The American Story: The Sioux

Jacob Houston

The Sioux Native Americans, one of the oldest and continuous Native American tribes in North America, dating back three thousand years.

The Sioux are mostly known as a ‘Plains Native American” tribe, but that statement is not entirely true, as the Sioux originally formed in the central Great Lakes region (around western Michigan and eastern Illinois) of what is now the United States of America, and migrated to the west after the Iroquis nation invaded Sioux territory.

When the Sioux arrived to the Great Plains of North America, they established official relations with French fur traders who moved through the region to get to modern day Canada, in which the French gave them the name ‘Sioux’ (their ancestral name is ‘the People of the Seven Council Fires’). The Sioux hold the premise that everything is interconnected, from the Earth to the sky, and that a Great Spirit created the universe, and that prayers and dreams were a way to connect to the spiritual world. The Sioux native language, Siouan, is of three dialects, and each dialect came about during the Sioux migration to the west, each influencing the three subsets of the Sioux tribe: Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota.

The Dakota and Nakota came about from the original Sioux migration West, and settled in modern day Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa. The Dakota and Nakota were traditional hunters and gatherers, and migrated around the Western Great lakes region to find better places for hunting and fertile land for certain crops like corn.

The Lakota, however, migrated further west, toward modern day North and South Dakota, and by 1707, they were already familiarized with the use of guns. The Lakota were also hunters and gatherers, expert buffalo hunters, and even developed an intricate buffalo hunting process to ensure food for all of their people. The Lakota called the buffalo the (tȟatȟaŋka), in which the buffalo provided a primary source of food and excess hides that would be traded to European fur traders and other Native American tribes around the region.

However, after the American Revolution in the late 18th century, and the subsequent westward expansion of White American settlers, the Sioux, specifically the Dakota and Nakota, were forced to merge with the Lakota, resulting in civil wars and massive migrations by the Dakota and Nakota westward, toward modern day Oregon and California, which sparked even more wars as the Dakota and Nakota came into conflict with other Native American tribes.

With the end of the American Civil War in the late 19th century, the Lakota faced problems of their own. With the increase of white settlers being pumped into Lakota territory, more scuffles between Lakota and the settlers began, and thus the United States Army sent a detachment of military soldiers, under the command of veteran Civil War generals Philip Sheridan and George Custer, to force the Lakota westward.

The Lakota, however, wished for a peaceful solution to the conflict, and sent several emissaries to the US Army forts around what is modern day Iowa, pleading with the US military to stay off of Lakota territory and leave the region once and for all.

However, the US proceeded with military force against the Lakota, ending up in one of the most famous battles in human history: The Battle of Little Bighorn. The Lakota, led by the renowned Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, got a high vantage point in the canyons and hills above the Bighorn River in Southern Montana, decisively defeated the US forces who attempted to launch a full scale attack into the Little Bighorn river valley, effectively killing Custer and most of his military force.

Embarrassed by such a disastrous defeat, the US military put more troops into Lakota lands, resulting in the tragic Wounded Knee Massacre, where over three hundred Lakota people, mainly women and children, were slaughtered by US soldiers. Consequently, the Lakota were forced west, and in 1890, the final Lakota tribe surrendered to US jurisdiction and were forced onto Native American reservations set up by the US government.

However, almost ninety years later, the US Supreme Court ruled the US takeover of Lakota lands illegal, and presented reparations of over 100 million USD (the lands are now worth over one billion dollars), but the Lakota people refused, stating that their lands are their sovereign right, and that they will continue to deny its sale negotiation.

The Sioux Native Americans are a central part in learning about not only United States history, but American history as well. One must learn about the past to know the future, and the future the Sioux Native Americans will have.