March 28, 2005

The Sioux Name Game


Today there are 18 First Nations in Canada and 17 Tribes in the United States who are the descendants of the Ocheti Sakowin. The Ocheti Sakowin speak three main dialects, Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota, that in time have evolved into a number of sub dialects.


The terms Dakota/Nakota/Lakota were commonly used to identify one’s national or tribal affiliation to be that of the Ocheti Sakowin and indirectly to identify the speaker’s dialect. Thus when a Dakota speaker wanted to refer to all members of the Ocheti Sakowin he would refer to them as Daíoþa. Similarly a Naíoþa speaker would identify all as being Naíoþa. Historically our people did not use the terms Dakota, Nakota and Lakota divisively. In the colonisation process the terms were used to facilitate and promote division among the Oyaþe (people or nation).

Today the United States and Canadian governments and ethnographers continue to advocate division among the Oyaþe. In the long term this has lead to significant disparity between Canadian bands and American tribes, band/tribal governments, families, and even within families. In recent years initiatives have been under taken to reconcile the differences and reunite the Oyaþe culturally, politically, socially, and economically. 

The term Dakota/Nakota/Lakota was erroneously interpreted to mean friendly or allies and ethnographers today still assert the term refers to and describes a political alliance that was similar to that of present day Canada or the United States. The real definition of Dakota/Nakota/Lakota is “those who consider themselves kindred.” Kinship was the foundation of the cultural, political, social and economic collective or Oyate. The term Dakota/Nakota/Lakota refers more directly to cultural, social, and economic aspects of the collective or Oyate. The term Ocheti Sakowin is the only term in our language that is specific to the political nature of the collective or Oyate and comparable to the European concept of nation. 

The first written documentation of contact with our people is in the 1640 Jesuit Relations. Jean Nicolet, based on information he had collected a few years earlier, provided names of a number of bands that he claimed were Naduesiu. Naduesiu is the French corruption of the Ojibwe term nadowe-is-iw-ug (nadowe = adder (species of snake) is = diminutive (smaller) iw-ug = they are) that was a derogatory nickname they used to distinguish the Ocheti Sakowin from the Mohawk whom they call nado –wewok (real adder). In time the French contracted the name to siu or Sioux. Thus the Ocheti Sakowin in most historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the French, British, United States, and Canadian governments are referred to as the Sioux or the Great Sioux Nation. 

In the same record, one of the Ocheti Sakowin tiyospaye was identified as being separate and distinct from the Ocheti Sakowin and named Assinpour–Le Jeune which in essence means stone cookers and is another corruption of an Ojibwe term. In time the term was refined to Assiniboine which is a term often used in historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the French, British, United States, and Canadian Governments in reference to certain Nakota speaking bands. The Nakota speaking tiyospaye the term was originally applied to was the Hohe however in some instances the term was mistakenly applied to other Nakota speaking bands.

In the colonisation process the terms Sioux and Assiniboine were also used to facilitate and promote division among the Oyaþe (people or nation). Even today the United States and Canadian governments and ethnographers continue advocate that the Assiniboine with drew from the Sioux nation 500 or more years ago to establish a separate and distinct nation. Further that the Sioux and Assiniboine have been ruthless enemies ever since. It is true that there were occasional conflicts between the Hohe and the other members of the Ocheti Sakowin but there were also occasional conflicts between other members as well. 

The Elders say relationship between the various groups was no different than that in any family. Sometimes the middle brother buddies up with the older brother and the two get into conflict with the younger brother. At other times the younger brother and the middle brother buddy up and get into to conflict with the older brother. Sometimes it’s the older and the younger brother who are buddies and get into to conflict the middle brother. Then there are times when none of the three brothers are getting along. 

This is a prime example of differences between First Nations perspectives and the historical Eurocentric perceptions of the Canadians and Americans. The traditional First Nations concept of war was more like a game and the intent was not to annihilate one another. In fact among Ocheti Sakowin killing an enemy was considered very disrespectful. Those who counted coup or struck the enemy were the ones who were honoured. The French, British, and Americans instigated much of the intertribal fighting that took place in the 1700’s and 1800’s. The fighting between the Sioux and the Ojibwe and Cree during that time period is an example of such. 

It is documented that the Assiniboine often acted as a middleman or a buffer between the Sioux and the Ojibwe and Cree. 

Beside being called Sioux or Assiniboine some of the Nakota speaking bands are referred to as Stoney in certain historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the British, American and Canadian Governments.
Historically the Daíoþa speaking bands lived in the eastern sector of the Ocheti Sakowin territory and the Naíoþa speaking bands occupied the central or middle sector while the Laíoþa speaking bands lived in the west. Historical documents, including Treaties in some cases incorporate terms that represent these and geographical relationships. 

The most commonly used terms are Santee, Yankton, Soanes, and Teton. The origin of the term Soanes is uncertain, the other three are corrupted versions of Dakota/Nakota/Lakota terms. 

In addition to corruptions of the terms identified and the traditional names for various the sub-divisions and bands of the Ocheti Sakowin a wide range of other names have been used in historical documents. One of those names is Buffalo Nation, which coincidentally agrees with our oral tradition. According to the Ocheti Sakowin creation stories the people were made to be servants to the spirits and were known as the Pte Oyate or Buffalo Nation. 

The Ocheti Sakowin is comprised of seven divisions or fireplaces thus the name Ocheti = fireplace and Sakowin = seven. The traditional name for the divisions or otoñwañ, the anglicised name, the geographic name, and dialect for each is as follows:

Click here for the seven divisions chart.

In turn each of these otoñwañ was made up of seven sub-divisions or osöaye. The names for most of the osöaye are not well remembered. The names of the Åitoñwañ osöaye however were well known and at times have been erroneously identified as the divisions of the Ocheti Sakowin . Their traditional, geographical and anglicised names are as follows:

Click here for the seven sub-divisions chart .

Each oyate in turn was comprised of a number of extended family groups or tiyospaye. Most of the tiyospaye were to large to camp together for a long duration therefore they would make more than one camp or wi©oti at different times during the year. Some only camped together for part of the summer. The Hohe, who have been referred to as Assiniboine and the Iñyañ Üe Wi©aßa, who are often called Stoney, are originate from Ihañktoñwañna tiyospaye. 

Oral tradition tells that some members of the Hohe had taken Üaüatoñwañ (Ojibwe) spouses and subsequently their in laws came to live with them, that in turn lead to conflict with their Nakota relatives. To avoid conflict those tiwahe or households made their own wi©oti. This is supposedly to have taken place in the early 1600’s or not long before Jean Nicolet gathered in his information. The Hohe travelled extensively in the area extending from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. 

Some of those who are called Iñyañ Üe Wi©aßa are most definitely Naíoþa and may well have originated as new wi©oti that evolved from the Hohe. Based on oral tradition some may however have originated from one more Åitoñwañ wi©oti who travel into the Rocky Mountains and stayed. There are Stoney elders who refer to themselves as Rocky Mountain Sioux and claim to understand Laíoþa better than the Naíoþa spoken by the Hohe. 

Historically the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota had no tolerance for incest therefore one had to marry outside of his/her tioßöaye but even so, the majority of the members of a wi©oti were of the same otoñwañ. However a number of the reserves/reservation were established for members of more than one otoñwañ. For example the Wahpeton Reserve’s original membership included members of Waüöetoñwañ, Sissitoñwañ, and Ihañktoñwañ ancestry. Another example is the Fort Belknap reservation that is shared by persons of Nakota and Gros Ventre (Atsni) ancestry. 

Given the heterogeneous nature of some of the reserves/reservation and the fact that some otoñwañ were assigned to more than one reserve/reservation the reservation system does not fit well the Ocheti Sakowin structure. That coupled with other factors pertinent to the reservation system lead to the denigration of the Ocheti Sakowin and the evolution of another identification system. Actually two identification systems, a Canadian and an American, that based on the reservation system. 

Traditionally when a Dakota/Nakota/Lakota person was asked by one of our own people “Who are you?” The person would commonly identify themselves by their wi©oti and tiyospaye, then they would elaborate by telling their mother’s lineage and their father’s lineage. Today there is only a small percentage of our people who can do that. Unless they are Laíoþa most do not even know their oßöaye. 

More of our people can identify themselves by their language dialect Dakota, Nakota, or Lakota (even though only a small percentage know the language) than by their otoñwañ. A high percentage of the people do identify themselves by their band or tribal membership but sadly, many only know of themselves as being Sioux, Assiniboine or Stoney. 

For our people “The Name Game” is highly complex and the diverseness in names actually causes much confusion. The complexity and confusion are actually some of the reasons parents have not taught their children more about who they are. Today many are expressing interest in learning more about who they are but as they engage in their research it is not uncommon for them to become discouraged because of he complexity. 

Since the 1970’s, most of the Canadian bands have refrained from using the names Sioux and Assiniboine. Some have even formally changed their names, for example: 

Round Plain Sioux Band has been changed to Wahpeton Dakota First Nation

Moose Woods Sioux Band has been changed to White Cap Dakota Sioux First Nation

Assiniboine Band has been changed to Carry The Kettle Nakota First Nation

Within the three major divisions of the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Nation, there are 7 major bands, who are referred to as the Seven Council Fires. The Tetonwan band also has seven further subdivisons of the Teton.

  1. Eastern: Santee-Dakota:
    • Spirit Lake People (MdeWakantonwan)
    • Shooters Among the Leaves People (Wahpekute)
    • People Dwelling among the Leaves (Wahpetonwan)
    • People of the Fish Village(s) (Sissetonwan)
  2. Middle: Yankton-Nakota:

    • Dwellers at the End – Yankton Ihanktonwan)
    • Little Dwellers at the End – (Yanktonai – (Ihanktowanna)
  3. Western: Teton-Lakota:

    • Dwellers on the Plains – (Titonwan)
      • Seven Major Subdivisions of the Teton:
        • Oglala (Scatter their own) – Pine Ridge
        • Sicangu (Burned thighs) – Rosebud & Lower Brule
        • Hunkpapa (End of Circle) – Standing Rock
        • Mnikowoju (Planters beside the Stream) – Cheyenne River
        • Sihasapa (black foot) – Cheyenne River
        • Oohenunpa (two kettle)
        • Itazipco (without bows)

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