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Lakota Warriors

Lakota Warriors of the Great Plains, by artist Zhuo Shuo Liang. The Lakota were famed horsemen, valued for their skill and warrior spirit. Their martial tradition, unique appearance to outsiders, and determined resistance against the encroaching of white settlers, and eventually, the U.S. Goverment itself, inside their lands, made the Lakota one of the most recognizable Native North American peoples in the world.

The Lakȟóta (pronounced [laˈkˣota]); are one of the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains of North America. Also known as Teton, Thítȟuŋwaŋ ("prairie dwellers"), and Teton Sioux. Of note, however, is that the term "Sioux" (likely meaning "little snakes") is rejected by some Lakota, because it was a name give to them by the Ojibwe, who were historically enemies. Meanwhile the names Teton or Thítȟuŋwaŋ are considered archaic. Hence, Lakȟóta tends to be the preferred self-designation.

The Lakota are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, or "Seven Fires Counsil ". They speak the Lakota, the westernmost of the three Siouan language groups, and currently occupy lands in what is modern-day North and South Dakota.

In turn, the Lakota are themselves subdivided into seven bands, or "sub-tribes":

Among the Native peoples in North America, the Lakota people are widely—perhaps the most—renown for their fighting of resistance against the encroaching white colonists; several notable leaders, warriors, and spiritual men of the Native American resistance were a part of the tribe, such as: Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull) from the Húnkpapȟa band; Maȟpíya Ičáȟtagya (Touch the Clouds) from the Mnikȟówožu band; and, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse), Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud), Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk), and Siŋté Glešká (Spotted Tail), from the Oglala band.

Origin Edit

Early Lakota history is recorded in their Winter counts (Lakota: waníyetu wówapi), pictorial calendars painted on hides or later recorded on paper. The Battiste Good winter count records Lakota history back to 900 CE, when White Buffalo Calf Woman gave the Lakota people the White Buffalo Calf Pipe.

Siouan language speakers may have originated in the lower Mississippi river region and then migrated to, or alternately originated in, the Ohio Valley. They were agriculturalists and may have been part of the Mound Builder Civilization during the 9th–12th centuries CE.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Dakota-Lakota-Nakota speakers lived in the upper Mississippi Region in present-day Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Conflicts with Anishinaabe and Cree peoples pushed the Lakota west onto the Great Plains in the mid- to late-17th century.

After 1720, the Lakota branch of the Seven Council Fires split into two major sects, the Saône who moved to the Lake Traverse area on the South Dakota–North Dakota–Minnesota border, and the Oglála-Sičháŋǧu who occupied the James River valley. However, by about 1750 the Saône had moved to the east bank of the Missouri River, followed 10 years later by the Oglála and Brulé (Sičháŋǧu).

People of the Horse Edit

Around 1730, Cheyenne people introduced the Lakota to horses, called šuŋkawakaŋ ("dog [of] power/mystery/wonder"). who after first coming in contact with horses, like many other Plains natives, developed their culture and way of life alongside their newly arrived friends, something commonly called horse culture; in a very similar way to the Nomad peoples of the Eurasian Steppe in ancient times. After this adaptation, Lakota society centered on the buffalo hunt on horseback.

The total population of the Sioux (Lakota, Santee, Yankton, and Yanktonai) was estimated at 28,000 by French explorers in 1660. The Lakota population was first estimated at 8,500 in 1805, growing steadily and reaching 16,110 in 1881. The Lakota were, thus, one of the few Native American tribes to increase in population in the 19th century. The number of Lakota has now increased to more than 170,000, of whom about 2,000 still speak the Lakota language.

Finding a New Home: The Black Hills Edit

The large and powerful Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa villages had long prevented the Lakota from crossing the Missouri. However, the great smallpox epidemic of 1772–1780 destroyed three-quarters of these tribes. The Lakota crossed the river into the drier, short-grass prairies of the High Plains. These newcomers were the Saône, well-mounted and increasingly confident, who spread out quickly. In 1765, a Saône exploring and raiding party led by Chief Standing Bear discovered the Black Hills (the Paha Sapa), then the territory of the Cheyenne. Ten years later, the Oglála and Brulé also crossed the river. In 1776, the Lakota defeated the Cheyenne, who had earlier taken the region from the Kiowa. The Cheyenne then moved west to the Powder River country, and the Lakota made the Black Hills their home.

Meeting the United States Edit

Initial United States contact with the Lakota during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806 was marked by a standoff. Lakota bands refused to allow the explorers to continue upstream, and the expedition prepared for battle, which never came. Nearly half a century later, after the United States Army had built Fort Laramie without permission on Lakota land, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was negotiated to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Cheyenne and Lakota had previously attacked emigrant parties in a competition for resources, and also because some settlers had encroached on their lands. The Fort Laramie Treaty acknowledged Lakota sovereignty over the Great Plains in exchange for free passage on the Oregon Trail for "as long as the river flows and the eagle flies".

Wars with the United States Edit

The United States government did not enforce the treaty restriction against unauthorized settlement. Lakota and other bands attacked settlers and even emigrant trains, causing public pressure on the U.S. Army to punish the hostiles. On September 3, 1855, 700 soldiers under American General William S. Harney avenged the Grattan Massacre by attacking a Lakota village in Nebraska, killing about 100 men, women, and children. A series of short "wars" followed, and in 1862–1864, as refugees from the "Dakota War of 1862" in Minnesota fled west to their allies in Montana and Dakota Territory. Increasing illegal settlement after the American Civil War caused war once again.

The Black Hills were considered sacred by the Lakota, and they objected to mining. Between 1866 and 1868 the U.S. Army fought the Lakota and their allies along the Bozeman Trail over U.S. Forts built to protect miners traveling along the trail. Oglala Chief Red Cloud led his people to victory in Red Cloud's War. In 1868, the United States signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. Four years later gold was discovered there, and prospectors descended on the area.

The attacks on settlers and miners were met by military force conducted by army commanders such as Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. General Philip Sheridan encouraged his troops to hunt and kill the buffalo as a means of "destroying the Indians' commissary." The allied Lakota and Arapaho bands and the unified Northern Cheyenne were involved in much of the warfare after 1860. They fought a successful delaying action against General George Crook's army at the Battle of the Rosebud, preventing Crook from locating and attacking their camp, and a week later defeated the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1876 at the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Custer attacked a camp of several tribes, much larger than he realized. Their combined forces, led by Chief Crazy Horse killed 258 soldiers, wiping out the entire Custer battalion in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and inflicting more than 50% casualties on the regiment.

Their victory over the U.S. Army would not last, however. The U.S. Congress authorized funds to expand the army by 2,500 men. The reinforced US Army defeated the Lakota bands in a series of battles, finally ending the Great Sioux War in 1877. The Lakota were eventually confined onto reservations, prevented from hunting buffalo and forced to accept government food distribution.

In 1877, some of the Lakota bands signed a treaty that ceded the Black Hills to the United States; however, the nature of this treaty and its passage were controversial. The number of Lakota leaders that actually backed the treaty is highly disputed. Low-intensity conflicts continued in the Black Hills. Fourteen years later, Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock reservation on December 15, 1890. The U.S. Army attacked Spotted Elk (aka Bigfoot), Miniconjou (Mnikȟówožu) band of Lakota at the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890, at Pine Ridge.

Lakota Today Edit

Today, the Lakota are found mostly in the five reservations of western South Dakota: Rosebud Indian Reservation (home of the Upper Sičhánǧu or Brulé), Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (home of the Oglála), Lower Brule Indian Reservation (home of the Lower Sičhaŋǧu), Cheyenne River Indian Reservation (home of several other of the seven Lakota bands, including the Mnikȟówožu, Itázipčho, Sihásapa and Oóhenumpa), and Standing Rock Indian Reservation (home of the Húŋkpapȟa), also home to people from many bands. Lakota also live on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation of northwestern North Dakota, and several small reserves in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Their ancestors fled to "Grandmother's [i.e. Queen Victoria's] Land" (Canada) during the Minnesota or Black Hills War.

Large numbers of Lakota live in Rapid City and other towns in the Black Hills, and in metro Denver. Lakota elders joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) to seek protection and recognition for their cultural and land rights.


The Siouian, or Siouan–Catawban language group is a large family of languages located primarily in the Great Plains, Ohio and Mississippi valleys and southeastern North America with a few outlier languages in the east. It is divided in two subgroups: Western, or Proper Siouan, and Eastern, or Catawban. the Sioux language, of which Lakota is one of the dialects, is a Proper Siouan language. The basic word order of Lakota is subject–object–verb, although the order can be changed for expressive purposes (placing the object before the subject to bring the object into focus or placing the subject after the verb to emphasize its status as established information). It is postpositional, with adpositions occurring after the head nouns: mas'opiye el, "at the store" (literally 'store at'); típi=kiŋ okšaŋ, "around the house" (literally 'house=the around'). (Rood and Taylor, 1996).


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