Before European contact the Sioux Nation consisted of seven major divisions, which called themselves the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires. The Dakotas comprised the Mdewakantonwan (People of Spirit Lake), Wahpekute (Shooters among the Leaves), Wahpetonwan (Dwellers among the Leaves), and Sisitonwan (People of the Swamp). The Dakota dwelling place was to the east and northeast in the lakes region within the vast territory that the Oceti Sakowin commanded. The majority of the Dakota economy centered around fishing and the harvesting of wild rice and herbs.
The Dakotas were known and recognized as the People of the Herbs.
To the southwest of the Dakotas were the Nakotas. They included the Ihanktonwan (Campers at the End), and Ihanktonwanna (Little Campers at the End). The Assiniboines (Cook with Stones), although not one of the original divisions of the Oceti Sakowin, became a band associated with the Nakota divisions in the pre-reservation era. The Nakotas resided to the southeast and south within Oceti Sakowin territory. The Nakota economy centered around pipestone quarrying, and they were known and recognized as the caretakers and protectors of the pipestone quarries.
Although the third group, the Lakotas, were but one division within the Oceti Sakowin, they consisted of seven smaller subdivisions called bands. The seven Lakota bands were the Sicangu (Burnt Thighs), Oohenunpa (Two Kettles), Itazipacola (Without Bows), Miniconjou (Planters by the Water), Sihasapa (Black Feet), Hunkpapa (End of the Horn or Entrance), and Oglala (Scatter Their Own). The Lakotas were known as the People of the Prairie and the Pte Oyate (Buffalo People). They resided on the Great Plains region to the west, northwest, and the southwest of the main Oceti Sakowin territory. Their economy was based on the buffalo and the wild fruits and vegetables of the plains. They were also known and recognized as the caretakers and protectors of the Black Hills, which they themselves and the Oceti Sakowin referred to as He Sapa.
The Oceti Sakowin were greatly dependent upon each other for survival. Their commerce reflected their locality and what they were able to provide in trade with the other groups. The different groups were in constant communication with one another, whether they were twenty miles apart or four hundred. Their lifestyles were ideally suited to their climate and could be adjusted to sudden shifts in conditions. Such an adjustment occurred annually at the time of the religious and social gathering, when the entire nation came together. It was a time for family socializing and for the various leaders to meet for major decision making.
The Sioux contend that they have always lived in the northern Great Plains area. If there was a migration that occurred, they say, it was outward from the Black Hills into the outlying regions. The Black Hills have a strong religious significance for the Oceti Sakowin—particularly the Lakotas, the chosen caretakers and protectors of the Black Hills—because the Black Hills are the traditional birthplace of the Sioux Nation.
The entire Black Hills region has always been known to the Oceti Sakowin as “the heart of everything that is,” because within the Black Hills lie the psychological and physical curing elements for the people. Other places within the Black Hills of religious significance are Harney Peak, Devil’s Tower, and Bear Butte. Stories tell of the creation of these particular formations. Religious ceremonies were conducted at these sites, beginning in the spring and continuing throughout the summer in accordance with the movement of the constellations. The Oceti Sakowin as a whole never resided in the Black Hills for long periods of time, but they did return annually for the religious and social gathering.
Throughout the rest of the year, the Oceti Sakowin resided in their respective regions. They never lived in one large encampment, but rather in smaller groups called tiospaye, which consisted of family members, extended family, and others who chose to live with that particular tiospaye. There were many tiospaye within any given division of the Oceti Sakowin; tiospaye were located near enough to each other that they were never isolated, yet they maintained the privacy and space needed for comfortable living.
Within the Oceti Sakowin, every individual had a role and was greatly respected for his or her contributions. Each sex was aware of and recognized the importance of the other. Both sexes shared the responsibility of creating the nation and sustaining it. Both the men and the women were expected to exemplify the values of respect, generosity, bravery, fortitude, and wisdom in their everyday lives.
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For a time, the Oceti Sakowin bands continued to struggle for control and management of their governmental system and their territory. The Euro-American westward expansion continued, however, and the Oceti Sakowin gradually lost control over their once vast territory.
The United States seized land through treaties. These documents set boundaries for tribes and constrained their natural lifestyle and freedom. The first major treaty for the Oceti Sakowin was the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which called for peace among the northern tribes, the establishment of roads and military posts, protection for Indians, and the establishment of boundaries. This document was ill conceived, because many of the tribes included in it had been enemies who did not make peace. In addition, the Oceti Sakowin bands had become severed into two factions—one that cooperated and sanctioned change, and one that abhorred white encroachment and resisted it. The latter refused to sign any treaties.
The U.S. government ceased treaty making in 1871, but when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, located within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation, federal authorities attempted to negotiate with the Oceti Sakowin for the sale of the Black Hills region. Unable to conclude a legal agreement, the government rammed a document through an unrepresentative gathering and withdrew the Black Hills region from the Great Sioux Reservation in 1876.
1. Teepeeota ceded in 1940 2. Praire Island 3. Prior Lake 4. Lower Agency 5. Upper Agency
6. Sisseton-Wahpeton 7. Flandreau 8. Santee 9. Yankton 10. Rosebud 11. Pine Ridge
12. Lower Brule 13. Crow Creek 14. Cheyenne River 15. Standing Rock 16. Fort Totten
17. Turtle Mountain 18. Fort Peck 19. Long Plain and Portage Village 20. Sioux Valley
21. Birdtail 22. Pipestone Creek 23. Wood Mountain 24. Cypress Hills 25. Standing Buffalo (Ft.Qu’Appelle)
The establishment of settled reservations in the 1880s was marred by fear and distrust of the U.S. government. Nevertheless, the conditions that were thrust upon the Oceti Sakowin were taken in stride and marked the beginnings of a new, sedentary lifestyle. A land “agreement” in 1889 reduced the land base of the Great Sioux Reservation dramatically. In addition, the new policy of allotment enrolled tribal heads of household, their spouses, and children and assigned them to individual homesteads. Once all enrolled tribal members received their allotments, the surplus lands were opened to homesteaders, further reducing the size of Indian lands.
Many more U.S. policies that followed were aimed either at assimilation and acculturation, or at rectifying previous policies. According to U.S. policy, the Oceti Sakowin or Sioux are a sovereign nation, but the United States has as yet failed to recognize and deal with these tribes as such.
Today, the Lakota still assert their right to the Black Hills, which in 1876 were unlawfully seized by the government in violation of the Treaty of 1868.
The Oceti Sakowin have continued to dispute the violation and have refused to accept any monetary payment. Over a hundred years later, in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing [by the U.S. Government] will never, in all probability, be found in our history,” and awarded the Oceti Sakowin tribes $105 million as settlement for their Black Hills claim. The tribes rejected this offer, stating that the Black Hills are sacred and not for sale.