A Special Report: Whites Say Sioux, "Kota" People say "Friend"
The name Sioux was given to the people who call themselves Dakota, Nakota, or Lakota by the Chippewa, their traditional enemies, who called them “snakes.” The “kota” people themselves have widely used the term but many prefer to identify themselves by the dialect of the Siouan language they speak.
Generally, non-Indians, as well as some native people, lump together all the Siouan-speaking people who lived from southern Minnesota to the Black Hills—these are the Sioux. The inference is that these people were all historically alike.
It is not that simple. Yes, they were all members of the Great Sioux Nation. Yes, they were all kota or allies (friends). No, they were not all alike. Actually, there are three distinctly different groups. They differed in their ways of life, their histories, and even their language dialect.
The easternmost Siouan people are the Dakota. They are sometimes referred to as the Eastern Sioux or the Santee, but most accurately are called the Dakota. They spoke the Dakota dialect of the Siouan language. They lived in the forests of Minnesota along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and west of there. They were people of the woods who lived in permanent villages. Their livelihood was largely based on deer and wild rice and to a lesser extent, buffalo.
The westernmost Siouan people are the Lakota. Sometimes people call them the Western Sioux of the Teton Sioux. They are the Lakota because they spoke the Lakota Siouan dialect. They lived on the Great Plains from Nebraska into North Dakota. They were people of the plains who abandoned permanent villages and used the portable tipi so they could follow and hunt the buffalo. The buffalo was the center of their lives. The Lakota was a hunting society. They were the masters of the plains, a powerful people led by such men as Crazy Horse, Gall, Sitting Bull, and Red Cloud.
Between the Lakota and Dakota are the Yankton/Yanktonai. Sometimes called the Middle Sioux or the Nakota, which is their Siouan dialect, these people called themselves Yankton/Yanktonai. They lived on the edge of the plains along the James River of South and North Dakota. They hunted, grew some crops, and were traders.
The Dakota, the Lakota, and the Yankton/Yanktonai—three distinct parts of the Great Sioux Nation.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.