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A Rainbow of Spirituality

Sioux History

The Sioux called themselves Dakota or Lakota, which means "People of Peace". (There are slight differences between the Dakota and the Lakota Sioux languages.) There are three principal Sioux tribes: the Yankton, the Teton and the Santee. Those tribes are made up of various clans, such as the Oglala, the Hunkpapa and the Brule.

When Europeans first met the Sioux, the Sioux lived on the headwaters of the Mississippi River. At that time they had an Eastern Woodlands culture. Then they were pushed west to the Plains -- the territory today known as North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. There are various accounts of how they were pushed west. In one account, their Chippewa neighbors got guns before the Sioux did, and drove them west. In other accounts, the Whites pushed them west. In my opinion, there is probably some truth in both accounts. As Whites multiplied and pushed west, they pushed various native peoples west. I read somewhere that as various tribes were pushed west, they began pushing into each other, and began competing for land and living area. In this way, the Sioux could have found themselves being forced west by both the Whites, and by the forced migration of other native peoples.

The Sioux quickly adapted themselves to the nomadic life of the Plains tribes, hunting buffalo and living in tepees. They also became famous for their bravery and fighting ability.

During the middle and late 1800's whites overran Sioux grounds: The buffalo hunters slaughtered herds of buffalo--taking only the hides and leaving the meat to rot on the prairie; Gold seekers swarmed into sacred Paha Sapa (the Black Hills of South Dakota) as they sought their fortunes. This caused conflicts to arise between the Sioux and the Whites. Some Sioux agreed to live on reservations in 1862, but later left because of poor living conditions. Army troops would then hunt them down in attempts to force them into reservation life. Wars between the Sioux and the army lasted until 1890, when troops succeeded in forcing them to live on reservations.

During the early reservation days many attempts were made to strip the Sioux of their culture. Children were removed from their families and sent to White boarding schools, to take away their language and culture and train them in White ways. The Sioux were persecuted and punished for practicing their culture and speaking their own language. Nevertheless many have managed to keep it. Since the 1970's the Sioux have been developing a stronger voice in deciding their own welfare and future. Through heavy efforts from groups such as AIM, the Sioux have regained some of their rights to perform ceremonies.

Today’s Sioux are very different from the stereo-types we often see on TV and in movies. They live all across the United States, and even overseas. Of the Sioux who live on reservations, most live on the reservations in South Dakota. Fewer numbers of Sioux live on reservations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. Many Sioux live in other parts of the United States, and around the world. As a result, there are many caucasion-looking people who have Sioux ancestry. A while back I received e-mail from someone who has lived in England all their life who, to their surprise, found they were part Sioux. Many Sioux earn their living as bankers, teachers, lawyers, social workers, members of the armed forces, business owners, and by various other occupations, like “everyone else”.

For more information, see History of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota. 

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