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General Information

The Sioux Nation historically consisted of the Teton, Yankton and Santee tribes, which were comprised of smaller bands of people who spoke one of three dialects: Dakota, Lakota or Nakota.

General Facts

Today, approximately 71,800 Native Americans live in South Dakota. Nine tribal governments reside within the state, seven with reservation boundaries and two without. They include the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Yankton Sioux Tribe. The Sioux Nation plays a pivotal role in the state's history and heritage. Landmarks across South Dakota bear Lakota names such as paha sapa (Black Hills) and mako sica (Badlands). Museums and art galleries showcase tribal arts such as beadwork, star quilts and winter counts, while the traditional celebrations of singing and dancing, called powwows, are held year-round.


There are several theories regarding the origin of the Sioux Nation. Lakota creation stories trace their nation's birth to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Historians say the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota migrated to the area from the woodlands of Minnesota. By the end of the 18th century, the Sioux Nation was at the height of its power, dominating the northern Plains. Many of the tribes followed the buffalo herds, which provided  them with food, clothing and shelter. Buffalo were considered sacred because of this life-giving role.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation, which reached from the Missouri River to the Wyoming-Dakota border. After gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, the government tried to convince the Native Americans to sell the Black Hills. When that effort failed, the government ordered all Indians living outside the reservations to return to them by January 31, 1876, or be sent back by force. Among those who refused to follow the government order to return to the reservations were two groups led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. When Custer attacked them on June 25, 1876, he and his entire command were killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn in southeastern Montana. In 1890, the Ghost Dance ceremony brought renewed hope to the people of the Sioux Nation. Dancers believed the buffalo would return, white people would go away, and ancestors who had died would come back to life. On December 29, 1890, as the 7th Cavalry searched Big Foot's band for weapons at Wounded Knee, a shot rang out, triggering the massacre of more than 250 Lakota men, women and children. The event marks the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and the Sioux Nation.


Historically, the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota were divided into bands that shared customs and traditions, then into still smaller groups, called tiyospaye, that lived together. Children, elders and the sick were tended by the whole tiyospaye ("extended family group," pronounced tee-osh-pa-yeh). The tribes of the Sioux Nation had no written language, relying instead on a rich oral tradition. They also used winter counts to record historical events. A winter count consists of drawings arranged in a spiral on animal hide. Each drawing represents a significant event that occurred during the year. The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people believe the world was created by Wakantanka (God). They regard the forces of nature as holy and seek to live in harmony with the natural and supernatural world. The stars, the sun and the earth figure prominently in this tradition. The four cardinal virtues are woksape (wisdom), woohitika (bravery), wowacintanka (fortitude) and wacantognaka (generosity).