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Native American

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Who Are the Dakota Sioux?

Jessica Ellis
Updated: May 17, 2024

The Dakota Sioux are part a Native American and First Nations tribe that originally inhabited much of the Midwestern United States and Canada, including regions that are now the US states of North and South Dakota. Historians point out that the term Sioux is a corruption of the original name, Nadouwesu, but has come into common usage to describe the tribe. While Dakota Sioux made up a distinct segment of the Sioux nation, they are considered part of the same tribe.

The Sioux were a large and thriving tribe with numerous linguistic and cultural divisions. Nevertheless, the varying groups considered themselves allies and frequently shared territory. Dakota Sioux lived specifically in the area that would become North and South Dakota, but ranged into Minnesota, Ohio, and Nebraska as well.

Dakota Sioux were known as warriors, though some historians distinguish this type of war from the European concept of war. Some battles were fought to prove the skill of the warrior, were high honor was given to those who could touch an enemy without harming him. Gender roles played a major part in everyday life; men were hunters and warriors, while women served as the matriarchs of the homes. Tipis, or traditional dwellings, were owned by the women; upon marriage, a man would move into his wife's tipi.

Dakota Sioux who lived in the western area became adept with horses, using them to hunt down wild herds of buffalo and other large prey. To some extent, these western bands mixed with the Lakota bands, continuing the long standing friendship between the two groups. Dakota Sioux also frequently engaged in trading with other Plains tribes, swapping valuable skins and buffalo meat for supplies.

Like many Native American tribes, this tribe's way of life was indelibly altered by the arrival and interference of Europeans on the Continent. As food sources and land availability dwindled in the wake of European conquest, the Sioux signed a series of treaties beginning in 1851 that exchanged their land for reservations and supplies. While some Sioux were resettled in familiar areas, many were dissatisfied with the condition of the reservation land and with the frequent decreases in payment by the American government.

In 1862, unrest led to rebellion when tribal leaders led an attack on several settlers' villages. The uprising, which lasted for months, resulted in untold deaths on both sides. When finally forced to surrender, thousands of Sioux were captured and held in internment camps, while 38 leaders of the bands were hanged by the order of US President Abraham Lincoln. After the uprising ended, the Dakota were expelled from their reservations.

Though bloodshed has mostly ceased, the Sioux nation continues to struggle for sovereignty in the modern era. Although the US government has made some strides in resolving unfulfilled treaties from the colonial days, many Native American activists feel that justice still has not been served. While the Dakota Sioux maintain a rich history to pass down, a feeling of unsettled peace still marks negotiations between this Native American nation and the US government.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for America Explained. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jul 28, 2014

I have heard it said that casinos are the Native Americans' ultimate revenge on the white man. There is probably some truth to that, intentional or not.

They've sure enough hit on one thing that a lot of people can't resist: the lure of easy money. People who are responsible in every other area of their lives will throw caution to the winds at a casino. I've seen it.

These casinos provide gainful employment to a lot of Native Americans, so I have a hard time saying they shouldn't build them. People need jobs.

By Pippinwhite — On Jul 27, 2014

All you have to do is read a little history to find out why the relationship between the Dakota Sioux and the US government is an uneasy one. I am not Native American, but I can read, and I can surely see how the government has gone back on its promises to these people time and again, with all sorts of "reasonable" explanations about why. None of it holds water.

I just think if the US government owes any people an apology for past and present actions, it's to the Native Americans in general, and the Dakota and Lakota Sioux nations in particular.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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