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Former tribal area of ​​the Sioux and neighboring tribes and today's reservations

Sioux (French: [ sju: ], English: [ suː ], German: [ zi: uks ]) is both the name of a group of North American Indian peoples and a language family . Three groups of closely related languages ​​are referred to as Sioux : Lakota , Western Dakota and (Eastern) Dakota . The latter served as the namesake for the two US states of North Dakota and South Dakota .

By 1800, these Sioux groups dominated almost all of North and South Dakota, North Nebraska , East Wyoming , South Montana , North Iowa and western Minnesota . The Assiniboine , which had split off from the Yanktonai Sioux, dominated the southern Canadian Prairie Provinces as well as northeast Montana and northwest North Dakota. The Stoney , who are closely related to them , lived mostly north and west of the Assiniboine on the prairie provinces and roamed from southern British Columbia to northern Montana.

According to the 2010 US census, 170,110 people in the United States identified themselves as belonging to the Sioux nation.

The Absarokee , Hidatsa , Iowa , Kansa , Mandan , Missouri , Omaha , Osage , Oto , Ponca , Quapaw and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribes are linguistically related .


The term Sioux is a colonial French short form of the Ojibwa word "Nadouessioux" (little snakes), which in turn is a French spelling for the Algonquin word "Natowessiw", plural "Natowessiwak". From this swear word derives “Nadowe-is-iw-ug”, which means “they are the lesser enemies”. Sioux is the only name for all seven tribes belonging to this group.

The lexeme "Sioux" is a derogatory term used by the Anishinabe for a number of Indian tribes of the Dakota / Lakota group and linguistically related tribes, all of which are enemies of the Anishinabe. However, some linguists have pointed out that, taking into account the Proto-Algonquian terminology, the lexeme can also be reinterpreted as "speaker of a foreign language". On the other hand, other linguists point out that it was quite typical to speak of one's enemies as "snakes". This is also the reason why the Shoshone were called "snake Indians". Another problem with reinterpreting the term is that the Proto-Algonquin is just a reconstructed language spoken thousands of years ago.

Culture and way of life

Sioux women's dress
Sioux baby carrier

The Sioux shared many cultural characteristics with other Plains Indians. They lived in teepees , a word from the Siouxsprache. The Lakota roamed in these tents all year round, the Dakota only hunting in summer and winter. The men earned prestige through courageous deeds both in war and hunting, through generosity and wisdom. The capture of horses and scalps in a raid on enemies was evidence of courage, bravery and skill. Warfare and supernatural things were closely linked, so that figures, patterns and symbols perceived in mystical visions were painted on the shields, the horses, the tepees and finally (for celebrations and campaigns) on the faces of the porters in front of their enemies and to protect evil spirits. The Sioux practiced a carefully worked out form of the sun dance , which they called the chief tribal festival.

Their religious system knew four powers that ruled over the universe, which in turn were divided into four hierarchies. The basis of these powers was wakan , the mysterious life and creative force, which was collectively referred to as the world soul Wakan Tanka (Great Secret). Things, natural phenomena or people with outstanding or unusual properties were also wakan , because in them the existence of supernatural powers ( animism ) was revealed . The buffalo figure also had an important place in their traditional religion . With the Tetons the bear was the most important figure; the appearance of the bear in a vision was considered a healing power. The Santee Sioux held a ceremonial bear hunt to gain protection for their warriors before they embarked on a campaign.

Sioux women were adept at handicrafts with porcupine bristles and beadwork that showed geometric patterns. Police functions were carried out by military companies whose main task was to monitor buffalo hunts. Other societies took care of the dance and the spiritual rituals. There were also women's societies.

Seasons and their activities

The months of a year were named after the most important activities and events. The summer months bore names of the ripening fruits, such as "month of the strawberry" (May), "month of the ripe rock pear " (June), "month of the ripe cherries" (July) and "month of the ripe plums" (August), those of the Sioux were harvested. Some months were named after seasonal phenomena, such as the "month of yellow leaves" (September) and the "month of falling leaves" (October). November was the "month of the hairless calves" because the bison were slaughtered in this month and their embryos were hairless. The winter months were called “the month of frost in the tipi” (December) and “month when the trees burst” (January). "Inflamed Eye Month" referred to the snow blindness that many suffered in February. March was the "month in which the seed sprouts" and April, the beginning of the year, was the "month of the birth of the calves".

In the spring, the family groups left the main camp to collect meat and food. The Sioux probably had a large supply of elk , pronghorn and bison during this period . In the spring tapped men and women of the Dakota the juice of ash maple and prepare to syrup. In the warmer months, the eastern Sioux peoples obtained wigwams made from tree bark. On this occasion the tipis were renewed or repaired with fresh hides. At the beginning of summer, the hides were smoked and made into leggings or moccasins . In May or June they moved to higher ground. This hike was traditional and has often been associated with hunting when food was scarce. Most of the summer was spent holding ceremonies, such as B. Vision searches, cultic celebrations, tribal elections and festivals in honor of the female virtues. The highlight of the celebrations was the sun dance. Then an elected group decided on the autumn activities. At the end of summer, autumn hunts were organized which they called "Tates". Autumn was a busy time for the women, who gathered berries and nuts and dried the meat for the winter to prepare pemmican . When autumn came to an end, the Sioux moved to winter camps protected from the weather. While the Lakota did not farm, the Dakota grew corn, beans and pumpkins.

The bison hunt

American bison
Sioux camp, 1894

The Sioux were originally arable farmers who hunted bison only occasionally. It was only when they took over the horses introduced by the Spaniards in 1700 that they can be regarded as nomadic bison hunters. The hunt was the job of the men. In the prairie and on the plateaus there were huge herds of bison , but also pronghorns, elk, rabbits and porcupines, and on the rivers there were beavers and ducks. The animal that ruled the Great Plains was the bison. Although archaeological evidence shows that this animal was widespread in North America, its habitat in the 19th century was limited to the plains, which were populated by about 60 million bison. The bison has poor eyesight, but its sense of smell and hearing are extremely good, so that the Indian hunters had to sneak up against the wind.

The early unridden Indians of the Plains hunted the bison by panicking the animals. The wildly fleeing animals were forced into a V-shape and driven to a cliff, from which they fell into the depths. Thousands of animals were killed in such places each year, so many at the same time that it was impossible to eat all of the meat.

After the horse arrived on the Great Plains, the Sioux cultivated the hunt on horseback. The quality of the horse was decisive for the success of the hunt. It had to be persistent, because even a fatally wounded bull bison could walk a long way before collapsing. It had to have courage and with great skill it had to dodge the sharp horns that struck it. Such a horse was looked after by the family, and when thieves from hostile tribes were around, the horse was taken to the tipi and the women had to sleep outside.

When hunting bison, the hunter was only dressed in a leather loincloth and moccasins . He was armed with a short lance or with a bow and about 20 marked arrows by which the shooter could later be recognized. If the hunter was close enough to the selected bison, he tried to hit a spot behind the last rib. It usually took at least three hits to kill the animal. The bison hunt was a dangerous business that killed many horses and hunters.

The bison was central to the Sioux and was revered as a sacred animal. He provided the Indians with the most important things they needed to survive on the plateaus: food, shelter and clothing. Soft diapers for the newborns were made from the skin of bison calves. The hides of six to eight adult animals made the cover of a tipi for the entire family. In addition, bison skin was used to make the soles of moccasins, items of clothing, bags, various straps and, last but not least, boats. The particularly thick neck fur was used to make shields, cooking pots were made from rumen and the tendons were used as yarn, for example to connect the hides. The bones were made into scrapers, knives and awls. The Sioux made sleds from ribs connected with straps. The thick winter skins offered protection and warmth against the biting cold on the plains. The fur was also used to pad cradle boards and pillows. There were tokens made of bone, dolls made of bison leather, and toys made of horn. Decorations were made from colored bison hair, and bison tails adorned the tipis. The beard of the animals decorated clothes and weapons, horns and hair served as headdresses. Medicine bags were made from the bladder, and hooves and scrotums were made into rattles for ceremonial purposes.

Construction of a tipi

Sioux tipis, painted by Karl Bodmer , 1833

The tipi, which belonged to the women, protected from heat in summer and from cold in winter and was able to withstand stormy winds. The erection and dismantling of the tipi was done by women, with two women hardly needing more than an hour to erect it. The tipi normally consisted of a covering of scraped bison skins sewn together with tendons, which was pulled over a pole frame. The Sioux used a tripod made of particularly strong rods for the scaffolding, which were tied together with straps at the top. Then the remaining bars were leaned against it and also tied. Finally, the connection to a wooden peg inside served as an anchorage against gusts of wind. The folded leather cover was brought into position with a lifting rod, pulled over the scaffolding and fastened to the ground at the lower edge with wooden pegs. The open vertical seam was closed with wooden sticks and a door flap was attached below. Finally, two thin rods outside the tipi were inserted into the pockets of the smoke flaps, with which the smoke outlet could be adjusted to the wind direction or closed completely. The normal Sioux tipi had a diameter of about five meters at the bottom and could accommodate a whole family.


Paha Ska, one of the elders from Keystone , South Dakota . He belongs to the Oglala Sioux in the Pine Ridge Reservation . In his hand he holds a peace and friendship medal from Thomas Jefferson , Elyria in Ohio, 2001
Wahpeton (Dakota) summer home , 1832

Jerome Lalemant first described the Sioux people in 1642, who farmed and cultivated maize and tobacco on Lake Superior . Their villages were well fortified and they were constantly at war with the Cree and Illinois . The first Europeans who certainly met the Sioux proper first were Medart Chouart and Pierre Radisson, who visited the Ottawa tribe in 1661 , who in turn had received a visit from the Sioux.

The Sioux were already at the height of their power before 1800. They owned horses and since 1794 at the latest they were feared because of their rifles, as reported by the French trader Jean Baptiste Truteau (or Trudeau), who drove up the Mississippi and traveled to the south of Dakota. The Italian explorer Giacomo Beltrami lived with the Sioux people for a few months in 1823. In 1823 he published the only dictionary to date that translated the Sioux language into English, and in his book Le découverte des sources du Mississippi , published in New Orleans in 1824, he gave a precise description of the Sioux culture and customs.

Of all the Great Plains tribes, the Sioux were the staunchest opponents of the white invaders into their land. With the advance of the settlement line west of the Mississippi in the mid-19th century, the United States attempted to address anticipated problems with the Sioux, Shoshone , Cheyenne , Arapaho, and other western tribes in 1851 by signing the first Fort Laramie treaty To beat the Indians. The treaty established the boundaries for each tribe throughout the northern Great Plains and the location of the forts and trails within the Indian territory.

In 1851 and 1859, the Dakota gave up most of their land in Minnesota and were placed on a reservation to settle and farm. But breaches of contract by the whites along with the advance of the white settlement border led to a bloody Dakota uprising in 1862 under the leadership of Little Crow . After their defeat, they were forcibly placed on reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska.

Sioux chiefs, 1877

The area of ​​nomadic Teton and Yankton Sioux, which lay between Missouri to the east and the Teton Mountains to the west, and between the Platte River to the south and the Yellowstone River to the north, was increasingly overrun by whites after the 1849 gold rush . These Sioux tribes were particularly bitter at the government's attempt to build a road to Bozeman, Montana (the Powder River Road) through their favorite hunting grounds in the Bighorn Mountains. The Oglala chief Red Cloud led a campaign with thousands of Sioux warriors from 1865 to 1867 to stop the construction of the road. On December 21, 1866, a group under Chief Crazy Horse was responsible for the Fetterman Skirmish , a skirmish in which 81 US soldiers were killed near Fort Phil Kearny . The United States finally admitted their defeat in the second Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, renounced the Bozeman Trail and guaranteed the Sioux sole ownership of the area west of the Missouri in South Dakota.

However, when gold was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the mid-1870s , thousands of prospectors disregarded Fort Laramie's second treaty, flooded the Sioux Reservation , and provoked another round of hostilities in 1876. In the Battle of Little Bighorn River in June 1876, a large contingent of Sioux and Cheyenne defeated Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and destroyed his entire force of over 200 men, but this spectacular Indian victory did not change the course of the entire war. Later that summer, 3,000 Sioux were captured on the Tongue River by the main army under General Alfred A. Terry . The Sioux capitulated on October 31st, after which the majority returned to their reservations.

Internment camp for 1,600 captured Dakota Indians on Pike Island in the Minnesota River below Fort Snelling, Minnesota, 1862
Execution of 38 Sioux in Mankato , Minnesota, December 26, 1862

However, the chiefs Sitting Bull , Crazy Horse and Gall refused to make reservations with their groups. Crazy Horse was assured by General Crook through Spotted Tail that if he surrendered he would be assigned his own reservation on the Powder River. On May 5, 1877, Crazy Horse led its exhausted and starving people to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where 800 Indians surrendered. However, the promises were not kept. Crazy Horse stayed on the Red Cloud Agency, but his presence caused unrest among the Sioux and distrust grew among whites. On the basis of unsubstantiated rumors - most likely involving Red Cloud - General Crook ordered his arrest based on an escape or even an uprising of Crazy Horse. On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was transferred to Fort Robinson by the Spotted Tail Agency. Crazy Horse hadn't expected him to be arrested and put in a guardhouse. While trying to resist imprisonment, a soldier stabbed him in the abdomen, particularly through the liver, with a bayonet. Crazy Horse died that same night. Sitting Bull and his followers had crossed the border with Canada in November 1876 and applied for asylum (for a reservation) there. Canada initially tolerated the refugees. Due to the increasing political pressure from the United States, Canada did everything in 1880 to get rid of the uninvited guests. In the summer of 1880 it was already becoming apparent that food, especially game, was becoming scarce. The Lakota were starving, and Canada was unwilling to feed these foreign Indians. Sitting Bull returned to the United States in July 1881. On July 19, 1881, he and his Hunkpapa surrendered at Fort Buford.

Sioux ghost dance on Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show . The film recording from 1894 is considered to be the oldest on which North American Indians can be seen
Indian Congress , Indian show around 1901

In the years 1890 to 1891 the religious spirit dance movement spread, preaching the arrival of a messiah, the return to the old nomadic hunting life and the reunion with the dead. It had its center with the Sioux, who suffered particularly badly from the restrictions of the reservation life. Government agents believed the movement would disturb the peace and arrested their ringleaders. Sitting Bull was shot in protective custody by the Indian Police in 1890. Finally, the massacre of Wounded Knee , committed against many Sioux men, women and children, in December 1890 put an end to the Sioux's futile resistance to white supremacy. In 1894, the first film about the religious ritual of the Sioux ghost dance was shot in the Black Maria Studios with the film Sioux Ghost Dance .

Sioux tribes

The Dakota include the Mdewakanton , Wahpekute , Sisseton and Wahpeton . The western Dakota include the Yankton and Yanktonai and the Lakota include the Hunkpapa , Sihasapa , Minneconjou , Itazipco , Two Kettles , Brulé and Oglala . Then there are the Assiniboine and Stoney, split off from the Yanktonai .

See also


  • Zitkala-Ša : Red Bird Telling: The Stories of a Dakota . Palisander Verlag, Chemnitz 2015, ISBN 978-3-938305-70-6 .
  • Raymond J. DeMallie (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 13: Plains. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC 2001, ISBN 0-16-050400-7 .
  • Royal B Hassrick: The Book of the Sioux. Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Cologne 1982; Weltbild Verlag, Augsburg 1992, ISBN 3-89350-353-6 .
  • George E. Hyde: Histoire des Sioux: Le peuple de Red Cloud. Three volumes. Editions du Rocher, 1996
  • Jessica Dawn Palmer: The Dakota peoples: a history of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota through 1863. Mcfarland & Co Inc, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7864-3177-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sioux  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Sioux  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. United States Census Bureau: The American Indian and Alaskan Native Population: 2010. Accessed May 9, 2018 .
  2. Colin Taylor et al. a .: Indians, the natives of North America. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1992, p. 63.
  3. Benjamin Capps: The Indians. Series: Der Wilde Westen, p. 67. Time-Life Books (Netherland) BV
  4. Alvin M. Josephy Jr.: The world of the Indians. Frederking & Thaler GmbH, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-89405-331-3 , p. 243.
  5. Benjamin Capps: The Indians. Series: Der Wilde Westen, p. 92. Time-Life Books (Netherland) BV
  6. Abraham P. Nasatir: Jacques D'Eglise on the Upper Missouri, from 1791 to 1795. In: The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 14/1 (June 1927) pp. 47-56.
  7. Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz: Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864. Prairie Smoke Press, 2005, p. 65.