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ETHNONYMS: Nakota, Wiciyela

The Yankton are one of the seven main divisions of the Siouan-speaking Dakota (Sioux) Indians. Prior to the early seventeenth century the Yankton were located in present-day southern Minnesota, where they practiced a hunting, farming, and gathering way of life. During the seventeenth century they were forced by the indirect pressures of European Contact to migrate from their homeland in a southwesterly direction to the open plains, eventually ending up in present-day southeastern South Dakota.

Beginning in the 1830s disease, declining bison herds, and hostilities with other Plains Indian groups began to take their toll on the Yankton, and the culture was in decline. About this time they numbered around three thousand People. By 1860 the Yankton had ceded all of their lands to the United States government and were settled on reservations in North and South Dakota. In the 1970s Yankton living on the Crow Creek and Yankton reservations in South Dakota and on several reserves in Canada numbered approximately forty-five hundred.

With the move to the plains, bison hunting became the center of Yankton economic life, though gathering and cultivation of maize, beans, squash, and other crops continued to be important. After acquiring horses they extended their range into the Dakotas and northern Minnesota. The Yankton were organized into eight bands, each of which was subdivided into patrilineal clans. Band governance was provided by a band council composed of a hereditary chief and clan elders. They believed in a supreme deity, Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit), and they practiced scaffold and underground burials.


Howard, James H. (1966). The Dakota or Sioux Indians: A Study in Human Ecology. Vermillion: University of South Dakota Museum.

Woolworth, Alan R. (1974). Ethnohistorical Report on the Yankton Sioux. New York: Garland Publishing.