The Dakota Indians are part of the larger group of Sioux Indians. Living in the upper Midwest United States in the present-day states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as parts of south-central Canada, the Dakota had a complex political structure and survived many harsh winters. The Dakota Indians are spread today throughout the United States, though many of them still live in the same geographic area as their ancestors.
The Sioux Nation consists of several tribes. These smaller groupings of Sioux have share cultural and political ties throughout history. In past times, each of the tribes had differing political interests. Those interests are less defining for today's Dakota Indians, many of whom are aligned politically in an effort to assert tribal rights in a society geared more toward accommodating non-tribal interests.
"Dakota" is only one name for this group of native people; some Sioux tribes use the words "Lakota" and "Nakota" to describe themselves. These differences are merely differences in dialect. In other words, saying “Lakota” versus “Dakota” or “Nakota” makes no substantive change in the meaning. Lakota is the most common of the three terms, but Dakota is popular, as well. Primarily, only members of one of the various Sioux tribes refer to themselves as Nakota.
The Dakota Indians of history lived a nomadic life. Though the tribes were not matriarchal in lineage and leadership, women did hold the right to all property in the Dakota tribes. Tribal women owned easily transportable homes and all possessions within the home. When the tribe needed to move, the women were the ones to pack up and move the objects. Men could not own the property itself.
The Dakota Indians, like many other native groups, restricted the top leadership position — chief — to men only, though women participated fully in other aspects of tribal life. They produced art and carried the mantle of Sioux traditions through storytelling and music. These traditions passed down orally for centuries, and both women and men participated in the telling. Women in contemporary society can be elected to top leadership positions within a tribe.
Children in the Dakota tribes lived stable, helpful lives, much like children in later Western societies. Children participated in household work, though not as much as children in some cultures. Children in the Dakota tribes had a few toys and free time to play, with minimal domestic work to help make sure all of the necessary tasks were completed.