What is an American Indian Sioux?

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  • Written By: Jan Hill
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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An American Indian Sioux is a member of the Sioux, also known as Dakota or Lakota, Indian tribe. The name "Sioux" may be traced back to the 17th century, when the Chippewa Indians called the tribe "Nadouwesou," meaning "adders." The name Nadouwesou is commonly believed to have been shortened to "Sioux" by French traders. There are seven tribes and three major divisions of the American Indian Sioux, and they share a culture and tradition that is still alive today.

The Sioux were a migrating type of people until the late 1800s, when the United States government relocated most of them to reservations or reserves in America and Canada. The original homelands of the American Indian Sioux were in an area of the US now known as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. They also had recognized settlements in what is now Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, Illinois, and Canada. Today, the Sioux live primarily in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Saskatchewan, Canada.

The Santee, or eastern division of the American Indian Sioux, consists of the Wahpekute, Mdewakantonwan, Wahpetonwan, and Sisitonwan tribes. The Ihanktonwana, or Yanktonai, tribe forms the Nakota, or middle division of the Sioux. The Lakota, or western division, is made up of the Titonwan, or Teton, tribe. The Teton tribe was originally a single band of Sioux Indians, but after they moved to the Dakotas, they split into several sub-divisions, including the Oglala, Hunkpapa, and Blackfoot tribes.


When the Sioux lived in what is now Wisconsin and Minnesota, they typically were corn farmers as well as hunters. Once they migrated to the Great Plains, they moved frequently to follow the roaming buffalo herds. Buffalo had become their main source of food, along with elk and deer. They usually lived in large tents, or tipis, made of buffalo hide. Tipis were relatively easy to move, accommodating the nomadic existence of the Sioux—an entire village might have been packed up and moved in as little as an hour.

The Sioux were believed to be a very spiritual tribe. They typically communicated with the spirit world through music, dance, and celebrations known as powwows. Sioux men also may have taken part in a 12-day summer ritual called the "Sun Dance." The Sun Dance is sometimes considered one of the most important spiritual dances of the Sioux. It featured Sioux warriors, who inflicted wounds upon themselves and endured the pain while dancing in order to exhibit their courage and commitment to the tribe.

Culturally, the American Indian Sioux had roles that were usually gender-specific. Sioux women were the owners and keepers of the home. They not only built the tipis, but were responsible for moving them when the tribe relocated. Like many other Native American mothers, Sioux women often carried their babies on their backs in "cradleboards." They might have engaged in storytelling, music, bead work, and traditional medicine.

Sioux men were considered hunters and warriors and were in charge of securing food for their families and defending them against physical threats. Historians theorize that the Sioux fought wars to demonstrate courage rather than to establish their territory. Men, not women, were typically eligible to become chiefs. The men also engaged in trading with other Native Americans and European traders. Although the women were known for their quill work and beading, Sioux men are commonly credited with creating elaborate paintings on the hides of buffalo.

The American Indian Sioux no longer live in tipis and may have assimilated into modern society, though many continue the culture and traditions of their ancestors. Traditional art forms such as quill work and beading that were done over 200 years ago are still done today. Many members of the American Indian Sioux tribe also practice traditional Sioux music and dancing in celebrations and powwows.


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