Nakota (Native Americans of the Great Plains)

Nakota (Na ‘ ko ta), a Siouan dialect spoken by the Central group—whose divisions include Yankton ("end village") and Yanktonai ("little end village")—of the tribe commonly referred to as Sioux. Yanktonai was divided into Upper Yanktonai and Lower Yanktonai (Hunkpatina), from which Assiniboine/Stoney was derived.

The Nakota refer to themselves as Nakota ("ally") or as Ikce Wicasa ("Natural" or "Free People"). The word "Sioux" is derived originally from an Ojibwa word, Nadowe-is-iw, meaning "lesser adder" ("enemy" is the implication) that was corrupted by French voyageurs to Nadousssioux and then shortened to Sioux. Today, many people use the term "Dakota" or, less commonly, "Lakota" to refer to all Sioux people.

All 13 subdivisions of Dakota-Lakota-Nakota speakers ("Sioux") were known as Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, a term referring to their seven political divisions: Teton (the Western group, speakers of Lakota); Sisseton, Wahpeton, Wahpukute, and Mdewakanton (the Eastern group, speakers of Dakota); and Yankton and Yanktonai (the Central, or Wiciyela, group, speakers of Dakota and Nakota). See also Assiniboine; Dakota; Lakota.

Location Nakota speakers migrated from north-central Minnesota, around Mille Lacs, in the early seventeenth century, to near the Missouri River in present-day eastern North and South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, and southwestern Iowa in the nineteenth century. Today, Yanktons and Yanktonais live on reservations in the Dakotas and Montana as well as in regional cities and towns.

Population Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota speakers numbered approximately 25,000 in the late seventeenth century. At that time there were approximately 5,000 Nakota speakers. In the mid-nineteenth century there were about 3,000 Yanktons and 6,000 Yanktonais. Today there are roughly 10,000 Yanktons and Yanktonais.

Language Nakota is a dialect of Dakota, a Siouan language.

Historical Information

History The Siouan family may have originated along the lower Mississippi River or in eastern Texas. Siouan speakers moved to, or may have originated in, the Ohio Valley, where they lived in large agricultural settlements. They may have been related to the Mound Builder culture of the ninth through twelfth centuries. They may also have originated in the upper Mississippi Valley or even the Atlantic seaboard.

Siouan tribes still lived in the southeast, between Florida and Virginia, around the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. All were destroyed either by attacks from Algonquian-speaking Indians or a combination of attacks from non-Indians and non-Indian diseases. Some fled and were absorbed by other tribes. Some were sent as slaves to the West Indies.

Dakota-Lakota-Nakota speakers ranged throughout more than 100 million acres in the upper Mississippi region, including Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas, in the sixteenth to early seventeenth century. At this time the Yankton and Yanktonai were one tribe, the Assiniboine having separated from the Yankton/Yanktonai, probably by the mid-sixteenth century.

French explorers encountered Eastern group tribes around Mille Lacs, Minnesota, in the late seventeenth century. Shortly afterward, the latter probably became directly involved in the fur trade. But conflict with the Cree and Ojibwa, who were well armed with French rifles, plus the lure of great buffalo herds to feed their expanding population, induced bands to begin moving west onto the Plains.

The Yankton and Yanktonai separated near Leech Lake in the late seventeenth century. The Yankton had moved out of the northern Woodlands and onto the southern prairies (near the pipestone quarries of southwest Minnesota and then west of the Missouri in northwest Iowa) by the early eighteenth century. A hundred years later, Yanktons ranged north and northwest into Minnesota and South Dakota.

Struck by the Ree was born in Yankton, South Dakota, on August 30, 1804, while the explorers Lewis and Clark were encamped there. On learning that a male child had been born in the camp, Captain Lewis sent for him, wrapped him in an American flag, and declared him "an American." This photo was taken during a delegation visit to Washington. D.C., between February 17 and April 8, 1867.

Struck by the Ree was born in Yankton, South Dakota, on August 30, 1804, while the explorers Lewis and Clark were encamped there. On learning that a male child had been born in the camp, Captain Lewis sent for him, wrapped him in an American flag, and declared him "an American." This photo was taken during a delegation visit to Washington. D.C., between February 17 and April 8, 1867.

Meanwhile, the Yanktonai left their homes in Mille Lacs by the early eighteenth century to follow Teton tribes west, making winter villages on the James River (South Dakota) at least as early as 1725. They acquired horses in the mid- to late eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century they were hunting buffalo between the Red and the Missouri Rivers and north to Devil’s Lake.

A general Yankton decline set in during the 1830s. Its causes were smallpox, the growing scarcity of game, and war, particularly with the Pawnee, Otoe, and Omaha. Yanktons ceded their Iowa lands (2.2 million acres) to the United States in 1830 and 1837 treaties and ceded over 11 million acres in 1858. They did retain a 430,000-acre reservation near Fort Randall, South Dakota. They also claimed the 650-acre Pipestone Reservation in Minnesota.

By 1860, Yanktons had ceded all of their remaining lands. Most moved to the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota; others went to the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Reservations in South Dakota and to the Fort Totten (now Devil’s Lake) Reservation in North Dakota. The Yanktonai ceded their remaining lands in 1865. They were removed to a number of reservations, including Standing Rock (South Dakota), Devil’s Lake (North Dakota), Crow Creek (South Dakota), and Fort Peck (Montana). In 1866 they replaced the Santee at Crow Creek when the latter were moved to Nebraska. Yanktons sold the Pipestone Reservation in 1929 for almost $330,000 plus guarantees of Indian access.

Religion Wakan Tanka was known as the great spirit and creator of the universe. There were other deities as well; Nakotas were a very prayerful people. Access to the supernatural world was provided in part by guardian spirits obtained through quests and in dreams. From the eighteenth century on, Nakotas performed the Sun Dance.

Government The Yankton were organized into eight bands. The upper division Yanktonai consisted of six bands, and the Hunkpatina had seven bands. The governing band council was composed of band chiefs and clan leaders. The Seven Council Fires met approximately annually to socialize and discuss matters of national importance.

Customs Nakota bands were composed of patrilineal clans. Around the mid-eighteenth century, Nakotas adopted many Plains customs. They wrapped their dead in skins and placed them on high scaffolds with their belongings. Belowground interment took place occasionally. Mourners cut their hair, wore white clay on their faces, and affected an unkempt appearance.

Dwellings Small villages were located near lakes and rice swamps when the people lived in the Wisconsin-Minnesota area. In summer they lived in large houses of timbered frames with pitched roofs and bark-covered sides, whereas in winter they lived in small mat-covered houses. From the mid- to late eighteenth century, the Yanktonai lived in earth lodges like the Arikara, as well as in tipis.

Diet While still in the Great Lakes region, women grew corn, beans, and squash. People also gathered wild rice and ate turtles, fish, and dogs. Large and small game, especially buffalo, which roamed the area in small herds, were also an important food source. Buffalo were hunted in part by burning grass around the range and forcing the animals toward an ambush. With the westward migration, buffalo became increasingly important, although men still hunted deer, elk, and antelope. Women also grew some corn, beans, and squash along river bottomlands and gathered fruits and berries.

Key Technology In addition to the usual tools and other items made of animal parts, Nakotas caught fish with weirs and basket traps and wove mats and various containers. They also made pottery and pipes.

Trade As the Missouri River trade developed, the Yankton controlled the catlinite, or red pipestone, quarry in southwest Minnesota, supplying its clay to most of the northern Plains groups. During the early nineteenth century, the Yanktonai traded along the Jones River, acting as intermediaries for British goods between the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota and the Tetons farther west.

Notable Arts Pottery, pipe carving, and skin tanning were well-developed arts.

Transportation Nakotas plied the northern Woodlands in birch-bark and dugout canoes. On the Plains, horses replaced dogs as travois carriers around 1760. They also used round bull-boats when crossing water.

Dress Most clothing was made from buckskin. In the Woodlands, the people wore breechclouts, dresses, leggings, and moccasins, with fur robes for extra warmth. On the Plains, they decorated their clothing with beads and quillwork in geometric and animal designs.

War and Weapons The Plains warrior ideal—that the purpose of war was to bring glory to an individual rather than to acquire territory or destroy an enemy people—was distinctive to and may have originated with the Siouan people. Dakota people did not generally fight other Dakotas. The akitcita was an elite warrior group that maintained discipline at camp and on the communal hunt. Nakota enemies included the Ojibwa (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Yankton Reservation, Charles Mix County, South Dakota (Yankton), established in 1853, contains roughly 36,000 acres. Enrollment in 1992 was about 6,000, with about 3,400 in residence. The original constitution was adopted in 1891; as of the late 1990s, the constitution does not conform to the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The reservation is governed by a business committee.

The Upper Sioux Community, Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota (Sisseton, Wahpeton, Flandreau Santee, Santee, Yankton), established in 1938, contains 743.57 acres. There were 43 residents in 1990. Political authority resides in a board of trustees.

The Fort Peck Reservation, Daniels, Roosevelt, Sheridan, and Valley Counties, Montana (Assiniboine-Sioux [Assiniboine, Upper Yanktonai, and Sisseton-Wahpeton]), established in 1873, contains about 1,000,000 acres, roughly one-quarter of which are tribally owned. Although their 1927 constitution is not based on the IRA, they adopted a representative government, the Tribal Executive Board, in 1960. Enrollment in 1992 was 10,500, with 6,700 residents.

The Devil’s Lake Reservation (formerly Fort Totten), Benson, Eddy, Nelson, and Ramsey Counties, North Dakota (Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Cuthead Yanktonai), established in 1867, contains 53,239 acres, most of which are allotted. There were 4,420 people enrolled in 1992, with about 2,900 in residence. The IRA constitution adopted in 1944 calls for elections to a tribal council.

The Standing Rock Reservation, Sioux County, North Dakota, and Carson County, South Dakota (Hunkpapa, Blackfoot Lakota, Yanktonai), established in 1868, contains 847,799 acres, almost 300,000 of which are tribally owned. There were 4,866 Indian residents in 1990. Political authority is vested in a tribal council.

The Crow Creek Reservation, Buffalo, Hughes, and Hyde Counties, South Dakota (Hunkpatina), established in 1863, contains 125,483 acres. There were 3,521 enrolled members in 1992, with about 1,200 in residence. A 1923 constitution and by-laws, since revised, call for an elected tribal council.

Economy The Devil’s Lake people have a bingo hall and casino as well as a plant that makes nonviolent armaments such as camouflage nets. Income at Fort Peck is provided by a bingo hall and land leases to non-Indian farmers and ranchers. Fort Peck owns and operates a profitable oil well. The Indians also have other mineral resources and have encouraged industrial development.

At Crow Creek there is a tribal farm and the Lode Star Casino. Other sources of employment include a muffler plant, a boarding school, federal and tribal jobs, and off-reservation jobs. The people have received more than $5 million for land taken for dam projects. The Fort Randall Casino on the Yankton Reservation provides full employment for that community. Important economic activities at Standing Rock include cattle ranching and leasing land to Texas ranching firms.

Legal Status The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation is a federally recognized tribal entity. The Devils Lake Sioux Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, and the Upper Sioux Indian Community are federally recognized tribal entities.

Daily Life The Devil’s Lake community remains relatively traditional. People perform sacred pipe ceremonies, and many speak Dakota. There is an active Native American Church. The powwow is held in July. At Crow Creek, religious observances include sacred pipe ceremonies as well as the Native American Church.

Standing Rock Community College was chartered in 1973. The reservation has a history of maintaining cultural integrity through relative isolation by resisting full federal funding as well as IRA compliance. Members of the Deloria family— including Philip J., Vine, Sr., Vine, Jr., and Ella Cara—of the Standing Rock community have achieved national and international prominence as writers, teachers, activists, and leaders.

There is also a community college at Fort Peck. That reservation has bucked the gambling tide, refusing to turn their bingo hall into a casino. They have enjoyed relatively effective political leadership. Many Yanktons and Yanktonais have achieved success as artists.

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