Today, there are 18 First Nations in Canada and 17 Tribes in the United States who are the descendants of the O©eti §aúowiñ. The O©eti §aúowiñ speak three main dialects: Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota that have evolved into a number of sub dialects.
The terms Dakota/Nakota/Lakota were commonly used to identify one’s national or tribal affiliation to the O©eti §aúowiñ and indirectly, to identify the speaker’s dialect. Thus, when a Dakota speaker wanted to refer to all members of the Oceti §aúowiñ he would refer to them as Daíoþa. Similarly, a Naíoþa speaker would identify all as being Naíoþa. Historically, the people did not use the terms Dakota, Nakota and Lakota divisively. In the colonisation process, the terms were used to facilitate and promote division among the Oyaþe (people or nation). Today, the American and Canadian governments and ethnographers continue to advocate division among the Oyaþe. In the long term, this has lead to significant disparity between Canadian bands and American tribes, band/tribal governments, even within families. In recent years, initiatives have been undertaken to reconcile the differences and reunite the Oyaþe culturally, politically, socially, and economically.
The term Dakota/Nakota/Lakota was erroneously interpreted to mean friendly or allies. Ethnographers today still assert the term refers to and describes a political alliance that was similar to that of present day Canada or the United States. The real definition of Dakota/Nakota/Lakota is “those who consider themselves kindred.” Kinship was the foundation of the cultural, political, social and economic collective or Oyaþe. The term O©eti §aúowiñ is the only term in our language that is specific to the political nature of the collective or Oyaþe and comparable to the European concept of nation. The term Dakota/Nakota/Lakota refers more directly to the cultural, social and economic aspects of the collective or Oyaþe.
The first written documentation of contact with our people is in the 1640 Jesuit Relations. Jean Nicolet, based on information he had collected a few years earlier, provided names of a number of bands that he claimed were Naduesiu. Naduesiu is the French corruption of the Ojibwe term nadowe-is-iw-ug (nadowe = adder (species of snake), is = diminutive (smaller), iw-ug = they are) that was a derogatory nickname they used to distinguish the O©eti §aúowiñ from the Mohawk, whom they call nado –wewok (real adder). In time, the French contracted the name to siu or Sioux. Thus the O©eti §aúowiñ in most historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the French, British, United States, and Canadian governments are referred to as the Sioux or the Great Sioux Nation.
In the same record, one of the O©eti §aúowiñ, tiyoßöaye was identified as being separate and distinct from the O©eti §aúowiñ and named Assinpour-Le Jeune, which in essence, means stone cookers and is the corruption of another Ojibwe term. In time, the term was refined to Assiniboine, which is a term often used in historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the French, British, United States, and Canadian Governments in reference to certain Nakota speaking bands. To the Nakota speaking tiyoßöaye, the term was originally applied to what was the Hohe. However in some instances, the term was mistakenly applied to other Nakota speaking bands.
In the colonization process, the terms Sioux and Assiniboine were used to facilitate and promote division among the Oyaþe (people or nation). Even today, the United States and Canadian governments and ethnographers continue advocate that the Assiniboine withdrew from the Sioux Nation 500 or more years ago to establish a separate and distinct nation. They also advocate that the Sioux and Assiniboine have been ruthless enemies ever since. It is true that there were occasional conflicts between the Hohe and the other members of the O©eti §aúowiñ, but there were also occasional conflicts between other members as well. The Elders say the relationship between the various groups was no different than that in any family. Sometimes, the middle brother buddies up with the older brother and the two get into conflict with the younger brother. At other times, the younger brother and the middle brother buddy up and get into to conflict with the older brother. Sometimes it is the older and the younger brother buddy up and get into conflict with the middle brother. There are times when none of the three brothers get along and times when all get along. This is a prime example of the differences between First Nations perspectives and the historical Eurocentric perceptions of the Canadians and Americans. The traditional First Nations concept of war was more like a game and the intent was not to annihilate one another. In fact, among the O©eti §aúowiñ, killing an enemy was considered highly disrespectful. Those who counted coup or struck the enemy were the ones who were honoured. The French, British, and Americans instigated much of the intertribal fighting in the 1700’s and 1800’s. The fighting between the Sioux, Ojibwe and Cree during that time period is an example. It is documented that the Assiniboine often acted as a middleman or a buffer between the Sioux and the Ojibwe and Cree.
Besides being called Sioux or Assiniboine, some of the Nakota speaking bands are referred to as Stoney in certain historical documents, including Treaties and other records with the British, American and Canadian Governments.
Historically, the Daíoþa speaking bands lived in the eastern sector of the Oceti §aúowiñ territory, the Naíoþa speaking bands occupied the central or middle sector while the Laíoþa speaking bands lived in the west. Historical documents including Treaties, at times incorporate terms that represent these and geographical relationships. The most commonly used terms are Santee, Yankton, Soanes, and Teton. The origin of the term Soanes is uncertain, the other three are corrupted versions of Dakota/Nakota/Lakota terms.
In addition to corruption of the terms identified and the traditional names for various sub-divisions and bands of the O©eti §aúowiñ, a wide range of other names have been used in historical documents. One of those names is Buffalo Nation, which coincidentally agrees with our oral tradition. According to the O©eti §aúowiñ, creation stories the people were made to be servants to the spirits and were known as the Pte Oyate or Buffalo Nation.
The O©eti §aúowiñ is comprised of seven divisions or fireplaces. Thus the name O©eti = fireplace and §aúowiñ = seven. The Hohe, who have been referred to as Assiniboine and the Iñyañ Üe Wi©aßa, who are often called Stoney, originate from the Wizikuþe or Pine Shooter. Ihañktoñwañna tiyoßöaye oral tradition tells that some members of the Hohe had taken Üaüatoñwañ (Ojibwe) spouses and subsequently their in-laws came to live with them. That led to conflict with their Nakota relatives. To avoid further conflict, those tiwahe or households made their own wi©oti(camp). This is supposed to have taken place in the early 1600’s or not long before Jean Nicolet gathered in his information. The Hohe traveled extensively in the area extending from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. Some of those who are called Iñyañ Üe Wi©aßa are most definitely Naíoþa and may well have originated as a new wi©oti that evolved from the Hohe. Based on oral tradition, some may have originated from one more Åitoñwañ wi©oti who travel into the Rocky Mountains and stayed. There are Stoney Elders who refer to themselves as Rocky Mountain Sioux and claim to understand Laíoþa better than the Naíoþa spoken by the Hohe.
Historically, the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota had no tolerance for marriage within family units. Therefore, one had to marry outside of his or her tiyoßöaye (extended family). Even so, the majority of the members of a wi©oti (camp) were of the same otoñwañ (division who are of common ancestry). However, a number of the reserves/reservations were established for members of more than one otoñwañ (division who are of common ancestry). For example, the Wahpeton Reserve’s original membership included members of Waüöetoñwañ, Sissitoñwañ, and Ihañktoñwañ ancestry. Another example, is the Fort Belknap reservation that is shared by persons of Nakota and Gros Ventre (Atsni) ancestry. Given the heterogeneous nature of some of the reserves/reservations and the fact that some otoñwañ (division who are of common ancestry) were assigned to more than one reserve/reservation, the reservation system does not fit with the O©eti §aúowiñ structure. That coupled with other characteristics of the reservation system lead to the denigration of the O©eti §aúowiñ and the evolution of another identification system. Actually, two identification systems exist: a Canadian band/reserve system and an American tribe/reservation system, through which individuals are identified as having membership in a specific Band or Tribe in accordance with membership criteria endorsed by the respective federal government. Those who do not meet the membership criteria have no status and in Canada are classed as non-status Indians. Such could be considered a third identification system because of the significant number in both countries who do not meet the established membership criteria or do not pursue membership.
There are many aspects of the Band/Tribe membership system that are not compatible with the traditional O©eåi §aúowiñ concept of membership or citizenship. The O©eåi §aúowiñ system is an inclusive system whereas the Band/Tribal systems are exclusive and seem to be becoming more exclusive as time passes.
Traditionally, when a Dakota/Nakota/Lakota person was asked by one of the people, “Who are you?”, the person would commonly identify themselves by their wi©oti (camp) and tiyoßöaye (extended family). They would then elaborate by telling their mother’s lineage and their father’s lineage. Today, there are only a small percentage of our people who can do that. Unless they are Laíoþa, most do not even know their oßöaye (sub division). More people can identify themselves by their language dialect Dakota, Nakota, or Lakota (even though only a small percentage know the language) than by their otoñwañ (division who are of common ancestry). A high percentage of our people identify themselves by their band or tribal membership but sadly, many only know of themselves as being Sioux, Assiniboine or Stoney.
For our people, “The Name Game” is highly complex. The diverseness in names causes much confusion and are some of the reasons parents have not taught their children more about who they are. Today, many of our people are expressing interest in learning more about who they are but as they engage in their research, it is not uncommon for them to become discouraged because of the complexity.
Since the 1970’s, most of the Canadian bands have refrained from using the names Sioux and Assiniboine. Some have even formally changed their names, for example: Round Plain Sioux Band has been changed to Wahpeton Dakota First Nation, Moose Woods Sioux Band has been changed to White Cap Dakota Sioux First Nation, and the Assiniboine Band has been changed to Carry the Kettle Nakota First Nation.