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What Is a Lakota Native American?

The Lakota language added the word "tepee" to the American vocabulary.
The Lakota were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in tepees.
General Custer and his army were killed by the Lakotas at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Traditional dances are performed at Lakota pow-wows.
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  • Written By: T. Forsythe
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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Lakota Native Americans are a clan or group of people who have a shared history, speak the same language, and claim some cultural continuity. The Lakota or Lakhota people are relatives of the other seven Sioux Indian tribes of North America and Canada. Lakota means "an alliance of friends."

Historically, the Lakota were the first of the Sioux lines to travel west. The Cheyenne introduced the horse or "mystery dog" to the Lakota in 1730. With the horse, the Lakota Native American became a part of Great Plains culture and could move about nomadically. They hunted buffalo as a primary means of survival. The Lakota gained ground from other tribes and moved into areas where many reservations are still found today, particularly in North and South Dakota.

The tribe was not the only people interested in settling the west, though. Soon after, white American and European pioneers started to pass through and encroach on the lands. The first of many treaties was signed in 1851; it was called the Fort Laramie Treaty after the army fort established in Wyoming. The treaty was designed to allow safe passage of travelers on the Oregon Trail in exchange for the Lakota Native American ownership and mandate of the land in North and South Dakota for as long as "the rivers flowed and the eagle flies."

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The peace was not to last long, and Native Americans continued to attack settlers. In Nebraska on 3 September 1855, 700 soldiers under public pressure to retaliate against the Lakota tribes, attacked and killed 100 men, women, and children in their village. Raids and insurgent wars followed.

The Lakota Native Americans revere the Black Hills or Pahá Sápa in the Dakotas. In 1868, another Fort Laramie treaty was signed that any people not of Native American ancestry would not inhabit the Black Hills. A quick and total breach of the treaty occurred in 1872 when gold was discovered there. Prospectors swarmed over the land, effectively negating the treaty in the Native Americans' eyes.

This breach of treaty sparked the Great Sioux war. The Cheyenne and other Native American tribes allied with the Lakota and fought the United States Army and General George Custer. At the Battle of The Little Bighorn, General Custer and over 300 of his men were annihilated by the leader of the Lakota, Sitting Bull. Soon thereafter, the United States congress expanded the Army. Through systematic raids, the decimation of buffalo, and food rations for those living on reservations only, the Lakota were eventually defeated. Sitting Bull himself was killed 14 years later in 1890, and the Massacre of Wounded Knee followed.

In modern times, Lakota Native American groups live on reservations and continue their culture and traditions. Each reservation has its own governance, usually led by a tribal council of elders elected directly by voters. The US Bureau of Indian Affairs provides oversight at the state and national levels.

Pow wow gatherings are very common. Traditional dances are performed at the ceremonies as well as peace pipe smoking. As many Native American tribes believe, the Lakota's traditional spirituality includes prayers that go up to the Great Spirit on the wisps of smoke. Potlatch or trade between members of the tribes happens at pow wows. Sweat lodge ceremonies are performed by specialized members of the clan.

There have been movements to recapture sovereignty by the Lakota Native American groups. This has included petitions to the United States government made by traditional matriarchal leaders.

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