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Article: Nakoda Courtship and Marriage

As described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long), edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma Press, 1961, p 27-32 (originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

"A fair maiden was not easily courted because she was always chaperoned by her grandmother or an older woman who was a relative.

The manner of courtship on the part of a youth was to attract the attention of a maiden by his dress, hunting ability, war record, or skill in a game or dance. He did not call on a young woman in her lodge, but if he saw her at a gathering, he made it a point to attract her attention in some manner. Then they exchanged fond glances. The maiden returned this attention by wearing nice clothes that showed her fine handiwork. Then at the first opportunity the youth approached the girl and they talked together.

Some young men boldly courted while the young woman gathered wood, even though an older woman was near and acted as a chaperon. If a youth's attentions were agreeable to a young woman, she carried on a conversation with him, but if she resented them, she ignored him. Sometimes a young man was not so easily driven away and insisted on being heard. In that case the maiden threatened the rash youth with a stick.

It is told that some young men humbled themselves greatly when talking to the maidens they admired. Perhaps they met while the young woman was getting water, and usually the youth watched for that chance. The young man's speech would go like this

"Did you say something? Perhaps I am mistaken. You have been in my thoughts so much and I have imagined many times that you have spoken to me. Now that you are so near, I may seem to hear your voice. If you haven't said anything, it is well and good, for I am like dirt under your feet and why should you waste your kind voice on lowly things. See, I dare not touch you, lest I soil so beautiful a being."

That was a speech of a humble lover. A girl had to show judgment because a desperate lover could resort to "love medicine." On the other hand there were maidens who went out at night and stood near their lodges to meet their sweethearts. So when the old grandfathers gave advice to their grandsons about love affairs, they said, "Do your courting during the day, and if you wish to say something to the young woman, send a message by your sister or cousin, because maidens who go out after dark to meet young men do not always make good wives."

When parents thought it was time for a son to get married, they asked one of the grandfathers to talk to the young man. The grandmother prepared a dish that the youth was fond of and he was invited over for an evening.

When the meal was finished, the old man slowly filled a pipe, lit it, and started to talk. "You are now a man and in a short time you will be getting old. Before that time, you must get yourself a woman and live in your own lodge and raise some children.

"Before you do this, first look over the maidens among our people and make up your mind to one. I would advise that you do not pick out one who is too much for looks and has a good figure. Remember, if such a one gains favor in your eyes, she will also attract other men, and even though she sits beside you as your woman, men will continue to admire her just the same.

"The relatives of your choice should be looked over to see if her men relations are good providers, skilled hunters, and men who are well known. If her mother is neat and industrious, the daughter will be like her.

"You must turn these things over in your mind many times when some good-to-look-at young woman tries to charm you. You may think you have made a good choice and want to hurry the marriage, but remember to take your time because the one you pick may cause you to live a miserable life You may find yourself living in a six-hide lodge [for the poorest people] on the outskirts of an encampment. The clothes you wear may be poorly made and the skins half-tanned. Many other things will make your heart heavy.

"The good need not be told. You are grown up. Look around and see others. Be like the ones who live in happiness and contentment."

When a young couple decided to marry, the young man brought his wife to the lodge of his folks, or he went to live with her people. Then the marriage was announced at the next dance and the relatives gave away presents.

The couple lived with either parents for a year or so. If they lived at the lodge of the wife's parents, the son-in-law was expected to supply the meat and do the man's work. The wife did most of the tasks in and about the lodge, if they lived with his folks.

The parents and relatives of a marriageable youth sometimes made a choice for him. Red Feather told the following story:

My father never talked to me about marriage, but one time, while on a visit to my aunt in another band, she talked right to the point. She always seemed to do the talking for the family. She had a son and a daughter. The youth was my age, and we were always together.

She said, "You and your cousin (meaning her son) have been visiting back and forth between the two bands and caused us much worry. There is so much danger from war parties traveling about and an enemy could easily waylay and kill you both. You are now grown up and should settle down. We have selected a young woman who lives in this band to be your wife. She is strong and well-trained by her mother and no one has, so far, asked for her. We have already arranged everything so you will be married tomorrow."

I was not surprised, for I was resigned to the will of my family and my aunt was like my own mother. A man was paid a fee and sent with three horses and some goods to my future wife's folks.

It was the custom for the bridegroom to paint the face of his bride upon her arrival in the lodge of her future husband, but my cousin said, "I will relieve you of that task and paint her face myself. just leave that part to me."

The man returned, accompanied by my future wife. She brought food with her, which she placed in front of my aunt. My aunt then seated her beside me and told my cousin to paint her face as he had volunteered to do. My cousin was not so willing to keep his word now that the time had come and said I should paint my own wife's face.

By that time I thought my heart was going to pound its way out through my breast. I could not move to do anything and my aunt kept repeating that the bride should not be kept waiting. So finally I got up enough courage to perform the rite, and I did not do it so well either. My hands shook so that I just daubed a little paint on each cheek and was finished. After that she accompanied the man back to her home.

The next day, her folks brought her and two horses, which were loaded with goods, to my aunt's lodge. The horses they gave to my uncle and aunt, and the goods were bedding and things for us.

My aunt gave a large feast, and the marriage was announced, and many things were given away by both parties.

It was customary for older men to bargain for a wife. They gave a fee to a go-between, and he made the offer to the girl's parents. If the offer was attractive to the parents, they entreated their daughter to consent to the marriage. The girl could not be compelled to accept, but the parents always worked on her affection for her relatives and usually, in the end, there was a marriage.

Some poor parents, or parents who had daughters but no male provider in the family, "gave away" their daughters to prominent men, even though the men already had one or more wives.

There were cases where a child was promised to a grown man, and while the girl was growing up, the prospective husband provided for her and her parents. There were times when a girl, on reaching maturity, refused to fulfill the promise made by her parents.


A man boldly took back his gifts if the girl he bought left his lodge and went back to her folks. Some of these troubles, now and then, had serious consequences and someone was injured or killed.

If a man's wife had more work than she could do in their lodge and had one or more unmarried younger sisters, the man could through another person, ask her relatives for one of them to be his wife. He need not bargain for her, as it was considered her duty to her sister to accept and help with the tasks. The parents did not expect anything in return but continued support. Several sisters could marry a man if he was a prominent person, a good provider, and entertained a great deal.

The parents of a boy and the parents of a girl, if the families were close friends, usually planned that the two would marry at maturity. In that case, if someone else wanted the girl, she was already promised. And the maidens knew, too, that the young man was as good as married. From childhood, the two were taught to observe the rules that governed a person's behavior and speech when in the presence of a father-in-law or a mother-in-law.

Marriages were dissolved merely by living apart. Sometimes, if the husband was a member of a society, he announced through another that, "He has thrown her away." That was a sign that anyone was free to court the woman. If the man took his wife back and they lived together as before, it was considered a disgrace. He was dropped from his society, and if he had an office or rank in the organization, it was taken from him and given to someone else."