Upper Dakota



1. Historical information about the culture

Before colonial interests and competition with other tribes forced them to settle on the Minnesota river, the Sioux lived nomadically in woodland Southern Minnesota and Eastern Wisconsin. Stephen Feraca and James Howard noted that there is little detailed information of the early Sioux. They also write, “When first mentioned by White explorers ca. 1640, all of the Dakota were Woodland Indians living in the region just west of the Great Lakes. …The economy of the tribe was based upon hunting fishing and gathering of lake and forest products supplemented by slash and burn horticulture.” They later stated that the division of the Sioux into three groups occurred later after migrations partly “a result of pressure by the Ojibwa, who had been armed by the French.”Patricia Albers gives a more detailed account of the Santee, the division of the Sioux that occupied southern Minnesota and especially the Minnesota river valley. This account inevitably describes the Santee after significant contact with Europeans, but before major colonial impact.

Albers describes that the ecologically diverse area occupied by the Santee consisted of both forests and grasslands. They subsisted primarily by foraging and hunting. Buffalo, deer, and water fowl were hunted by both individuals and by communal hunting parties. The Santee also engaged in fishing and they trapped small mammals as well as birds. Gathering procured, fruits, beans, tubers, nuts, sap, and wild rice.

The Santee gathered into large family groups, which further organized themselves into bands, according to Albers. Sometimes these bands grouped together in larger organizations. Leaders existed at the band level and higher. They acted as representatives, but as Albers notes, “In both bands and villages, these leaders had no real authority. They led by persuasion and their power was only as great as their ability to represent their followers’ interests and to achieve consensus among them.”

The description by Albers indicates that the Santee constructed both houses made from tree bark and teepees made of animal hides. The Santee also formed various temporary or seasonal settlements. On the rivers in the region villages were built that mainly served as a gathering place during the Summer. Encampments were also made for larger hunting operations, especially when multiple bands joined for a communal buffalo hunt. Camps were arranged for the harvest of both maple sap and wild rice.

The Santee had complex beliefs formed from multiple traditions. They believed in spirits with power to affect human lives. They also performed various rituals. Albers writes:

The Sioux received power and guidance for the wellbeing of society and for the success of its individual members through innumerable ritual acts. One of the more important ones was the vision experience. Visions in which spirits appeared were sought in isolation or in ceremony, and they came involuntarily in dreams or as apparitions. Males as well as females received power in visions. Those with the strongest powers were the shamans or medicine people. In hunting, curing, warfare, and gambling, the shaman leader was one and the same person. Just as skill signified power, so power bestowed talent.

Works Cited

Albers, Patricia C. "Santee." Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. William C. Sturtevant. Vol. 13. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. 762-69. Print.

DeMallie, Raymond J. "Sioux Until 1850." Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. William C. Sturtevant. Vol. 13. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. 718-27. Print.

Feraca, Stephen E., and James H. Howard. "THE IDENTITY AND DEMOGRAPHY OF THE DAKOTA OR SIOUX TRIBE." Plains Anthropologist 8.20 (1963): 80-84. JSTOR. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

1.b Further Historical information about the culture 

The early Dakota consisted of seven tribes that lived in the southern half of Minnesota. They were nomadic woodland and prairie people and their survival was based on adaptation to seasons in harsh climates and a system of kinship that looked after one another’s survival.

Anthropologist Ella Deloria Writes:

The ultimate aim of Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple. One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative. No Dakota who has participated in that life will dispute that…Without that aim and the constant struggle to attain it, the people would no longer be Dakotas in truth. They would no longer even be human. To be a good Dakota, then, was to be humanized, civilized. And to be civilized was to keep the rules imposed by kinship for achieving, civility, good manners, and a sense of responsibility toward every individual dealt with.

The everyday subsistence activities and methods that encompassed this kinship were plants, fishing, hunting, and wild rice. Plant cultivation mainly consisted of corn, beans, and squashes. Different from Native Americans located farther south at this time, it was imperative that the Dakota master food-storing techniques that could last the harsh winters. Hunting was secondary as the food source was not always as dependable and hunting and fishing would serve as a second means for survival.

It is said by the Dakota that they came from the stars to be located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. They believed the first Dakota woman, Ina, or mother came out of the earth. Missionary Stephen R. Riggs wrote, “The Mdewakanton (division of Dakota) think that the mouth of the Minnesota River is precisely over the center of the earth, and that they occupy the gate that opens into the western world”. This epicenter of the culture is where it began to flourish into winter camps and villages as their numbers increases and spread to other parts of southern Minnesota.

Works Cited

Johnson, Michael, and Richard Hook. Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck., and Miklos Pinther. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: Published for the Newberry Library by the U of Oklahoma, 1987. Print

Westerman, Gwen, and Bruce M. White. Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2012. Print.Feraca, Stephen E., and James H. Howard. "THE IDENTITY AND DEMOGRAPHY OF THE DAKOTA OR SIOUX TRIBE." Plains Anthropologist 8.20 (1963): 80-84. JSTOR. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Part 3. Contemporary Issues

In the decades after their exile following the US-Dakota War of 1862, some Dakota people quietly returned to their homelands along the Minnesota River—a mixed prairie-woodland area.  In 1938, about 700 acres near the so-called Upper Sioux Agency at the confluence of the Yellow Medicine River were designated as the Upper Sioux reservation, and more people returned at that time.  The land base eventually doubled to about 1440 acres today, on which live about 500 people. 
            About 20 miles downstream, the Lower Sioux community lives near the Redwood River tributary, holding about 1700 acres and close to 1000 people. Both are federally recognized tribes, as are two others in the state: the Prairie Island and Shakopee Mdewakanton communities. (Nonrecognized Dakota peoples include the Mendota in the Twin Cities area: “bdote” means “where two waters come together,” that is, the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, and this is seen as the place of origin of the Eastern Dakota.)
            As in many Indian communities, poverty and unemployment are stubborn problems for the Pezihutazizi Oyate—the Upper Sioux tribe’s own preferred name, which means “Yellow Medicine Community.” (Yellow medicinal roots, possibly the moonseed, were traditionally harvested in the area.)  Local enterprises are few, but the include the Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort, a campground and RV park, a convenience store, and a propane dealership.  
            Cultural preservation and, to some extent, activism now seem to be high priorities. In 2002, the nonprofit group Dakota Wicohan (“We cherish the Dakota language”) was formed to help preserve the language, whose native speakers were, and are, very few. The group is based in Morton, at the Lower Sioux community, but members of Pezihutazizi are also involved.  The group produced a documentary video that they are now promoting through special showings throughout the state. In it, Dakota elders describe their boarding-school childhoods, when they were denied the right to speak their native language, sometimes traumatically so; they also speak hopefully of the resurgence of interest in preserving it. The University of Minnesota has a Dakota language program, and the number of speakers is now growing. The annual Pezihutazizi late-summer wacipi (powwow) also helps preserve traditions through music, dance, and other arts.
            2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the US-Dakota War, and Minnesota’s Dakota people got some new attention at that time.  The Minnesota Historical Society mounted an exhibit on the war, consulting closely with both white and Dakota descendants and presenting multiple perspectives on the same events.
            Between 2002 and 2012, the Minnesota Dakota held six Commemorative Marches, gaining media coverage each time. Each time they retraced the steps of the 1700 Dakota people who, after the 1862 war, were forcibly walked 150 miles from the present-day Lower Sioux area to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling (at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi), before they were banished from the state.
            Recalling how they were received by some onlookers at the 2002 march, Pezihutazizi member Chris Mato Nunpa said, “Dakota people, as well as the other indigenous peoples of the US, have a right to be angry about the stealing of some two billion acres of land; about the US violation of nearly 400 treaties; about the killing of millions upon millions of native peoples…about the suppression of our religious ceremonies, songs, prayers, and practices, and about so many other heinous violent, and genocidal results of imperialism and colonialism” (Mato Nunpa, p. 72).