The Great Sioux Nation


The Great Sioux Nation is a Native American tribe that is made up of Seven Council Fires: Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisitonwan/Sisseton, Wahpetonwan, Ihanktown/Lower Yanktonai, Ihanktowana/Upper Yanktoni, and Teton.  The first recorded history of a Sioux tribe was that of the Dakotas in the 17th century, but there is no doubt the tribe existed long before then. The tribe was named “Sioux” by the French traders after their word for little snakes, “nadouessioux.” The term was eventually shortened to Sioux. At its largest, it is estimated that the Sioux tribe lived in more than 14 of the United States and three provinces in Canada. Some believe the Sioux originated in the Minnesota area and moved westward while others think they covered territory from Canada through the Midwest, almost to Mexico.

There are three major dialects of the Sioux language: Lakhota, Dakota, and Nakota. It is believed there are still 16,000 Sioux who speak Lakota and Dakota in the United States and Canada. There are three major divisions of the Sioux, based on their culture and language – the Santee, the Yankton-Yanktonai, and the Teton. 

The Santee (or Eastern Dakota) was originally located in Ohio, but migrated to Minnesota after the French and British began to settle in the eastern United States. The Santee sub-tribes are the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Wahpekute, and Wahpetonwan. 

The Yankton-Yanktonai (or Western Dakota) were located in northern Minnesota. The Yankton-Yaktonai sub-tribes are the Yankton and Yanktonai. Today, many of the Yanktons live on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota although some live in the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations.

The only tribe in the Teton division is the Lakota. Most Lakota live on the Oglala, Sicangu, Hunkpapa, Mniconjou, Izipaco, Siha Sapa, or Ooinunpa Reservations. 

Each tribe has its own leadership and land. While some live on reservations, others choose to live off the land set aside for them. Each tribe has its own government, laws, and police. Traditionally, the Sioux lived in teepees, but now, most people of the tribe live in modern homes and apartments.

The Sioux were involved in many wars over the years, including the Dakota War of 1862, in which, when faced with starvation, some Santee men killed a white farmer. Eventually 303 Santees were found guilty of rape and murder and 38 were hanged in the largest mass-execution in American history.

The Sioux fought Red Cloud’s War against the U.S. military from 1866 to 1868. The Sioux won, keeping control of the Powder River Country in Wyoming with the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 saw the Lakota fighting the U.S. military and included one of the most infamous battles in U.S. history – the Battle of Little Bighorn. Sioux chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse helped lead the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne tribes to victory over the Seventh Cavalry, led by General George Armstrong Custer.

However, just three years later, the Sioux would suffer what one U.S. general called a “massacre” at the Battle of Wounded Knee Creek. Five hundred troops from the 7th Cavalry surrounded an encampment of Lakota and rather than escort them to Omaha, more than 150 were killed. An additional 150 fled the scene and later died, possibly of hypothermia.

In the late 19th century, the Sioux were relocated to reservations. Today, there are approximately 150,000 Sioux living in the United States and Canada. Those that do choose to live on reservations can be found in North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, and in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan.

To learn more about the Great Sioux Nation, please visit these sites:

History of the Sioux

Atka Lakota Museum and Cultural Center Description of the Seven Councils Fire

The Great Sioux Nation information from BBC

Camping with the Sioux – Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher