Oceti Sakowin


The Oceti Sakowin Oyate (People of Seven Council Fires, known to some as the Sioux Nation) are linguistically related peoples who speak three different dialects Dakota , Nakota , and Lakota —of the same language. The traditional names of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate groups are: Wahpekute , Wahpetunwan , Sisistunwan , Bdwakantunwan , Ihanktunwan, Ihanktunwanna , and Titunwan . Today, there are many Oceti Sakowin nations descended from the original groups who maintain their own lands, governments, courts, and various government programs. They are located in Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana in the United States, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada.

Excerpt from Land of the Spotted Eagle

by Luther Standing Bear
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"The Lakotas were self-governors, and the rules and regulations that governed the conduct of people and established their duties as individuals, families, and bands came from a great tribal consciousness . . .

Though each person became individualized—could be as truthful, as honest, as generous, as industrious, or as brave as he wished—could even go to battle upon his own initiative, he could not consider himself as separate from the band or nation.

Tribal consciousness was the sole guide and dictator, there being no human agency to compel the individual to accept guidance or obey dictate, yet for one to cut himself off from the whole meant to lose identity or to die.

The Lakota word for this governing power of custom or tradition was wouncage, literally, 'our way of doing.' Wouncage constituted, for the Lakota people, the only authority. The manners of neighbor people might be similar, just alike in some respects or totally different, but, for the Lakota there could only be the ways of his people—could only be 'our way of doing.' Therefore it was hard for a person to get away from wouncage. In other words, it was harder to break laws than to keep them. Consequently, there were few law-breakers."

As U.S. settlement expanded westward in the nineteenth century the Northern Plains Native Nations were increasingly pressured and forced to defend their lands and ways of life. They defended themselves vigorously, strategically, and with tenacity. Tatanka Iyotanka , or Sitting Bull, was a Hunkpapa Lakota holy man and was one of the Oceti leaders during many years of resistance to the United States government. He remains an important leadership figure for the people of the Oceti Sakowin Nation today.

Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull, 1831?-1890), with his two wives and three children, posed outdoors in front of a tipi, 1882. Photograph by Bailey Dix & Mead Co. at Fort Randall in South Dakota. NMAI N21546
Just as other nations would come to Washington, DC, to negotiate agreements with the U.S. government, Northern Plains Native Nations periodically gathered in DC to engage U.S. government officials in discussions about the needs of their nations and peoples.

Delegation from Yankton, Santee, Upper Missouri Sioux, Sac and Fox, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Kickapoo, and Miami tribes posing with President Andrew Johnson on the steps of the White House in Washington, D.C., February 23, 1867. Photograph by Alexander Gardner. NMAI P10142

"But our concept of territory follows natural law. It does not follow European or American concept of territory. And so there were many other smaller nations that also lived within this geographic territory, and all of us, it doesn't matter what nation they were, all of us lived with this spiritual, physical-based philosophy, life philosophy.

So we all had our purposes, we all had our place, we all knew what we were supposed to do and how we were to live where we were at."

Charmaine White Face (Lakota), NMAI Interview, August 2016

Charmaine White Face, Lakota , is the official representative for the Sioux Nation Treaty Council. Charmaine is a scientist, teacher, and activist. In this interview excerpt, she explains how "natural law" informs purpose, behavior, and place of tribal nations.

Yankton Sioux tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk gives his 2017 State of the Tribes address at the state capitol in Pierre, South Dakota. The State of the Tribes is an opportunity for leaders of Native Nations to present on the tribe's legislative priorities and offers a chance for discourse between Native leaders and elected officials within state government.

Photograph by Phu Nguyen, credited to Capital Journal
Sonia Weston, with granddaughter Alex, working on the tribally-run Red Cloud Indian School's "Our Community Story" project, in which students interviewed twenty-two community members on film. Among the Lakota people, storytelling is a sacred form of communication. For centuries, elders have passed history, tradition, and culture on to their children and grandchildren through the telling of stories. They ensured the survival of essential community knowledge through storytelling, transferring it from generation to generation.

Photograph credited to the Red Cloud Indian School

"Today you know that, as a Dakota , you are expected to be a strong person. As a woman, you have to be strong. As a man, you have to be strong . . . As a Dakota you cannot sit around and say, 'Gee, I don't know what I'm going to do with my life.' By the fact that you are born Dakota, you already have that purpose. It is to be part of the land . . . You are part of the universe, and the creator gave Dakota people the responsibility of being caretakers of the earth. That is your job, however you choose to do it."

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate)

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan ( Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate ) explains what she believes it means to be a citizen of the Dakota Nation.

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