South Dakota Native American Cultures

One of the earliest inhabitants of the plains and hills of South Dakota were the members of the Sioux Nation. Eventually, the Nation split into three main divisions based upon the dialect of their language that they spoke. The easternmost group, the Santee Sioux, spoke the D, or Dakota, dialect. The Yankton Sioux spoke the N, or Nankota, dialect, and the Teton, in the west, spoke the L, or Lakota, dialect.

Within the Sioux Nation, the Tetons were the most powerful and numerous of the three divisions. However, the Tetons themselves consisted of seven divisions, or bands. These bands were the Oglala, Sihasipa (Blackfeet), Sicangu (Brule), Hunkpapa, Minneconjou, Itazipco (Sans Arc), and the Oohenumpa (Two Kettle). Since first meeting the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, the Sioux have played a prominent part in the history of the northern plains and the state of South Dakota. Today, the descendants of the earlier Sioux nations can still be found on many of the reservations in South Dakota

A Brief Timeline of Recent South Dakota Native American History (1800-Present)


At this time, the Great Sioux Nation presides over the northern part of the Great Plains. This region includes both North and South Dakota, northern Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, and southeastern Montana.


This was the time of the Louisiana Purchase and the start of the expansion into the western regions of North America leading to a dramatic decrease in the buffalo population, an animal central to the Lakota way of life.


Red Cloud heads a winning fight closing off the Bozeman Trail, a passage that lead to the gold mines in Montana. This trail also ran straight through the traditional hunting grounds of the Teton.


The Great Sioux Reservation is established which included most of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 that authorized this pledged the government to keep whites out of this territory.


Gold is discovered in the Black Hills by General George A. Custer's expedition. A flood of prospectors engulfed the region invading Indian territories and ways of life.


June 25, General Custer attacked an Indian settlement. Sitting Bull, Gall, Crazy Horse, and many Cheyenne leaders defeated Custer and the 7th Calvary at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Custer lost all 200 men in the battle.


U.S. Congress passes an act in March that split the Great Sioux Reservation into six smaller reservations. Some tribes began performing a religious ceremony meant to remove the whites and bring back the buffalo and their traditional way of life. This was called the Ghost Dance.


On Standing Rock Reservation, Chief Sitting Bull is murdered. After this, Big Foot and his Minneconjou band seek refuge in Pine Ridge under Red Cloud. Over 250 members of the Big Foot band are massacred by the 7th Calvary on Dec. 29 at Wounded Knee. This clash has often been called the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and the Great Sioux Nation. Mass grave at Wounded Knee.


The Citizenship Act of 1924 makes all Indians born within the territorial limits of the U.S. full citizens.


The Indian Reorganization Act accepts tribal governments as sovereign.


Wounded Knee village is taken and occupied for 71 days by members of the American Indian Movement.


George S. Mickelson, South Dakota Governor, and several representative of the nine tribal governments in the state announce 1990 as a Year of Reconciliation. In 1991, a Century of Reconciliation is declared.

Powwows are still a central part of native american culture in South Dakota. There are dozens of powwows annually, and visitors can be lucky enough to catch one.

Information courtesy of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. For more information, please write or call: