief of the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe from 1862 to 1892. He helped establish the Lake Traverse Reservation, where he was a successful farmer, and helped maintain traditional Santee customs. William G. Demmert Jr. (1934–) is a Tlingit/Dakota university professor and writer of many works on Indian education. Hank Adams (1943–) is an Assiniboin/Dakota activist from Montana who joined the struggle over Indian fishing rights in the Northwest. Santee activist, actor, and musician John Trudell (1947–) was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who joined the group occupying Alcatraz Island. Sisseton-Wahpeton songwriter and performer Floyd Westerman (1936–) played the role of Ten Bears in the film Dances with Wolves. Paul War Cloud (1930–1973) was a Sisseton-Wahpeton painter who depicted Dakota culture and tradition in his works.

Brown, Dee. “Little Crow’s War.” in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Holt, Rinehart And Winston, 1970.

Eastman, Charles A. From the Deep Woods to Civilization. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

———. The Essential Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), Revised and Updated Edition: Light on the Indian World. Michael Oren Fitzgerald, ed. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2007.

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Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska

Laurie Edwards

Brian Wescott (Athabaskan/Yup’ik)

Laurie Edwards

Amanda Beresford McCarthy

Laurie Edwards