January 30, 2002

Lake Traverse Reservation


The Lake Traverse Indian Reservation is the homeland of the Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate, a branch of the Santee Dakota Sioux. The reservation is located in parts of five counties in extreme northeastern South Dakota and parts of two counties in southeastern North Dakota.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is a member of the Sissitowan division of the Great Sioux Nation.
The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is composed of descendants of the Isanti people. The Isanti is comprised of four bands that lived on the eastern side of the Great Sioux Nation. The Isanti speak the ‘D’ dialect of Siouan language.

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Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal Governemnt:

The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

The Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation signed treaties in the 1800’s with the United States which are the legal documents that established our boundaries and recognized our rights as a sovereign government.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is a member of the Sissitowan division of the Great Sioux Nation. Many of the Tribal members were relocated to the reservation after Little Crow’s War in Minnesota. The Tribe was originally designated lands in present day Minnesota, North and South Dakota recognized in treaties with the United States.

The current reservation is in South Dakota except for a small portion in North Dakota. The Tribe claims jurisdiction over all right-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States.

The original reservation was greatly reduced to its present size through subsequent Homestead Acts to provide land for non-Indian settlers.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe operates under a constitution and is governed by a Tribal Council. The Tribal Council consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer and additional Council people who are elected by the tribal members.

The Tribal Council Chairman serves as the administrative head of the Tribe. The Tribal Chairman, Officers and Council serve a term of two years. One Council member is elected from each district. The majority of the population now live in the community and district known as Old Agency Village.

Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal Districts:


1. Old Agency

3. Lake Traverse

5. Buffalo Lake

7. Enemy Swim

2. Big Coulee

4. Long Hollow

6. Veblen



Tribal/Agency Headquarters:

Old Agency Village, South Dakota


Roberts, Day, Marshall, Codington, and Grant in South Dakota; Richland and Sargeant in North Dakota

Number of enrolled members:


Reservation Population:


Labor Force:


Unemployment rates:



Dakota and English


Land Status:


Total Area:


Tribal Owned/Use:


Individual Allotted:


Total Tribal/Allotted:


Non-Indian Owned:




The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is located in the northeastern corner of South Dakota and in the southeastern corner of North Dakota on Interstate 29. The reservation boundaries extend across three counties each in North and South Dakota. The reservation covers an area over 400 square miles within the six counties.

Of this area one third is owned by the Tribe and two thirds by tribal members. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe maintains the right and responsibility to provide environmental authority in compliance with tribal and Federal law for protection of the land and resources within the exterior boundaries of the reservation through code development and regulatory mechanisms.

The maintenance and protection of the land is very important to the Dakota people and our future generations.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota are members of the Great Sioux Nation. The people of the Sioux Nation refer to themselves as Dakota which means friend or ally. The United States government took the word Sioux from (Nadowesioux), which comes from a Chippewa (Ojibway) word which means little snake or enemy. The French traders and trappers who worked with the Chippewa( Ojibway) people shortened the word to Sioux.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is composed of descendants of the Isanti people. The Isanti is comprised of four bands that lived on the eastern side of the Great Sioux Nation. The Isanti speak the ‘D’ dialect of Siouan language. Both were a river-plains people who did some farming as well as buffalo hunting.

The government identified all the Tribes with similar languages as the Sioux people. The oral tradition of our people relates that the Lakota and Dakota people were one nation. The Lakota people moved frequently and live in the west, forming their own nation. The Dakota people still practice their sacred and traditional ceremonies which encompass the seven rites of Dakota Nation brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

Social activities such as powwow, rodeos, and races are celebrated in the summer months. Special powwows are held for individuals who reached a certain stage in their lives such as graduation or acceptance into the armed forces with traditional honoring ceremonies, give aways, and feasts to celebrate their accomplishments. The oral tradition is still passed down from the elders to the youth.

The future of our people is in the hands of our children. The children of the Great Sioux Nation will bring us into the 21st century with pride.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is part of the Great Sioux Nation which recognizes our land base in accordance with the 1805, 1851, 1858, 1865, and 1868 treaties with the U.S. government. At one time The Great Sioux Nation extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the west to the west side of Wisconsin. The Isanti Division is composed of four bands: Mdewakanton, Wahpetowan, Wahpekute, and Sissetowan. The Dakota inhabited the eastern part of the Nation in what is now Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The Black Hills are located in the center the Great Sioux Nation. The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota/ Dakota people and today are considered an important part of our spiritual lives. A direct violation of the 1868 Treaty was committed in 1874 by General George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry. The 7th Cavalry entered the Black Hillsand found gold in the Black Hills.

The Gold Rush started the conflict between the United States and Great Sioux Nation. The Great Sioux Nation opposed this violation of the treaty. The United States Government wanted to buy or rent the Black Hills from the Lakota people. The Great Sioux Nation has refused to sell or rent their sacred lands.

After Little Crow’s War in Minnesota in 1862, many of the Isanti people were scattered across the western parts of the Nation and Canada to escape persecution and live life in peace. Others shared a different fate as 38 men were hung in Mankato, Minnesota as punishment for the uprising. The remainder of the 300 were imprisoned.

The rest of the survivors were rounded up and relocated to Fort Thompson and present-day Niobrara, Nebraska. Some of the Isanti moved to Fort Totten, North Dakota and Flandreau, South Dakota while the remainder live on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation in northeastern South Dakota.

The 7th Cavalry under General George A. Custer was requested to bring the Sioux bands in and place them on the reservation lands. On June 25, 1876, the Battle of the Little Big Horn took place at Greasy Grass, Montana between the 7th Cavalry and Lakota Nation with their allies the Cheyenne and Araphoes. The Sioux Nation won a victory over General George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry.

The Great Sioux Nation scattered, some to Canada and others surrendered to the reservations. The United States Government demanded that the Dakota nation move to the reservations. The Allotment Act of 1887 allotted Indian lands in 160 acre lots to adult male heads of household and 80 acre lots to adult males to further divide the nation.

The Act of 1889 broke up the Great Sioux Nation into smaller reservations, the remainder of which exist today at about one half their original size in 1889.



The average rainfall is 16 to 17 inches during the summer season. The growing season lasts three months, from June to August. The snow fall averages from moderate to heavy for winter weather. The temperature in the winter is from 30 degrees below zero to 25 degrees above zero. The average temperature in the summer is 80 degrees but will range from 69 degrees to 110 degrees from June to August. The wind averages 14 mph per day annually. The area suffers from occasional droughts in the summer and severe blizzards in the winter. The spring and fall seasons are very pleasant.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation includes Highway 10 on the west to a junction on east with Interstate 29 which runs north to south along the entire length of the reservation. Other transportation arteries include Highway 25, also north and south and Highway 12 connecting with Interstate 29 in the east. There is a newly- constructed truck stop on Interstate 29 that is owned and managed by the Nation. There are some charter buses and limousine services for patrons of the Dakota Sioux Casino near Watertown, South Dakota. The Greyhound Bus services are located in Watertown, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota. The nearest commercial airline is in Watertown, South Dakota, 60 miles south of Old Agency Village.


The major economic occupation on the Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation is cattle ranching and farming for a number of Tribal operators. The Nation employs a number of people in their plastic bag manufacturing industry. The Tribe operates an irrigated farm, a hunting program for small game, big game, and waterfowl. The Tribe also operates the Dakota Sioux Casino and Agency Bingo. A new gambling operation and bingo hall are included in the new truck stop complex.

Commercial business by private operators include: a convenience store, laundromat, auto repair shop, a video arcade/fast food shop, and arts and handcrafts.

The majority of employment is provided by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College, Dakota Sioux Casino, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Indian Health Service.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe has some of the finest hunting and fishing in the area. Water sports are enjoyed by many on the numerous lakes on the reservation. The Tribe operates the Dakota Sioux Casino and Restaurant with high stakes bingo games and gambling at both the Sisseton and Watertown, South Dakota locations.

The Tribe sponsors two annual pow wows, one on the 4th of July and one on Veterans Day. In addition to the dancing competition, the summer event also includes a rodeo and a softball tournament. There are several beach areas and boat ramps for fishing and water sports. During the year other sports activities such as softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments are also held during the year.


Electric utility services for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation are provided by Northwestern Public Service. US West Communications Company provides telephone service to the reservation. The Tribe operates the water department to supply clean water for the district communities from lakes, rivers and wells.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe provides an Elderly Nutrition Program and Youth Cultural/ Recreational Activities. There is also an area Horseman’s Club for rodeo sports. Health care is provided by the Indian Health Service at the Health Center Clinic and the Tribal Health Department Community Health Represen-tative and Ambulance Service. The Health Department also provides examinations and eyeglasses to all residents at reduced rates.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Housing Authority manages over 500 housing units in the district communities and on rural scattered sites through HUD Low Rent and Mutual Help home ownership housing programs. Other housing is available through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service for their employees. Private housing stock is limited.


The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe desires to continue their progress in providing for the people and the development of increased self-sufficiency. There are plans to develop natural and cultural resources to preserve, educate, and strengthen the economy on the reservation. The Tribe will continue to search for ways to maintain our culture and develop new economic opportunities for our future generations.

Environmental Summary:

Reservation Water System: Water is the key to increasing the quality of life and promoting full economic development on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation. An adequate supply of good quality water is needed by many of the 5000 Indians living on the reservation.

Problems with water quality and inadequate supply are common throughout the reservation. This condition has a detrimental effect on health and quality of life as well as deterring economic growth. The availability of a plentiful and high-quality water supply is vital to the health and well being of the people living on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation.

The level of health and quality of life of the general population is directly related to the quality of their domestic water supply. Many residents currently depend on poorly-constructed or low-capacity individual wells. These sources are often contaminated with bacteria or undesirable minerals, provide an inadequate quantity of water, and are costly to maintain and operate.

Many people who wish to return to their family lands or relocate to rural areas to raise their families are limited by the unavailability of water.

Agriculture is the primary industry on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation and the key to the full development of this industry is water. Surface water in small streams, lakes, and dugouts is scattered throughout the area.

Surface water, however, can be an unreliable year-round supply as many of the lakes have pollution problems. Shallow groundwater is scarce and unreliable and deep groundwater, while generally more plentiful, is highly mineralized and of poor quality. This lack of an adequate water supply has also reduced the livestock production on the reservation.

The grazing lands cannot be fully utilized and valuable resource is wasted. The lack of stability in the production of feeder-cattle also discourages related industrial development such as cattle feeding, packing plants, and other value added industries.

Hydrologic Setting: Shallow groundwater is not obtainable on most of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation, and where it is found, it is often of poor quality. Surface waters, though valuable and widely distributed resources, are undependable because of scanty and erratic precipitation and water quality.

Artesian water from deeply buried bedrock aquifers underlies all of the reservation. These aquifers are not, and probably will not become, highly developed sources of water because of the high-to-very-high salinity and other mineral content of artesian water in most of the area.

Water Availability and Use: Surface water from lakes, rivers, and aquifers are the major water sources for the reservation. Other reservation streams have extremely variable flow patterns and are not reliable enough for a year-round supply. Groundwater is not as abundant as surface water nor is the quality as high and where available it is usually adequate for only small scale use.

This impacts both domestic and livestock water supplies and expansion therein. For these reasons, the Tribe intends to develop a rural water supply system for the reservation.

errain: Rolling hills, woodlands, river valleys and lakes dominate the reservation.


Tribal Lands Acres
Agriculture 37,906
Wetlands 83,663
Grazing 56,512
Forestry 9,417
Housing/Industrial 932
Commercial 649
Road, RR/Gravel 264.71
Total 108,902


Environmental Problem Statement: In 1996, Tribal environmental staff identified the water quality in Enemy Swim Lake as too poor to use the water body for full contact water sports as the major reservation environmental problem which is a hazard to the health of reservation residents.


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