What is the Lakota Tribe?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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The Lakota tribe is a Native American group living mainly in North and South Dakota. It is the westernmost of the three major Sioux groups within the Great Sioux Nation, which also include the Eastern and Western Dakota. The Lakota people traditionally speak Lakota, one of three Sioux dialects.

The Lakota tribe is further divided into three regional subgroups, each with its own bands, or sub-tribes. The Hunkpapa and Sihasapa belong to the Northern Lakota. The Central Lakota comprises the Minniconjou, Sans Arc, and Two Kettles, while the Oglala and Brule bands belong to the Southern Lakota.

Historically, the Lakota tribe lived in the Great Lakes region in modern-day Minnesota, along with the other Sioux groups, but they moved west due to pressure from European settlers. The Lakota tribe was the first Sioux tribe to move west out of their historical territory. By the 18th century, the Lakota had settled in the Dakotas and had adopted the horse into their culture, allowing them to hunt buffalo.

The importance of the buffalo hunt to the Lakota tribe led to a migratory lifestyle. In addition to hunting buffalo, the Lakota also gathered wild plants and traded with sedentary cultures. The Lakota used all parts of the buffalo they killed, for their food, clothing, shelter, and tools. They dried and prepared the meat that they did not immediately eat to make pemmican and jerky that could keep for years.


The Lakota traditionally lived in tipis (teepees), made of wooden poles covered in buffalo hide. This type of portable dwelling suited their nomadic lifestyle. While the men of the tribe were responsible for hunting buffalo, the women tanned the hides and used them to craft clothing, tipis, bags, and other useful items.

There are currently over 103,000 enrolled Lakota tribe members, about half of which live on one of the five Lakota reservations in the Dakotas or on one of the other Sioux reservations in Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The Lakota reservations are the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and the Standing Rock Reservation, each with its own tribal government and constitution.

In 2007, a group of Lakota called the Lakota Freedom Delegation declared their independence from the United States in Washington, D.C. The proposed Republic of Lakota comprises parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming, based on borders established in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie between the Lakota and the United States. The goals of the Republic of Lakota include the development of wind and solar power and the increased farming of sugar beets for biofuel, and a total immersion Lakota language school.


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