Dakota Sioux Indians

The Dakota Sioux Indians are one language branch of the Greater Sioux tribe.

Dakota translates to “friends” or “allies” in their native language.

Dakota people are comprised of four groups: The Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton), Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton), Wahpekute, and Sissitunwan (Sisseton) people form what is known as the Isanti (Santee), or eastern Dakota.

To the west, in present day South Dakota, are the Yanktonai and Yankton (who identify as both Dakota and Nakota) and the Teton (Lakota).

Collectively today, these groups have tribal lands that cover areas from present day Minnesota, to South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and into Canada. They form the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ (the Seven Council Fires).

Traditional home territories 

The Dakota Sioux Indians originally lived in parts of present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and northern Iowa. These areas were their typical home districts, where they established their communities and practiced their way of life.

Mni Sota (Minnesota) is centered as the birthplace for the Dakota, with Bdote (where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet) and Bde Wakan (Spirit Lake, now also known as Lake Mille Lacs) highlighted in Dakota creation stories. The Bdote area consists of many areas of historic and contemporary Dakota significance, such as Taku Wakan Tipi (Carver’s Cave), Mni Sni (Coldwater Spring), and Oheyawahi (Pilot Knob).


Language family

The Dakota Sioux Indians belong to the Siouan language family. Specifically, they speak the Dakota language dialect of the Sioux. Unfortunately, due to historical factors such as forced assimilation and the decline of Native American languages, the number of fluent Dakota speakers is critically endangered, with only around 290 fluent speakers left out of an ethnic population of almost 250,000.

Traditional Allies

Historically, the Dakota Sioux made treaties with various tribes and clans. They were part of the great Sioux confederation that included the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribes. They also made alliances with other tribes of the Great Plains, sauch as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche.

Traditional Enemies

The Dakota Sioux Indians had conflicts with many groups throughout their history. They were in conflict with rival tribes, such as the Ojibwe and the Pawnee. In later years, they also fought European colonialism and the United States government in the westward expansion and Indian wars.

Historical Population

Estimates of the historical population of the Dakota Sioux are complicated by lack of records and different sources. Before European contact, however, the Dakota Sioux are believed to have numbered in the tens of thousands.

Population today

Today, the Dakota Sioux are spread across various reservations and cities in the United States and Canada. Precise population figures are difficult to determine with precision. It is estimated to be around 250,000 people.

In Minnesota, there remain four federally recognized Dakota tribal oyate (nations): the Shakopee Mdewakanton, Prairie Island Indian Community, Upper Sioux Community, and the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

Some of the Dakota tribal communities that exist outside of the ancestral homeland of Minnesota include the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Spirit Lake Tribe, and the Santee Sioux Tribe.

Dakota communities in Canada include Sioux Valley First Nation, Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation, Dakota Tipi First Nations, Birdtail Sioux First Nation, Canupawakpa First Nation, Standing Buffalo First Nation, Whitecap Dakota First Nation, and Wood Mountain First Nation.

Dakota History

The history of the Dakota Sioux is rich and complex. They have lived in the Great Plains area for centuries, adapting to the landscape and developing a strong cultural identity. They were semi-nomadic, relying on hunting buffalo and other wild animals for subsistence and farming in densely populated areas

European contact in the 17th century brought dramatic changes to the Dakota Sioux way of life. They became involved in the fur trade, which transformed their economy and brought them into close contact with European traders and colonists. Over time, European settlers invaded their lands and conflicts broke out, causing trouble and violence.

The Dakota War of 1862 marked a turning point in Dakota Sioux history. Faced with broken treaties, diminished resources, and injustice, some Dakota Sioux warriors fought against the United States government and colonialism. The war resulted in a major defeat for the Dakota Sioux and had severe consequences, including the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men at Mankato, Minnesota. 

In the years following the war, the Dakota Sioux were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and placed on reservations. They faced challenges other than attempts to integrate them into European American culture through residential schools and other programs. Despite these hardships, the Dakota Sioux maintain their cultural traditions, assert sovereignty in the modern era and continue to fight for their rights.