What is a Native American Sioux?

Eleanor Newman

A Native American Sioux is a person who identifies with one of the diverse Siouan language-speaking tribes that make up the Sioux Nation. The Sioux lived in Great Plains country, bordered by the Rocky Mountains to the west, Lake Winnipeg to the north, and the Arkansas River to the South. Today, this area roughly encompasses parts of Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota.

The harshness of the Great Plains fostered connections among the Native American Sioux.
The harshness of the Great Plains fostered connections among the Native American Sioux.

Early Native American Sioux were nomadic hunter-gatherers. The tribes subsisted on roots, berries, wild rice, and game. More important were the herds of buffalo the Native American Sioux followed around the Great Plains. Buffalo served a deep spiritual purpose in Sioux culture, and many ceremonies and rituals centered around the animals. The Sioux also used buffalo meat and fashioned their bones, hides, and ligaments into tools and clothing.

Early Native American Sioux were nomadic hunter-gatherers who built and lived in tepees.
Early Native American Sioux were nomadic hunter-gatherers who built and lived in tepees.

The tough conditions of the Great Plains fostered strong kinship connections among the Native American Sioux. Everyone was expected to fulfill strict duties to ensure food, security, and spiritual fulfillment for their families and the tribe. Saying "you live as if you have no relatives" was considered a stinging insult.

General Custer and his army were killed by the Sioux at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
General Custer and his army were killed by the Sioux at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The Sioux first encountered white explorers in the 1600s. French explorers and soldiers set up forts and trading posts in the area, and missionaries soon followed. In 1685, the French formally claimed possession of the land, and began driving the Native American Sioux further north and west.

By the 1800s, non-Indians had established towns and homesteads in Native American Sioux territory. The tribes arranged to cede 35,000,000 acres (14,164,000 hectares) of their lands west of the Mississippi river in exchange for $3,000,000 US Dollars (USD). The Sioux agreed to remain in reservations. When the U.S. government failed to deliver on payments, the Sioux were outraged. Violent attacks on white settlers deepened hostilities between whites and Native Americans.

In 1862, a Sioux tribe known as the Santee vented their frustration towards the government and white settlers by attacking several settlements. Minnesota courts found 303 Sioux guilty of raping and murdering almost 1,000 whites and sentenced them all to death. The Sioux were refused witnesses and lawyers. Finally, Abraham Lincoln intervened and let 284 of the Sioux off with prison time; 38 Santee Sioux were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862.

The trial further poisoned relations between the Native American Sioux and white communities. Many Sioux left for Canada or Missouri; others went west to join up with other Sioux warriors fighting the U.S. military. War and conflict continued to define the rest of the 19th century for the Sioux.

The most famous conflict between the Native American Sioux and the U.S. military was the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, or "Custer's Last Stand." The Sioux and other tribes were angry that prospectors had been exploring a region known as the Black Hills looking for gold, because the Black Hills held a deep spiritual purpose for Native Americans. In response, the Sioux united with the Cheyenne to fight for their sacred lands. The U.S. military sent troops to force them to leave, but the headstrong General Custer decided to attack without awaiting orders. He led his men into slaughter: The Sioux numbered many times his force.

Although the Sioux won the Battle of Little Bighorn, it was the beginning of the end of their military power. The actions of famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and the warrior Crazy Horse enraged the American public. The U.S. government became reluctant to deliver on its promises of land, food, and money to the Sioux. Skirmishes culminated in the 1891 massacre of 200 Sioux at Wounded Knee.

Today, the Sioux live in reservations, mainly in South Dakota. In the 20th century, some members embarked on radical attempts to reclaim Sioux lands and draw attention to the tribe. Starting in the 1960s, some younger Native American Sioux staged protests to demand better living conditions, rights, and opportunities. In 2007, a group of Sioux known as the Lakotah Freedom Delegation declared the Lakotah Sioux a sovereign nation. They traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest settlements on lands that had been entrusted to the Sioux.

The Sioux often supplemented their diet with wild rice.
The Sioux often supplemented their diet with wild rice.

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Discussion Comments


@stoneMason-- I don't think that's the case at all. The conditions on Sioux reservations are very difficult. There is unemployment, and not enough facilities for education and medical care. People have to find jobs outside of the reserve to support their family living in the reserve.


@ysmina-- I think the Sioux are okay right now. My best friend's grandfather was a Sioux Native American and she told me that there are sixteen Sioux reservations in the US. There are apparently quite a few in Canada as well. I have never been to a Native American reservation, but I think they have all of the means to live there and many Sioux members choose to live in the reservations.


I think a great injustice was done to the Native American Sioux. I mean, it was their land and settlers forcefully took it away. Of course, they're not the only Native American tribe who experienced the same injustice after white settlers moved into their territories.

The past is in the past but I think that the US government needs to do all that it can to improve the living condition of the present Sioux tribe. Although the tribe and the government at the time might have had an agreement, I still think they did not receive what they were promised.

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