Overview: Life on the Indian Reservations

By 1889 when North Dakota became a state, the reservation system for Native People was firmly established. These areas were much smaller than the United States government had earlier promised. The government’s policy was to turn Indians into farmers and Christians; this meant the abolition of Indian traditional ways of life. This was a difficult, almost impossible, transition for the people.

The Lakota, Sitting Bull’s people, especially resisted the government’s policies. In 1890 the Ghost Dance became a way of protesting the government’s attempts to wipe out Indian ways. The Ghost Dance came to the Dakotas from Nevada where Wovoka had had a vision of returning the country to the way it was before white people came. The Dance promised a new world with the return of the dead and the great buffalo herds. The Lakota chiefs endorsed this new spiritual movement; Sitting Bull allowed the Ghost Dance in his camp. The endless Dance ceremonies frightened white settlers who feared an Indian uprising.

This fear led the Indian agent to arrest Sitting Bull and the army to put a stop to the Ghost Dance. While being arrested on December 14, 1890, Sitting Bull was killed. On December 29, 1890, the army engaged the Lakota at Wounded Knee, leaving 146 dead Lakota.

The North Star Dakotan presents accounts of reservation life after the tragedies of 1890.

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.

Grade Level

3-6, 8-12

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change