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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home: The Indigenous Nations, our first inhabitants

Tribal Nations in North Dakota

There are five federally recognized Tribes and one Indian community located at least partially within the State of North Dakota. These include the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nations (Three Affiliated Tribes), the Spirit Lake Nation, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation, and the Trenton Indian Service Area. More information about them can be found here, in a paper published in 1999. Here you can find more recent statistics.

Native American tribes in North Dakota have their own distinct and different origins, histories and languages. Plains tribes are united by core beliefs and values that emanate from respect for the Earth and an understanding of humankind's relationship with nature.

In total, there are approximately 31,329 indigenous people living in North Dakota, making up 4.9% of the total population. Almost sixty percent live on reservations and over forty percent of them are under the age of 20.


Post #1- The Lakota

The Lakota people or the people of Standing Rock are one of the first original Native American tribes who inhabited the Northern parts of this continent before the arrival of Europeans. Often referred to as the Great Sioux Nation, these people can be divided into three distinct groups based on the language and geography; Dakota (Santee, Eastern Dakota), Lakota (Teton, Western Dakota) and Nakota (Yankton, Central Dakota). They are characterized by their emphasis on ideals such as community, affinity, generosity, cooperation, and strength. The term Lakota roughly translates to "an alliance of people."

The Lakota (pronounced [laˈkˣota]; Lakota: Lakȟóta/Lakhóta), also known as the Teton Sioux (from Thítȟuŋwaŋ), are one of the three prominent subcultures of the Sioux people. Their current lands are in North and South Dakota. They speak Lakȟótiyapi—the Lakota language, the westernmost of three closely related languages that belong to the Siouan language family. It is possible to learn this language, for more information visit the Lakota Language Consortium.

The Lakota people were a founding group of the Seven Council Fires which consisted of seven tribal bands; four Dakota bands (Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Sisseton), two Nakota bands (Yankton, Yanktonai) and a Lakota band (Teton). They also are considered the largest division of the great Sioux and has seven sub divisions called Ti Sakowin or the Seven Tents. Each of these Sioux divisions and sub divisions has important linguistic, cultural, political and territorial differences.

The seven bands or sub divisions of the Lakota are:

  • Sičháŋǧu (Brulé, Burned Thighs)

  • Oglála ("They Scatter Their Own")

  • Itázipčho (Sans Arc, Without Bows)

  • Húŋkpapȟa (Hunkpapa, "End Village", Camps at the End of the Camp Circle)

  • Mnikȟówožu (Miniconjou, "Plant Near Water", Planters by the Water)

  • Sihásapa ("Blackfeet” or “Blackfoot")

  • Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettles)

Notable Lakota persons include Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull) from the Húnkpapȟa, Maȟpíya Ičáȟtagya (Touch the Clouds) from the Miniconjou, Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk) from the Oglála, Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud) from the Oglála, Billy Mills from the Oglála, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) from the Oglála and Miniconjou, and Siŋté Glešká (Spotted Tail) from the Brulé.

Philosophy in Life

The Lakota people consider a person's whole life as sacred. There are some values that they hold high and these are important for their ceremonies, beliefs, and teachings. Elders share these values with the youngsters in their oral tradition and pass them to the next generations:

Wacantognaka (Generosity), Wotitakuye (Kinship), Wacintaka (Fortitude) and Woksape (Wisdom).

Wacantognaka (Generosity)

Generosity is the first value taught. It means contributing to the betterment of all the people, by sharing and showing kindness and sympathy. This is to contribute to the well-being of one's people and all life by sharing and giving freely. This sharing is not just of objects and possessions, but of emotions like sympathy, compassion, kindness. It also means to be generous with one's personal time. In their belief, the act of giving and not looking for anything in return can make you a better person and make you happy. They believe that giving is a means by which they keep the balance on earth.

An old Lakota saying goes, “What you give you keep, what you keep you lose”.

Giveaways have always been part of Lakota society. At important events, the family gathers their belongings and sets them out for any person in the community to take.

Wotitakuye (Kinship)

Kinship is another essential value that Lakota people cultivate. Lakotan kinship includes belonging, living in harmony, relationships, and trust in others. Their measure of wealth is their Tiyospaye or extended family. They consider relationships sacred; whether they are blood relations, marital relations or relations by adoption or friendship. It includes the idea of living in harmony while belonging to a community, and considers relationships among people as the true wealth- emphasizing the importance of trusting in others.

Family is the measure of your wealth, for they will support you in good and in bad times. For a Lakota, you belong to a tiyospaye through birth, marriage or adoption. Your family even extends out to your band and the whole Lakota nation. Whenever you travel somewhere, you can expect to be welcomed and supported as if you were in your own immediate family.

In traditional Lakota society, wotitakuye was a little different from what it is today. The Lakota were a warrior and hunting society, and this meant that men might not return when they went out to fight or hunt. The network of relatives ensured that women, children and elders would not be left alone. In those times, generosity was the way of life, and resources were meant to be shared.

Wacintaka (Fortitude)

Fortitude means facing danger or challenges with courage, strength and confidence. Believing in ourselves allows us to face challenges. Fortitude includes the ability to come to terms with problems, to accept them and to find a solution that is good for everyone.

One of the first lessons a Lakota child learned was self-control and self-restraint in the presence of parents or adults. Mastery and abilities came from games and creative play. Someone more skilled than oneself was viewed as a role model, not as a competitor. Striving was for achieving a personal goal, not for being superior to one's opponent. Success was a possession of the many, not of the few.

Fortitude may require patience, perseverance and strength of mind in the face of challenges. It involves having confidence in oneself and the courage to continue even when all odds are against you. Fear still exists, but you proceed in spite of fear.

Woksape (Wisdom)

The knowledge and wisdom of old people is very important for the well-being of the Lakota people. It also has to do with understanding and living the spiritual values and beliefs upon which one's culture is founded and being able to share these with others. This is understood to be something sought and gained over the course of one's entire life, but not just by adding years to one's life. Wisdom has to do with understanding the meaning within natural processes and patterns. It means knowing the design and purpose of life.

Wisdom is being able to incorporate the sacred way of life into one's own life and to respect and honor all life, while being open to spiritual direction that may come to a receptive child or adult seeking wisdom.

Other core values that the Lakota consider sacred are Honesty, Humility, and Respect. To the tribal way of life, honesty is of utmost importance. Without being true to each other we cannot survive as a group. Righteousness is taught to the Lakotan kids at a very young age.

The Lakota led a simple and humble life long ago. They never bragged or exaggerated things but just lived according to nature. And nature existed in perfect harmony with them.

Respect is another teaching that is central to the Lakotan way of life. They believed in respecting every form of life as the same energy ran through all forms from the water to the dragonfly.

The Lakotan society has been closely knitted around these core values for centuries. To this date, most of the above values are preserved despite the industrial and technological advancements that have taken place around them, passed down through the generations.

---- To be continued next week ----

Next week we'll continue this series with the Lakota's history, their art, dancing and music, and religious traditions. Stay tuned for more information, and more cultures in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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