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How many Native American tribes live in South Dakota?

South Dakota is home to nine Native American tribes, all with their own beliefs, values, stories, histories, and livelihoods. These nine tribes are the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Each tribe has been living in South Dakota for centuries, learning from the land and passing down their knowledge.

South Dakota Tribes

Who are the Oglala Sioux Tribe? 

The Oglala (Lakota for 'scattering one's own') Sioux Tribe lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve in the state's southwestern region where grasslands, pine-dotted areas, and rolling hills litter the landscape and where the Badlands are also located. This region is made up of three very diverse and distinct geographic sectors: grassy plains, pine tree-covered hills and ridges due to the proximity of the Black Hills, and Badlands National Park.

The tribe is one of the seven bands of the Lakota Nation and is considered a very proud and loyal group of people with a deep connection to history and culture. Some notable places to visit if you want to immerse yourself in the Oglala culture and better understand its past are the Red Cloud Heritage Center and the Wounded Knee Massacre Site. 

Who are the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe?

In the northern part of the state, the Cheyenne River Reservation, full of infinite rivers and sweeping prairie plains, is home to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. This Reservation spans 1.4 million acres and is the fourth largest Indian Reservation in the United States behind Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah, and Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation in Arizona, with the city of Eagle Butte acting as headquarters for the tribe. 

The tribe itself is made up of four out of the seven traditional bands of the Lakota Nation: Plants by the Water or Mnicoujou, Sans Arc or Itazipco, Black Foot or Sihasapa, and Two Kettles or Oohenumpa and was once home to a number of influential chiefs such as Touch the Clouds and Big Foot. 

What is the origin of South Dakota? 

South Dakota first became a state in 1889 (the 40th state to be added to the union) and was named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux Native American tribes who made up a large proportion of the population until the arrival of European-American settlers hoping to strike it rich during the Black Hills gold rush in the late 19th century. However, the nine Native American tribes, who are located in several Reservations across the state, did dominate much of the territory's history up until that point, with key Indian battles taking place, such as the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and The Great Sioux War of 1876-77. 

What is the Native American culture like in South Dakota today? 

The Native American culture is well and truly alive today with all nine tribes welcoming travellers into their communities for the purpose of sharing stories from the past and educating for the future. It's possible to visit these Native American communities and once there, you'll be treated to warm hospitality and not only be able to explore authentic artwork, watch entertaining dances, and participate in a whole range of other traditional activities but also hear firsthand about the tribe's culture. 

Powwow or 'wacipi'

Be amazed as tribal people and their families come together for a powwow or 'wacipi' (pronounced wa-chee-pee); a traditional Native American dance performed as an act of celebration. Lasting anywhere from one day to several days, this social event is truly one-of-a-kind with thumping drums and passionate singing merging to both captivate and fascinate visitors who watch on. Along with the singing and dancing, performers also wear traditional 'regalia' boasting fine, intricate details, colourful featherwork, and complicated beadwork. If you're lucky, you may be invited to join in on the traditional jingle-dress dancing for an experience you'll never forget. 

Museums and art galleries 

Walking through museums and art galleries while marvelling at traditional artwork and treasured artifacts is another great way to help you appreciate the native tribal culture. Each community differs in how these special pieces are showcased, but the knowledge of beliefs, values, traditions, and local way of life these native displays represent remains the same.

From wandering through a visitor centre full of brightly coloured beadwork to perusing a museum presenting a collection of crafted horse dance sticks, you'll quickly gain a deeper knowledge of the intricacies of the tribes themselves and come to understand how they differ from each other. 

Still want to learn more about South Dakota? Return to South Dakota FAQs

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