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Lakota and Dakota Sioux Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Sioux Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Sioux Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Sioux pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Sioux Tribe

What is the difference between the Lakota and Dakota Sioux? What do these words mean?
There is no real difference. "Lakota" and "Dakota" are different pronunciations of the same tribal name, which means "the allies." One Sioux dialect has the letter "L" in it, and the other dialect does not. This is only a pronunciation difference, not a political one. Lakota and Dakota speakers all consider themselves part of the same overall culture.

"Sioux," on the other hand, is not a Lakota or Dakota name. It comes from the Ojibwe name for the tribe, which means "little snakes." Many Lakotas and Dakotas use the word Sioux to refer to themselves when they're speaking English, however.

What about the Nakota, are they also Sioux people?
Yes, the Nakota, also known as the Stoney or Assiniboine, are speakers of a Siouan language similar to Lakota and Dakota. However, they were politically distinct from Lakota and Dakota people. In fact, though the Assiniboine and Sioux are allies today, in the past they were frequently at war with each other.

Where do the Sioux people live?
The original Lakota/Dakota homelands were in what is now Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The Sioux traveled freely, however, and there was also significant Sioux presence in the modern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, and northern Illinois, and in south-central Canada. Today, most Sioux people live in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Saskatchewan.

How is the Sioux Indian nation organized?
There are 13 Sioux political subdivisions, combined into seven major tribes (the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Teton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Yankton, and Yanktonai Sioux tribes.) However, today, these divisions have more cultural significance than political. Each Dakota/Lakota band is politically autonomous, which means it has its own land and leadership and makes decisions independently of other Sioux bands. Like most Native American tribes, each Lakota/Dakota community lives on its own reservation ("reserve," in Canada), which belongs to them and is legally under their control. However, the US and Canadian governments still consider the Sioux citizens. Each Lakota/Dakota band has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. The political leader of a band is called "itancan" in the Dakota and Lakota language, usually translated as "chief" or "president" in English. The itancan used to be a man chosen by tribal councilmembers, but today Sioux tribal leaders can be of either gender and are popularly elected in most Dakota/Lakota bands, just as mayors and governors are.

What language do the Sioux people speak?
Nearly all Lakota and Dakota people speak English, but about 15,000 Sioux Indians are bilingual in their native Lakota/Dakota language. Despite pronunciation differences, Lakota and Dakota speakers can understand each other easily, just like people who speak American English and Canadian English can. If you'd like to know a few easy Sioux words, "hau" (pronounced similar to the English word "how") is a friendly greeting in both the Lakota and Dakota dialects, and "wašte" (pronounced wash-tay) means "good." You can see a picture glossary of Lakota animal words here-- click on each word to hear it spoken aloud.

What was Sioux culture like in the past? What is it like now?
There are many different Sioux bands. Here are the homepages of two of them, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. On their websites, you can learn about Sioux history and culture and view plenty of photographs.

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How do Sioux Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Sioux children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian children had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonists' children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with, and older boys in some bands liked to play lacrosse. Sioux mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Sioux men and women's roles?
Sioux women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Dakota or Lakota woman built her family's house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Houses belonged to the women in the Sioux tribes. Men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Usually only men became Sioux chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Sioux homes like in the past?
The Dakota and Lakota people lived in large buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). Tipis were carefully designed to set up and break down quickly. An entire Sioux village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Originally tipis were only about 12 feet high, but after the Sioux acquired horses, they began building them twice that size. Here are some pictures of teepees. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Sioux families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Sioux clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Sioux women wore long deerskin or elkskin dresses. Sioux men wore loincloths, leggings, and buckskin shirts. Here is a website with loincloth and legging pictures. The Sioux wore moccasins on their feet, which they often decorated with elaborate beadwork. Here is a website with pictures of beaded Indian moccasins. In bad weather, they also wore buffalo-hide robes. In colonial times, the Sioux adapted European costume such as vests, cloth dresses, and blanket robes. Here are more pictures of Sioux clothing styles, and some photographs and links about Native American clothes in general.

Sioux warriors and chiefs were well-known for their impressive Native American feather headdresses, but they didn't wear them in everyday life. Both Sioux men and women wore their hair long, cutting it only when they were in mourning. There were many different traditional Sioux hairstyles, but long braids were the most common. Men often wrapped their braids in fur or tied quillwork strips around them. Here is a website with pictures of American Indian braids. On special occasions, Sioux people painted their faces and arms with bright colors and animal designs. They used different patterns for war paint and festive decoration.

Today, some Sioux people still wear moccasins or a beaded vest, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Sioux transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Sioux tribes knew how to make Here is an article with pictures of dugout and birchbark canoes, but more often, they traveled overland. Originally the Sioux used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Sioux became known as expert riders and traveled greater distances. Here is an article with pictures of horse travois. Horse riding is still popular in the Sioux nation today, but like other Americans, Lakota and Dakota people also use modern vehicles like cars now.

What was Sioux food like in the days before supermarkets?
Originally the Lakota and Dakota Indians were corn farmers as well as hunters, but once they acquired horses they mostly gave up farming, and moved frequently to follow the seasonal migrations of the buffalo herds. Most of their diet was meat, especially buffalo, elk and deer, which they cooked in pits or dried and pounded into pemmican. The Sioux also collected chokecherries, fruit, and potatoes to eat. Here is a website with more information about Native American foods.

What were Sioux weapons and tools like in the past?
Sioux warriors used bows and arrows, spears, war clubs, and buffalo-hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about Sioux Indian weapons. Hunters also used snares, and when Lakota or Dakota men hunted buffalo, they often set controlled fires to herd the animals into traps or over cliffs.

What other Native Americans did the Sioux tribe interact with?
The Sioux traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains. They particularly liked to trade buffalo hides and meat to farming tribes like the Arikara in exchange for corn. These tribes usually communicated using sign language.

The Sioux also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. Some tribes the Sioux frequently fought with included the Assiniboine, Ojibwa, and Kiowa Indians.

What are Sioux arts and crafts like?
Sioux women are known for their decorative embroidery with beads and porcupine quills, and the men are known for their elaborate buffalo-hide paintings. Sioux artists also make clay pots, star quilt blankets, and ceremonial calumets (pipes carved from catlinite.)

What kinds of stories do the Sioux people tell?
There are lots of traditional Sioux legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Sioux Indian culture. Here is a Lakota story about Thunderbird. Here's a website where you can read more about Sioux mythology.

What about Sioux religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Sioux ssiniboine life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Sioux people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Sioux religious traditions or this site about Native American spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy a book of Sioux myths and legends, such as Sons of the Wind. For younger readers, two excellent illustrated stories are Moonstick, a story about changes in the traditional Sioux Indian lifestyle, and Brave Bear and the Ghosts, a Sioux legend. If you want to know more about Sioux culture and history, three good sources for kids are The Sioux Indians, If You Lived With The Sioux, and The Sioux and Their History. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Sioux Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Dakota and Lakota Indians

Sioux Indian Tribe
An overview of the Sioux Indians, their language and history.

Sioux Language Resources
Siouan language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Sioux Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Sioux people past and present.

Sioux Words
Sioux Indian vocabulary lists.

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