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They Are Not Sioux, They Are Dakota

Martha Ironstar

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 1993      v22 n07 p03  
The "Nadewisou" were recorded in 1654 by Jesuit missionary, Pierre Radisson. The Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Huron also lived in the same areas. The Ojibwa had great fear of the Nadewisou and told horrible tales to the French fur trader Radisson. As it happened, with a stroke of a pen by Radisson in his explorers diary, the best known Indian inhabitants of the United States upper Midwest suffered an unwanted nickname.

The French called these people "Sioux" which originally derived from a Chippewa word, Nadewisou. The Chippewa were their sworn enemies. Nadewisou means "treacherous snake." Naturally, the Sioux prefer their proper ancient traditional name of Dakota.

This name means "friends" or an "alliance of friends." This traditional name is derived from the Santee-Dakota - "Koda", or from the Teton-Lakota - "Kola."

The French were the fast Europeans to contact the Dakota. In the Dakota Chippewa wars, the Chippewa were successful in pushing out the Dakota only because they were the first to use firearms. The guns were traded by the French for furs.

In the early 1600's the Dakota still lived in the Great Lakes area using wild rice as a staple in their food supply. They were Santee. The Teton, Yankton and Yanktonas had already headed to the plains areas. In the early part of the 1700's, the Dakota were divided into a fabric of seven closely related tribes and joined in an alliance of "Seven Council Fires" for their mutual protection.

They named themselves for the region they inhabited or after a peculiar characteristic. Today, the Seven Council Fires are still burning. Seven Feathers or Seven Council Fires are used to symbolize the nation and the strength of unity.

When the horse became abundant on the plains, the Dakota had been using the dog as their pack animal. The Dakota people call their horse "sunka wakan," or literally translated, "dog holy." Their language is grammatically constructed to the romance languages, therefore, the English translation is "holy dog."

At one time in the history of the Dakota, the buffalo supplied everything, food, shelter and clothing. The buffalo was also the medium through which the creator brought the word which was given to the people to live by. The Seven Sacred Rites is parallel to the Christian Bible.

The White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the Seven Sacred Rites to the Dakota people and also left on earth a material symbol of the creator's love for mankind for safekeeping with the Dakota.

People are not always wise or strong, because of this they were also given the Eagle for a special purpose. The Eagle is a powerful, beautiful creature with unmatched physical skill in flight Because of this, humans intuitively sense the dignified power which possesses the diplomatic courier between the Dakota people and the creator.

The Oyate people wear eagle feathers as an act of public recognition for individual deeds accomplished for the benefit of the people. The men generally won their recognition on the battlefield, the women claimed theirs by courage and accomplishments in life. Feathers are also decorated uniquely to signify on which battlefield it was won and for what deed, this gives the proper respect to the owner.

The bear is a symbol of strength for the Lakota people. The bear's medicine was used in ancient times for the healing of wounds received in battle. If a person displays a bear symbol, it serves as a reminder for the owner to be consistent and strong in the defense of their traditional beliefs in the creator. The Lakota, Dakota and Nakota traditional people believe that if a person has this strength, they also possess self-healing powers, regeneration and the strength to continue the struggle toward perfection in one's own life.

Dakota history is a difficult subject to write about because it was handed down, by word, from one generation to the next. Often it is in conflict with written records of white historians. Time had a different meaning to the Dakota. Incidents that dramatically affected their lives were lost in time.

Today the traditional Dakota people carry on the traditions of the Seven Council Fires. They meet each year at a conference called "Lakota Summit." Issues in political, social and cultural aspects are brought forward. Solutions are initiated and the fire burns for them, leading the way to the future and providing the wisdom of the past.

Dakota rainbow pottery truly represents their spirit. The rainbow, the moon, the stars, the sun, the four winds are all "wakan", meaning "things mysterious."

A spirit is "wakan".

Wakan is divine.