January 12, 2004

Lakota (Sioux Tribes, Nations & Bands)


The Lakota (“friends” or “allies”, sometimes also spelled “Lakhota” by native people, and pronounced “Lak ó ta” by the Lakota people) are a Native American tribe, also known as the Sioux. The Lakota are part of a band of seven tribes that speak three different dialects, the other two being the Dakota and the Nakota. The Lakota are the western most of the three groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota.

The Nakota, the smallest division, reside on the Yankton reservation in South Dakota, while the Dakota live mostly in Minnesota and Nebraska.

In Nebraska on September 3, 1855, 700 soldiers under American General William Harney avenged the Grattan Massacre by attacking a Sioux village killing 100 men, women, and children. Seven years later on November 5, 1862, also in Minnesota, more than 300 Santee Sioux were found guilty of rape and murder of white settlers and were sentenced to hang.

The Lakota

When the Lakota aquired the horse, they migrated to the northern Great Plains where their culture was centered on the buffalo and the horse. There were 30,000 Lakota in the mid-18th century. The number has increased to 70,000 today, of which perhaps a quarter still speak their ancestral language. 

Because the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota, they object to mining in the area that was attempted since the 19th century. In 1868, the Federal government signed a treaty with them exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. Four years later, gold was discovered there, and an influx of prospectors descended upon the area, abetted by army commanders like General George Armstrong Custer. The latter attempted to administer a lesson of noninterference with white policies.

Instead, the Lakota with their allies, the Arapaho and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, known also as Custer’s Last Stand, since he and 300 of his troopers perished there. But, like the Zulu triumph over the British three years later, it was a hollow victory. The Lakota were defeated decisively by the U.S. Army subsequently, culminating, fourteen years later, at the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

The Dakota

Less well known is the history of the eastern Dakota people, in Minnesota. Unlike their plains cousins, the Lakota, they lived in agricultural communities. They accepted white settlements and seizure of their lands in exchange for annual payments guaranteed by treaty. In 1862, after a failed crop the year before and a winter starvation, the money was late to arrive. The local traders would not issue any more credit to the Dakota and the local federal agent told the Dakota that they were free to eat grass. As a result on August 17, 1862, a Dakota Sioux uprising began in Minnesota when Dakota attacked white settlements along the Minnesota River. 

Dakota warriors decided on August 19 not to attack the heavily-defended Fort Ridgely, and instead turned to the settlement of New Ulm, killing many white settlers along the way. They also scalped the federal agent on that day, looted his warehouse, and rampaged through the area, killing perhaps a dozen whites. 

Although this was in the middle of the American Civil War, enough troops were gathered to put down the “rebellion”, and more than 300 Dakota were sentenced by local courts to die for the crimes of murder or rape six weeks later. President Abraham Lincoln commuted the death sentences of all but 38, for which the evidence seemed strongest, and they were dispatched in a single day on December 26, 1862. 

A photograph of the mass hanging was long a familiar icon to the white inhabitants of Minnesota. The 38 are remembered each year at two separate pow wows in Minnesota. The Mankato pow wow, held each year in September, commemorates the lives of the 38 but also seeks to reconcile the white and indian communities. The Birch Coulee pow wow, held on Labor Day weekend, honors the lives of the 38 who were hanged in the largest mass execution in United States history.


The name Sioux was created by the French, who abbreviated the Algonquin compound, nadowe (“snake”) plus siu (“little”), spelled Nadouéssioux, by which a neighbouring tribe, the Ojibwa or the Ottawa, referred to the Lakota/Dakota. This term was meant as an insult, but today the Federal Government of the United States has applied this name to represent all of the Lakota people. 

The Lakota have names for their own subdivisions. The “Santee” received this name from camping for long periods in a place where they collected stone for making knives. The “Yankton” received this name which meant people from the villages of far away. The “Tetonwan” were known as people who lived on the prairie. From these three principal groups, came seven sub-tribes.


The Sioux Nation consists of divisions, each of which may have distinct bands, the larger of which are divided into sub-bands.

  • Eastern division (the Dakota or Santee)
    • Mdewakantonwan
    • Sisitonwan
    • Wahpekute
    • Wahpetonwan
    • Kaposia (Light Weight)
      • :notable persons: Little Crow (Taoyateduta, His Red People)
  • Middle division (the Nakota)
    • Ihanktonwan (Yankton)
    • Ihanktonwana (Yanktonai or Little Yankton)
  • Western division (the Lakota)
    • Titonwan (Teton)
      • * Tapisleca
      • * Kiyaksa
      • * Wajaje
      • * Itesica
      • * Oyuhpe
      • * Wagluhe
      • Sihasapa (Blackfoot Sioux)
      • Sichangu (French: Brulé) (“burnt thighs”)
      • * Upper Sichangu
      • * Lower Sichangu
      • Miniconjou
      • Itazipacola (French: Sans Arcs “No Bows”)
      • Oohenonpa (Two-Kettle or Two Boilings)

    Related Siouan peoples:

  • Dhegiha
  • Chiwere
    • Iowa
    • Oto
    • Missouri
  • Mandan
    • Mandan
  • Hidatsa
    • Hidatsa
  • Crow
    • Crow


    Today, one half of all Enrolled Sioux live off the Reservation.

    Federally recognized Sioux Reservations include:

  • Oglala (Pine Ridge)
  • Brule (Rosebud)
  • Hunkpapa (Standing Rock)
  • Miniconju (Cheyenne River)
  • Sans Arc (Cheyenne River)
  • Two-Kettle (Cheyenne River)
  • Santee
  • Yanktonai(Yankton)
  • Flandreau
  • Sisseton-Wahpehton
  • Lower Brule
  • Lower Sioux
  • Upper Sioux
  • Shakopee
  • Prairie Island
  • Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes (Sisseton/Wahpetons, Yantonais, Teton Hunkpapa, Assiniboine)
  • Devil’s Lake Sioux Reservation
  • Crow Creek Sioux (Crow Creek Reservation)

    Derived place names

    The U.S. states of North Dakota and South Dakota are named after the Lakota. Two other U.S. states have names of Siouan origin: Minnesota is named from mni (“water”) plus sota (“clear”), while Nebraska is named from a language close to Lakota, in which mni plus blaska (“flat”) refers to the Platte (French for “flat”) River. Also, Kansas and Iowa are named for cousin Siouan tribes, the Kansa and Iowa, respectively. The names vividly demonstrate the wide dispersion of the Siouan peoples across the Midwest U.S.

Tribes by Confederacy
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