Dakota Homeland

Written by: 
Iyekiyapiwiƞ Darlene St. Clair is Daḳota and a citizen of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Minnesota. She is an Associate Professor at St. Cloud State University.
Ahdipiwiƞ Kate Beane is Daḳota and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota. She is a public historian and educator residing in Minneapolis.
This project was funded through The Minnesota Historical Society Heritage Partnership Program funded through the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. This text gives a perspective from these scholars to give you, the byway traveler, more information about the Minnesota River’s rich history and complex stories.  We encourage you to look for additional perspectives and to learn more about this important story.

Daḳota words on this page are using the Dakota font. We have mixed in some English versions so this page is searchable.  

On Terminology


Wic̣ahuƞkake (Ancestors)

Daḳota people refer to this region as Mni Sóta Maḳoce, the land where the water reflects the skies. We recognize these lands as our homelands and the place of our Wic̣ahuƞkake (Ancestors). Mni Sóta Maḳoce includes the land within the current colonial borders of Minnesota but also includes lands in eastern North and South Dakota, southern Canada, western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa. This name is important because it illustrates a deep knowledge of the landscape that Daḳota people developed over thousands of years. Daḳota people were drawn to many of these places for the natural features and resources that could be found there, and the teachings that are related to some of these places. It is through knowledge and experience, and through relationship, that Daḳota people have named places or the names of places have been revealed to us. Throughout this Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway website, you will encounter Daḳota place names. Using Daḳota place names is a way to maintain these connections to places that we all share today. 

  • Ancestors — a relative from the past;  a member of your family that came before you
  • Colonial — referring to a time when other nations (England, France, Spain and later, the United States) invaded or occupied Native nations and Native land


Daḳota (Friend or Ally)  

The Daḳota (meaning “friend” or “ally”) are the eastern members of the Oc̣eṭi Ṡakowiƞ, or Seven Council Fires of the Laḳota, Naḳota, and Daḳota tribal groups. The Oc̣eṭi Ṡakowiƞ are known as Wicaḣpi Oyate (Star People), and we each have our own creation stories as well as distinct histories centered within the lands from which we come. Originally Ikce Wicaṡta, or Human Being, we are sometimes referred to as the “Sioux.” This term came from early French explorer accounts that write about “Nadouesioux” peoples. Translations of “Sioux” have been said this word comes from the Ojibwe,  influenced by the French, with a meaning that translates as either “snake” or “enemy,” but it is not a word that we traditionally used for ourselves. Though many in our communities today do not like this term, it has historically been adopted for tribal names because “Sioux” was what the United States government used during the treaty era.

Between 1805-1868 treaties with peoples of the Oc̣eṭi Ṡakowiƞ were drafted between the United States government and “the Sioux.” Since the term “Sioux”refers to a larger number of peoples covering a wider more regional area of land than was outlined in these documents, many members of the Oc̣eṭi Ṡakowiƞ were not aware that these treaties were being created.

The Daḳota are made up of four bands, sometimes called fires, the Bdewakaƞtuƞwaƞ (Dwellers of Spirit Lake), Sisituƞwaƞ (Dwellers of the Fishing Grounds), Waḣpetuƞwaƞ (Dwellers Among the Leaves), and Waḣpekute (Leaf Shooters). Within each of the larger fires are smaller camps, or tiyoṡpaye (extended family groups) that lived near one another and historically migrated with the seasons throughout the region of Daḳota territory. 

Today, there are four reservation communities in Mni Sóta: C̣aƞṡayapi (They Paint the Trees Red, also known as the Lower Sioux Indian Community), Peżihutazizi K’api (The Place Where they Dig for Yellow Medicine, or Upper Sioux Community), Tíƞta Wíta, (Prairie Island Indian Community), and Bde Maya Ṭo or Shakopee (Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community). Some communities of Daḳota people outside of Minnesota include: Flandreau Santee Sioux (Wakpa Ipakṡaƞ), Sisituƞwaƞ Waḣpetuƞwaƞ Oyate and Crow Creek (C̣úƞkicakse) in South Dakota, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota. There are also Daḳota tribal members who are either from or whom migrated after the exile into Oc̣eṭi Ṡakowiƞ communities at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, Fort Peck Sioux Tribe in Montana, and into Canadian communities such as the Sioux Valley First Nation, Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation, Dakota Tipi First Nation, Birdtail Sioux First Nation, Canupawakpa First Nation, Standing Buffalo First Nation, Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Wood Mountain First Nation.  

  • Traditionally — the handing down of customs,  lifeways, and cultural beliefs from one generation to another
  • Treaties — a Nation to Nation formal legal agreement, or contract
  • Fires — groups of Dakota people organized around political, cultural and social identities
  • Migrated — moved, or relocated


Miṭakuye Owas’iƞ (All My Relatives)

Central to a Daḳota worldview is the concept Mitakuye Owas’iƞ (all my relatives). This teaching is at the core of our wicoḣ’aƞ (ways of life) and it is used to guide our decision-making and actions. Who are the relatives that are included in the word “all”? We have been taught that this includes “everything seen and unseen”–animals, plants, humans, rocks, earth, waters, spirits. For many, it requires a significant shift in thinking to see all of creation as our relative and not as an object or property. We are taught that to be a good Daḳota is to be a good relative. So, for Daḳota people to follow our teachings, we must consider our relatives and our responsibilities to them. To not follow this central kinship rule is to abandon our identities as a people. This is especially important in continuing our relationships to the land, in general, and to many specific places within Mni Sóta Maḳoce.

  • Mitakuye Owas’iƞ — Daḳota phrase which translates to “all my relatives” meaning that we are all related. This is an important Daḳota belief that connects us with one another and with the land.
  • Worldview — the way someone or a group of people think about and understand the world
  • Kinship — the relationship or connection we have to other people


Waḳaƞ (Sacredness) 

Within the Minnesota River Valley are sites that are considered sacred to Daḳota people. How is sacredness seen and experienced in these places? These sites have become important to Daḳota people for many reasons. Some are places where a teaching was learned and that story was shared and passed on. We visit this place and mark it in our collective memory. Some of these places support resources that we depended on like medicinal plants and animals. Places where important historical events happened are also seen as sacred. These places help us remember our creation as a people and the many events that have occured in Mni Sóta Maḳoce. Lastly, some places have a power that may be unseen but this power has been observed or witnessed. Many of our sacred places have been altered, damaged, and even destroyed by colonization. The condition of these special places may impact our experience but it doesn’t lessen the power that is there. We hope that we will see a time when these places are properly taken care of. Most importantly, our teaching is that the land is our relative and all land is sacred. To better understand this, there is a teaching that asks us to think of  sacredness like rain.

Sacredness is like rain. It falls everywhere, but it pools in places. —  teaching shared at Peżihutazizi K’api (Upper Sioux)
  • Collective memory — knowledge shared within a group of people that is often passed down within the group
  • Colonization — to lay claim to another people’s land (indigenous) through occupation; the process of a more powerful nation taking control of a land inhabited by indigenous peoples and extending their control over lands and resources. For Native people, aspects of this process includes attacking, belittling, and undermining our traditional ways.


Daḳota Okicize k’a Nazicapi (Daḳota War & Exile)

Before the treaties of 1851 (Mendota and Traverse Des Sioux) 5,000-6,000 non-Native people lived in the Daḳota territory that is now known as Minnesota. This number rapidly grew to 30,000 in 1854, and climbed to over 150,000 people by 1857. This overwhelming  number of newcomers were mainly settlers looking to lay claim to lands that the Daḳota did not want to or willingly agree to give up. A lack of food due to overhunting by the Fur Trade industry and unfair treaty negotiations over many years forced Daḳota families to a small strip of land along the Minnesota River. Our relatives were going hungry and struggling to survive by the mid twentieth century. Tensions between the Daḳota and those who entered our lands illegally resulted in war with the United States government in 1862. Six weeks of battles between the Daḳota, the United States military, and settlers ended with lives lost on all sides.

After the war, Daḳota people were forcibly removed by the military from our Mni Sóta homelands. Thirty-eight (plus two at a later date) of our Daḳota men were hanged in Mankato on December 26th 1862, in the largest mass execution in United States history. Experiences  of imprisonment, extermination, and genocide are necessary histories to know about Minnesota places. Though many of our ancestors were removed from Minnesota, the Daḳota connection to our ancestral homeland holds strong. For over 150 years we have struggled to remain Daḳota in Mni Sóta Maḳoce, or have returned home over time. There are also Daḳota people still living in exile (outside of the state), and these relatives continue to honor their connection to this place as home. We remember the stories and the Daḳota names of places that nourished us, have an unbreakable bond to these places that we have cared for over over thousands of years, and these spaces have helped to shape who we are.

  • Colonization — to lay claim to another people’s land (indigenous) through occupation; the process of a more powerful nation taking control of a land inhabited by indigenous peoples and extending their control over lands and resources. For Native people, aspects of this process includes attacking, belittling, and undermining our traditional ways.
  • Negotiations — a meeting, series of meetings, or discussion with the goal of reaching an agreement.
  • Execution — government ordered ending of life
  • Imprisonment — to confine, or put in prison
  • Extermination — to destroy a living being and make disappear
  • Genocide — the deliberate or systematic killing of members of a group, causing serious physical or mental harm to members of a group based on their racial, political, or ethnic origin or identification, see also: http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.html


Wówakiṡ’ake (Resiliency)  

While Daḳota people have not been the only people to live in Mni Sóta Maḳoce, in the past or today, we have maintained our relationships to this place. We strive to continue our connections to many important places in this region. This effort helps us reaffirm our wicoḣ’aƞ (ways of life) and live into our responsibilities. Our relationships to these places are directly influenced by colonization. Though colonization, all of our Daḳota institutions were threatened–education, economics, religion, justice, health care, governance, family life, and foodways. So while we see the impacts of colonization, we are also commited to decolonization and rekindling our wicoḣ’aƞ. We remain Daḳota and we are still tied to our homelands.

As you visit these places that mean so much to us, we ask you to think about ways that you can help: increasing your awareness, sharing new perspectives within your own circles, recognizing our mutual dependence on the land, and supporting our shared work in caring for these places. After all, you, whoever you are, are our relative.

Pidauƞyayapi ye! We are grateful to you all!

  • Daḳota wicoḣ’aƞ — ways of life, or lifeways of Daḳota people
  • Foodways — the cultural, social, and economic practices around growing, producing, preparing food; the cultural traditions around food
  • Decolonization — undoing the impact of colonization; usually means bringing back or maintaining traditional ways


Iyekiyapiwiƞ Darlene St. Clair is Daḳota and a citizen of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Minnesota. She is an Associate Professor at St. Cloud State University.

Ahdipiwiƞ Kate Beane is Daḳota and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota. She is a public historian and educator residing in Minneapolis

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.


Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway