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Sioux ( ) are a Native American and First Nations people. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many dialects. The Sioux comprise three major divisions based on Siouan dialect and subculture:

  • Isáŋyathi o Isáŋathi ("Knife," originating from the name of a lake in Okecochbee in present-day Minnesotamarker): residing in the extreme east of the Dakotasmarker, Minnesota, and northern Iowamarker, and are often referred to as the Santee or/and Eastern Dakota.

  • Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna ("Village-at-the-end" and "little village-at-the-end"): residing in the Minnesota River area, they are considered to be the middle Sioux, and are often referred to as the Yankton and the Yanktonai, or, collectively, as the Wičhíyena (endonym) or the Western Dakota (and have been erroneously classified, for a very long time, as “Nakota”) .

  • Thítȟuŋwaŋ or Teton (uncertain, perhaps "Dwellers on the Prairie"; this name has by now grown rather archaic among the natives who presently prefer to simply call themselves Lakȟóta): the westernmost Sioux, known for their hunting and warrior culture, and are often referred to as the Lakota.

Today, the Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations, communities, and reserves in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Manitobamarker and southern Saskatchewanmarker in Canadamarker.

Political organization

The historical political organization was based on the participation of individuals and the cooperation of many to sustain the tribe’s way of life. Leaders were chosen based upon noble birth and demonstrations of bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom.

Political leaders were members of the Načá Omníčiye society and decided matters of tribal hunts, camp movements, whether to make war or peace with their neighbors, or any other community action. Societies were similar to fraternities; men joined to raise their position in the tribe. Societies were composed of smaller clans and varied in number among the seven divisions. There were two types of societies: Akíčhita, for the younger men, and Naca, for elders and former leaders.

Akíčhita ("Warrior") societies existed to train warriors, hunters, and to police the community. There were many smaller Akíčhita societies, including the Kit-Fox, Strong Heart, Elk, and so on.Leaders in the Načá societies, per Načá Omníčiye, were the tribal elders and leaders. They elected seven to ten men, depending on the division, each referred to as Wičháša Itȟáŋčhaŋ ("chief man"). Each Wičháša Itȟáŋčhaŋ interpreted and enforced the decisions of the Načá.

The Wičháša Itȟáŋčhaŋ would elect two to four Shirt Wearers who were the voice of the society. They settled quarrels among families and also foreign nations. Shirt Wearers were often young men from families with hereditary claims of leadership. However, men with obscure parents who displayed outstanding leaderships skills and had earned the respect of the community might also be elected. Crazy Horse is an example of a common-born "Shirt Wearer".

A Wakíčhuŋza ("Pipe Holder") ranked below the "Shirt Wearers". The Pipe Holders regulated peace ceremonies, selected camp locations, and supervised the Akíčhita societies during buffalo hunts.

Name origins

The name "Sioux" is an abbreviated form of Nadouessioux borrowed into French Canadian from Nadoüessioüak from the early Odawa exonym: naadowesiwag "Sioux". It was first used by Jean Nicolet in 1640. The Proto-Algonquian form *na·towe·wa, meaning "Northern Iroquoian", has reflexes in several daughter languages that refer to a small rattlesnake (massasauga, Sistrurus). This information was interpreted by some that the Ottawa borrowing was an insult. However, this Proto-Algonquian term most likely was ultimately derived from a form *-a·towe·, meaning simply "speak foreign language",.ref name="dict" /> Later this was extended in meaning in some Algonquian languages to refer to the massasauga. Thus, contrary to many accounts, the old Odawa word naadowesiwag did not equate the Sioux with snakes. This is not confirmed though, since usage over the previous decades has led to this term having negative connotations to those tribes to which it refers. This would explain why many tribes have rejected this term as an autonym.

Some of the tribes have formally or informally adopted traditional names: the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is also known as the Sičháŋǧu Oyáte, and the Oglala often use the name Oglála Lakȟóta Oyáte, rather than the English "Oglala Sioux Tribe" or OST. (The alternative English spelling of Ogallala is considered improper).


The Sioux comprise three closely related language groups:

  1. Lakota (a.k.a. Lakȟóta, Teton, Teton Sioux)
  2. Western Dakota (a.k.a. Yankton-Yanktonai or Dakȟóta)
    • Yankton (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ)
    • Yanktonai (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna)
  3. Eastern Dakota (a.k.a. Santee-Sisseton or Dakhóta)
    • Santee (Isáŋyáthi: Bdewákhathuŋwaŋ, Waȟpékhute)
    • Sisseton (Sisíthuŋwaŋ, Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ)

The earlier linguistic 3-way division of the Sioux language identified Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota as dialects of a single language, where Lakota = Teton, Dakota = Santee-Sisseton and Nakota = Yankton-Yanktonai. However, the latest studies show that Yankton-Yanktonai never used the autonym Nakhóta but rather pronounced their name roughly the same as the Santee (i.e. Dakȟóta). These studies identify Assiniboine and Stoney as two separate languages, with Sioux being the third language. Sioux has three similar dialects: Lakota, Western Dakota (Yankton-Yanktonai) and Eastern Dakota (Santee-Sisseton). Assiniboine and Stoney speakers refer to themselves as Nakhóta or Nakhóda (cf. Nakota).

The term Dakota has also been applied by anthropologists and governmental departments to refer to all Sioux groups, resulting in names such as Teton Dakota, Santee Dakota, etc. This was mainly because of the misrepresented translation of the Ottawa word from which Sioux is derived.

Modern geographic divisions

The Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations and communities in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, and South Carolina; and also in Manitobamarker and southern Saskatchewanmarker in Canada.

The earliest known European record of the Sioux was in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. After the introduction of the horse, the Sioux dominated larger areas of land—from present day Canadamarker to the Platte River, from Minnesota to the Yellowstone River, including the Powder River country.

Santee (Isáŋyathi or Eastern Dakota)

The Santee migrated north and westward from the southeast, first into Ohio, then to Minnesota. Some came up from the Santee Rivermarker and Lake Marionmarker, area of South Carolinamarker. The Santee River was named after them, and some of their ancestors' ancient earthwork mounds have survived along the portion of the dammed-up river that forms Lake Marion. In the past, they were a woodland people who thrived on hunting, fishing and subsistence farming. Migrations of Anishinaabe/Chippewa (Ojibwa) people from the east in the 17th and 18th centuries, with muskets supplied by the French and British, pushed the Dakota further into Minnesota and west and southward. The US gave the name "Dakota Territory" to the northern expanse west of the Mississippi River and up to its headwaters.

Iháŋkthuŋwaŋ-Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna (Yankton-Yanktonai or Western Dakota)

The Iháŋkthuŋwaŋ-Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna, also known by the anglicized spelling Yankton (Iháŋkthuŋwaŋ: "End village") and Yanktonai (Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna: "Little end village") divisions consist of two bands or two of the seven council fires. According to Nasunatanka and Matononpa in 1880, the Yanktonai are divided into two sub-groups known as the Upper Yanktonai and the lower Yanktonai (Hunkpatina).

They were involved in quarrying pipestone. The Yankton-Yanktonai moved into northern Minnesota. In the 18th century, they were recorded as living in the Mankatomarker region of Minnesota.

Lakota (Teton or Thítȟuŋwaŋ)

The Sioux likely obtained horses sometime during the seventeenth century (although some historians date the arrival of horses in South Dakota to 1720). The Teton (Lakota) division of the Sioux emerged as a result of this introduction. Dominating the northern Great Plains with their light cavalry, the western Sioux quickly expanded their territory further to the Rocky Mountains (which they called Heska, "white mountains"). The Lakota once subsisted on the buffalo hunt, and on corn. They acquired corn mostly through trade with the eastern Sioux and their linguistic cousins the Mandan and Hidatsa along the Missourimarker.

Ethnic divisions

The Sioux are divided into three ethnic groups, the larger of which are divided into sub-groups, and further branched into bands.
  • Most of the Yanktons live on the Yankton Reservation in southeastern South Dakota. Some Yankton live on the Lower Brule Reservation and Crow Creek Reservation. The Yanktonais are divided into Lower Yanktonai, who occupy the Crow Creek Reservation, and Upper Yanktonai, who live in the northern part of Standing Rock Reservation, on the Spirit Lake Reservation in central North Dakota, and in the eastern half of the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana, as well several Canadian reserves, including Birdtail, Oak Lake, and Moose Woods.

  • The Santee live on reservations, reserves, and communities in Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Canada.

  • The Lakota are the westernmost of the three groups, occupying lands in both Northmarker and South Dakotamarker. Today, many Sioux also live outside their reservations.

Womendress of the Sioux
Baby sling of the Sioux

  • Santee division (Dakota) (Isáŋyathi)
    • Mdewakantonwan (Bdewékhaŋthuŋwaŋ "Spirit Lake Village")
    • : notable persons: Taoyateduta
    • Sisseton (Sisíthuŋwaŋ, perhaps meaning "Fishing Grounds Village")
    • Wahpekute (Waȟpékhute, "Leaf Archers")
    • :notable persons: Inkpaduta
    • Wahpetonwan (Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ, "Leaf Village")

  • Yankton-Yanktonai division (Western Dakota) (Wičhíyena)
    • Yankton ( , "End Village")
    • Yanktonai ( , "Little End Village")
      • Upper Yanktonai
      • Unkpatinaor Lower Yanktonai
    • : notable persons: Wanata, Chief War Eagle

Reserves and First Nations

Today, one half of all enrolled Sioux in the United States live off the reservation. Enrolled members in any of the Sioux tribes in the United States are required to have ancestry that is at least 1/4 degree Sioux (the equivalent to one grandparent).

In Canada, the Canadian government recognizes the tribal community as "First Nations." The land-holdings of the these First Nations are called "Reserves".

Modern reservations, reserves, and communities of the Sioux

Reserve/Reservation Community Bands residing Location
Fort Peck Indian Reservation Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes Hunkpapa, Upper Yanktonai (Pabaksa), Mdewakantonwan, Wahpekute, Sisseton, Wahpeton, Assiniboine (Canoe Paddler, Red Bottom) Montanamarker, USAmarker
Spirit Lake Reservation(Formerly Devil's Lake Reservation) Spirit Lake Tribe(Mni Wakan Oyate) Wahpeton, Sisseton, Upper Yanktonai North Dakotamarker, USA
Standing Rock Indian Reservationmarker Standing Rock Sioux Tribemarker Upper Yanktonai, Hunkpapa North Dakota, South Dakotamarker, USA
Lake Traverse Indian Reservation Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Sisseton, Wahpeton South Dakota, USA
Flandreau Indian Reservation Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton South Dakota, USA
Cheyenne River Indian Reservation Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Minneconjou, Blackfoot, Two Kettle, Sans Arc South Dakota, USA
Crow Creek Indian Reservation Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Lower Yanktonai South Dakota, USA
Lower Brule Indian Reservationmarker Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Brulé South Dakota, USA
Yankton Sioux Indian Reservationmarker Yankton Sioux Tribe Yankton South Dakota, USA
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Oglala Lakota Oglala, few Brulé South Dakota, USA
Rosebud Indian Reservation Rosebud Sioux Tribe (also as Sicangu Lakota or Upper Brulé Sioux Nation)(Sičháŋǧu Oyate) Sićangu (Brulé), few Oglala South Dakota, USA
Upper Sioux Indian Reservation Upper Sioux Community(Pejuhutazizi Oyate) Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Wahpeton Minnesotamarker, USA
Lower Sioux Indian Reservationmarker Lower Sioux Indian Communitymarker Mdewakanton, Wahpekute Minnesota, USA
Shakopee-Mdewakanton Indian Reservation(Formerly Prior Lake Indian Reservation) Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Mdewakanton, Wahpekute Minnesota, USA
Prairie Island Indian Community Prairie Island Indian Community Mdewakanton, Wahpekute Minnesota, USA
Mille Lacs Lake Indian Reservation Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Mille Lacs Indians, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Minnesota) Ojibwa, Mdewakanton Minnesota, USA
St. Croix Indian Reservation St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin Ojibwa, Mdewakanton Wisconsinmarker, USA
Santee Indian Reservation Santee Sioux Nation Mdewakanton, Wahpekute Nebraskamarker, USA
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Reserve, Fishing Station 62A Reserve* Sioux Valley First Nation Sisseton, Mdewakanton, Wahpeton, Wahpekute Manitobamarker, Canadamarker
Dakota Plains Indian Reserve 6A Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation Wahpeton, Sisseton Manitoba, Canada
Dakota Tipi 1 Reserve Dakota Tipi First Nation Wahpeton Manitoba, Canada
Birdtail Creek 57 Reserve, Birdtail Hay Lands 57A Reserve, Fishing Station 62A Reserve* Birdtail Sioux First Nation Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Yanktonai Manitoba, Canada
Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation Reserve, Oak Lake 59A Reserve, Fishing Station 62A Reserve* Canupawakpa Dakota Nation Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Yanktonai Manitoba, Canada
Standing Buffalo 78 Reserve Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation Sisseton, Wahpeton Saskatchewanmarker, Canada
Whitecap Reserve Whitecap Dakota First Nation Wahpeton, Sisseton Saskatchewan, Canada
Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation Wahpeton Saskatchewan, Canada
Wood Mountain 160 Reserve, Treaty Four Reserve Grounds Indian Reservation 77* Wood Mountain Hunkpapa Saskatchewan, Canada
Carry the Kettle Nakota First Nation Indian Reserves, Assiniboine 76 Reserve, Treaty Four Reserve Grounds Indian Reservation 77* Carry the Kettle First Nation Assiniboine Saskatchewan, Canada
Little Black Bear 84 Reserve, Treaty Four Reserve Grounds Indian Reservation 77* Little Black Bear Cree-Assiniboine First Nation Cree, Assiniboine Saskatchewan, Canada
Mosquito 109 Reserve, Grizzly Bear's Head 110 & Lean Man 111 Reserves, Mosquito, Grizzly Bear's Head, Lean Man Treaty Land Entitlement Indian Reserve 1, Golden Eagle Indian Reserve Mosquito, Grizzly Bears Head, Lean Man First Nations (Mosquito, Grizzly Bear's Head, Lean Man) Assiniboine, Cree Saskatchewan, Canada
White Bear 70 Reserve, Treaty Four Reserve Grounds Indian Reservation 77* White Bear First Nation Assiniboine, Cree, Ojibwa Saskatchewan, Canada
Stoney 142-143-144 Reserves, Stoney 142B Reserve, Big Horn 144A Reserve, Eden Valley 216 Reserve Bearpaw, Chiniki and Wesley Stoney Albertamarker, Canada
* Reserves shared with other First Nations


Early History

The Dakotas are first recorded to have resided at the source of the Mississippi river during the seventeenth century. By 1700 some of them relocated to present-day South Dakota. Late in the 17th century, the Dakota entered into an alliance with French merchants. The French were trying to gain advantage in the struggle for the North American fur trade against the English, who had recently established the Hudson's Bay Company.

Dakota War of 1862

When 1862 arrived, shortly after a failed crop the year before and a winter starvation, the federal payment was late. The local traders would not issue any more credit to the Santee and one trader, Andrew Myrick, went so far as to tell them that they were "free to eat grass or their own dung." On August 17, 1862 the Dakota War began when a few Santee men murdered a white farmer and most of his family. They inspired further attacks on white settlements along the Minnesota River. The Santee attacked the trading post. Later settlers found Myrick among the dead with his mouth stuffed full of grass.

On November 5, 1862 in Minnesota, in courts-martial, 303 Santee Sioux were found guilty of rape and murder of hundreds of American settlers. They were sentenced to be hanged. No attorneys or witness were allowed as a defense for the accused, and many were convicted in less than five minutes of court time with the judge. President Abraham Lincoln remanded the death sentence of 284 of the warriors, while signing off on the execution of 38 Santee men by hanging on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesotamarker. It was the largest mass-execution in U.S. history.

Afterwards, the US suspended treaty annuities to the Dakota for four years and awarded the money to the white victims and their families. The men pardoned by President Lincoln were sent to a prison in Iowamarker, where more than half died.

During and after the revolt, many Santee and their kin fled Minnesota and Eastern Dakota to Canada, or settled in the James River Valley in a short-lived reservation before being forced to move to Crow Creek Reservation on the east bank of the Missouri. A few joined the Yanktonai and moved further west to join with the Lakota bands to continue their struggle against the United States military.

Others were able to remain in Minnesota and the east, in small reservations existing into the 21st century, including Sisseton-Wahpeton, Flandreau, and Devils Lake (Spirit Lake or Fort Totten) Reservations in the Dakotas. Some ended up in Nebraska, where the Santee Sioux Tribe today has a reservation on the south bank of the Missouri.

Those who fled to Canada now have descendants residing on eight small Dakota Reserves, four of which are located in Manitobamarker (Sioux Valley, Long Plain [Dakota Tipi], Birdtail Creek, and Oak Lake [Pipestone]) and the remaining four (Standing Buffalo, Moose Woods [White Cap], Round Plain [Wahpeton], and Wood Mountain) in Saskatchewanmarker.

Red Cloud's War

Red Cloud's War (also referred to as the Bozeman War) was an armed conflict between the Lakota and the United Statesmarker in the Wyoming Territory and the Montana Territory from 1866 to 1868. The war was fought over control of the Powder River Country in north central Wyoming, which lay along the Bozeman Trail, a primary access route to the Montana gold fields.

The war is named after Red Cloud, a prominent Oglala chief who led the war against the United States following encroachment into the area by the U.S. military. The war ended with the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Sioux victory in the war led to their temporarily preserving their control of the Powder River country.

Great Sioux War of 1876-77

Between 1876 and 1877, the Great Sioux War of 1876-77 took place. The Lakota and their allies fought against the United States military in a series of conflicts. The earliest was the Battle of Powder River, and the final conflict was the Wolf Mountainmarker. Included are the Battle of the Rosebud, Battle of the Little Bighornmarker, Battle of Warbonnet Creek, Battle of Slim Buttes, Battle of Cedar Creek, and the Dull Knife Fight.

Wounded Knee Massacre

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after massacre of Wounded Knee.
The Battle at Wounded Knee Creek was the last major armed conflict between the Lakota and the United States. It was described as a "massacre" by General Nelson A. Miles in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

On December 29, 1890, five hundred troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, supported by four Hotchkiss guns (a lightweight artillery piece capable of rapid fire), surrounded an encampment of the Lakota bands of the Miniconjou and Hunkpapa with orders to escort them to the railroad for transport to Omaha, Nebraskamarker.

By the time it was over, 25 troopers and more than 150 Lakota Sioux lay dead, including men, women, and children. Some of the soldiers are believed to have been the victims of "friendly fire" because the shooting took place at point-blank range in chaotic conditions. Around 150 Lakota are believed to have fled the chaos, many of whom may have died from hypothermia.

Usage of the Ghost Dance reportedly instigated the massacre.

Forced relocation

Traditional location of Sioux tribes (dark green and prior to 1770) and their current reservations (orange)
Later in the 19th century, the railroads hired hunters to exterminate the buffalo herds, the Indians' primary food supply. The Santee and Lakota were forced to accept white-defined reservations in exchange for the rest of their lands, and domestic cattle and corn in exchange for buffalo. They became dependent upon annual federal payments guaranteed by treaty. In Minnesota, the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851 left the Sioux with a reservation twenty miles (32 km) wide on each side of the Minnesota River.

20th century activism

Wounded Knee incident

Beginning in the late 1960s, young Native Americans began to agitate for improved conditions, respect for their civil rights, and better programs in education and economic development. Dramatic protests were conceived, such as the occupation of Alcatraz Islandmarker in California. The Wounded Knee incident began February 27, 1973 when the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakotamarker was seized by followers of the American Indian Movement. The occupiers controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service laid siege.

Republic of Lakota

The Lakotah Freedom Delegation, a group of Native American activists, declared on December 19, 2007 the Lakotah were withdrawing from all treaties signed with the United States to regain sovereignty over their nation. One of the activists, Russell Means, claims that the action is legal and cites Natural, International and U.S. law. The group consider Lakotah to be a sovereign nation, although as yet the state is generally unrecognized. The proposed borders reclaim thousands of square kilometres of North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana.

Sioux in Popular Media

Video clip of a dance performed by a Sioux tribe from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.
This is part of a group of films constituting the first appearance of Native Americans in motion pictures

  • The HBO movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee depicts the relocations and reservations from the Sioux perspective, based on the book by Dee Brown.
  • The films Dances with Wolves and Thunderheart contain depictions of the Sioux People.
  • "Elegy to the Sioux," a poem by Norman Dubie
  • The mini-series Into the West depicts the Sioux, specifically the Lakota, during some of first ventures of the "white men" into the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.
  • The novel A Death for Beauty depicts the Lakota Sioux and their battles with the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War.

Famous Sioux




A Manitoba Historical Plaque was erected at the Spruce Woods Provincial Parkmarker by the province to commemorate Assiniboin (Nakota) First Nation's role in Manitobamarker's heritage.


  1. for a report on the long-established blunder of misnaming “Nakota” the Yankton and the Yanktonai, see the article Nakota
  2. not to be confused with the Oglala thiyóšpaye bearing the same name, "Unkpatila", the most famous member of which was the great chief Crazy Horse
  3. George E. Hyde, "Red Cloud's Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux Indians", University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, pg. 3, [1]
  4. Michael Johnson, Jonathan Smith, Tribes of the Sioux Nation, Osprey Publishing, 2000, pg. 3, [2]
  5. *
  6. Letter: General Nelson A. Miles to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, March 13, 1917.
  7. Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US, Agence France-Presse news
  8. Manitoba Plaque

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