Brief Historical Overview of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate

Of the Lake Traverse Reservation

South/North Dakota

(October 2000)

Prepared by

Ed Red Owl - HinHan Duta, Sisseton, SD




The Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands are subdivisions of the eastern or Dakotah Indians and are two bands of the eastern Santee Division, who speak the Dakotah language with the "D" dialect. The other divisions of what often is referred to as the Great Sioux or Dakota/Lakota/Nakota Nation consist of the western Teton division and the middle Yankton division who speak the "L" and "N" dialects respectively. The word "Dakotah" can be translated into English as "friend" and is the preferred identification of the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. The real significance of the word, "Dakotah" derives from the word 'WoDakotah," which means "harmony", "a condition of being at peace with oneself and in harmony with one another and with nature", and "a condition of lifestyle patterned after the natural order of nature." Within the three major divisions of the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Nation, there are 7 major bands, who are referred to as the Seven Council Fires. In consideration and respect for this alliance, the Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands have erected seven torches in front of the Dakota Magic Casino's entry, and each torch is representational of each of the seven bands among the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota people. These seven torches also are representational of our seven district council communities on the Lake Traverse Reservation. In summary therefore, the three major divisions and bands within each division of this nation are as follows:


DIVISION: BANDS (council fires):


1. Eastern-Santee-Dakota: 1. Spirit Lake People (MdeWakantonwan)


2. Shooters Among the Leaves People (Wahpekute)



3. People Dwelling among the Leaves (Wahpetonwan)



4. People of the Fish Village(s) (Sissetonwan)


2. Middle-Yankton-Nakota: 5. Dwellers at the End - Yankton Ihanktonwan)


6. Little Dwellers at the End - (Yanktonai - (Ihanktowanna)


3. Western - Teton - Lakota: 7. Dwellers on the Plains - (Titonwan)


*7 Major Subdivisions of the Teton:


1). Oglala (Scatter their own) - Pine Ridge


2). Sicangu (Burned thighs) - Rosebud & Lower Brule


3). Hunkpapa (End of Circle) - Standing Rock


4). Mnikowoju (Planters beside the Stream) - Cheyenne River


5). Sihasapa (black foot) - Cheyenne River


6). Oohenunpa (two kettle) "


7). Itazipco (without bows) "




At time of initial contact in the mid-1700s with European traders and missionaries such as Father Hennepin, the Sisseton Wahpeton bands resided in villages extending from Manitoba, Canada, to the present homelands here on the Lake Traverse Reservation, and further south in Minnesota and northern Iowa. In the mid-1850s, other missionaries such as Rev. Stephan Riggs identified and described the villages of the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands, noting that a typical village ordinarily would consist of 25 to 150 lodges, and each village was comprised of what is called tiospaye, meaning one's extended family. Rev. Riggs reported that in the 1850s the many Sisseton Wahpeton villages had a population ranging from 5,000 to 9,000 residents.




Noted writer and keeper of the traditions, Ella Deloria, correctly stated years ago that KINSHIP IS THE FOUNDATION OF DAKOTA LIFE AND VALUES. From historical times onto the present time, kinship continues to be involved in our Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton, social life, our economic life, and our political life. In the center of our values is the inner core and circle of immediate family consisting of the father and mother with their children, which is called TIWAHE (immediate family). The brothers and sisters of the father and mother in family are not only considered as in-laws and uncles/aunts, their children become brothers and sisters to the offspring of the brothers and sisters. This inter-relatedness is called TIOSPAYE (extended family). When members of one extended family are related to another extended family, wherein one tiospaye is related to another tiospaye, this extends the kinship to what is called OSPAYE (band), such as the Sisseton Band and the Wahpeton Band. Historically, members of a tiospaye or extended family lived together in a village of lodges numbering 50 to 150 lodges, and as the village grew in numbers, often new villages would form and physically separate from the original village of origin.


Within each Dakota village, the goal of achieving harmony and well-being was strictly enforced by special organizations or societies. The governing society of a village was called the TIOTIPI or Soldiers Lodge, and its members consisted of males from the ages of 9 years to elderly members of the village. From their midst, officers were selected such as a spokesman, often called Chief, as well as his assistants, and other officers were selected which included keepers of the Sacred Pipe, Drum, Eagle Staff, Whip, and so forth. Deliberation and consensus was the form of achieving decisions within the structure of this governing Soldiers Lodge, wherein all males in the village had a seat and voice.


Additional to the Soldiers Lodge, there were other societies within the village, such as the red owl feather or mawatani society whose responsibility consisted of assuring that there would be no exercise of jealousy among the families in the village. Warrior societies such as the Kit Fox and Badger or Brave Hearts were the special forces of the governing Soldiers Lodge, and served primarily as defenders of the people in times of war. Often these societies were comprised of family members whose specialty was in negotiation, warfare, hunting, or other civic purposes.


The old people who came from these times, prior to 1862, and were a part of the establishment of the Lake Traverse Reservation, often referred to those times as one of innocence and purity, wherein the lifestyle of the Dakota people was not only pure, but also euphoric. It was very difficult to do wrongdoing in those times, as the societies in the village assured that everyone had to obey the traditional Dakota virtues which include RESPECT for other persons and their property, SHARING one's earned goods and food with those in need, BRAVERY in regard to freely offering one's life in battle for the village so that the village can survive, COMPASSION for everyone in the village, and therefore offenses and crimes were virtually unknown in those times.


In those times, the Sisseton and Wahpeton people considered themselves as a CIVILIZED PEOPLE by virtue of the fact that the WHITE BUFFALO CALF WOMAN had come to the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Nation to give them the Sacred Pipe and with this Pipe, the Seven Sacred Rites and Ceremonies which foster and enhance a civilized way of life. Most of all, these ceremonies enhance the value of KINSHIP, and as an example, if one's parents died, whether from sickness or other cause, the RITE OF HUNKA, adoption, immediately was performed so that the orphan always would have a mother, father, and siblings. From the time of one's birth to the time of one's funeral, the Dakota people utilized appropriate rites and ceremonies for each stage of life, to foster and promote the name that lead been given to them, WODAKOTA, which means the condition and stability of harmony and well-being in the village. It is for such reasons, that the old people would say that this way of life was CIVILIZED and EUPHORIC, and fostered HARMONY and KINSHIP.


It is for such reasons, that the old people often said that there was no poverty in those times, and that the people were wealthy corporately and as individuals. They also have stated that it was very rare for anyone to openly display anger, aggression, or violence in the village, since the value of harmony and peace permeated the entire community. The old people also have stated that the people had to have considerable wealth, as the cardinal Dakota virtue consists of GENEROSITY, and in order to be generous, one must have goods and resources to share with others, which come from one's exercise of personal responsibilities, whether in hunting, warfare, or in agricultural endeavors.


This same system of living in a civilized way upheld the value of women in the family and in the community. It is the woman as spouse who owns the lodge and decides who lives therein and who is welcome in this home. Dakota theologians have likened the role of the woman to that of the tri-pod, which are the three foundational tipi-poles used to erect the tipi. The husband is the covering for this lodge, and the children are the pegs which hold the tipi to the earth. The sacred Pipe of the Nation was brought to the people by a sacred woman who also instructed the people in regard to the sacred seven rites and ceremonies of the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota people. In the family, the wife and mother also is the instructor about the ways of the Pipe and the ceremonies, and during certain ceremonies, it is the woman who holds the sacred Pipe during the enactment of the ceremonies. The woman is considered as a co-participant with the Creator since in giving birth to a child, she participates with the Creator in the creation of new life for the family and the community. Her role therefore is significant, and the greatest respect and honor must always be shown to the woman in the home by the spouse, children, and all members of the household. Historically, therefore, the Dakota people considered this view of the woman's role in the family and community as CIVILIZED. In this same context, the Dakota people call the earth their MOTHER who gives life to all plants and creatures, and at all times, the traditional Dakota people require that respect and honor always be shown to their sacred mother, the earth.




Commencing in 1815, contact with Euro-Americans occurred and as the decades of the 1800s continued, the Sisseton Wahpeton bands would be detrimentally impacted by contact and relations with white settlers who entered their homelands and villages. From 1815 to 1858, the United States negotiated under show of armed force a series of treaties with the Sisseton Wahpeton bands, which essentially involved land cessions with promises to pay for these cessions with goods and cash. In Minnesota, many of the Sisseton and Wahpetons were assigned to a reservation, and furthermore were subjected to federal Indian agents and missionaries who viewed their way of life and religious practices as pagan and unlawful. The Sisseton and Wahpeton people were required to relinquish their village form of life and practices and were urged to settle upon individual tracts of land and to become farmers. They also were urged to cut their hair and wear factory made clothing appropriate for farmers. Finally, they were urged to banish their own spiritual leaders and medicine men and become christians. In reviewing this drama of enforced acculturation of an indigenous people, Vine Deloria Jr. and others in assessing the impact of such policies have commented: "When the missionaries first came, we owned the land, and they owned the Bible; now, we own the Bible and they own the land."


In late summer of 1862, the eastern bands of the Dakota people in Minnesota had not received their treaty-committed goods and payments, and conditions agriculturally had brought them to a point of starvation and desperation. The policies of acculturation and assimilation furthermore had served to create factions and hard feelings among the families of the eastern Dakota, to such an extent, that groups of the eastern Dakota in August of 1862 declared war and began warfare in the Upper and Lower Sioux Reservation areas in Minnesota. The Army under General Henry Sibley succeeded in bringing this Dakota War to a halt in the late fall of 1862. Thereafter, many members of the eastern Dakota bands were rounded up and incarcerated at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, as well as at Mankato, Minnesota. A military court was convened and as a result, 300 of the Dakota leaders were tried and sentenced to death by hanging. President Abraham Lincoln after reviewing these cases commuted the death sentences of all except for 38 of the chiefs and war leaders, and ordered them to be executed. On December 26, 1862, the Army executed by hanging all 38 of these eastern Dakota war leaders at Mankato, MN. In the aftermath of this mass execution of the eastern Dakota leaders, Congress enacted legislation which abrogated all previous treaties with the Eastern Dakota bands, and furthermore ordered all Eastern Dakota bands banished from the State of Minnesota. Often it has been said by the Old People that the civilized way of life of the eastern Dakota bands came to an end at the time of the execution of the 38 eastern Dakota leaders at Mankato, MN, on December 26th, 1862, one day after christmas, the observance of the birth of the savior.


Sisseton and Wahpeton war leaders who had been acquitted then were recruited by General Henry Sibley as scouts and were assigned the task of accompanying the Army to Dakota Territory in order to capture the balance of the eastern Dakota band members who had escaped there and many fled to Canada. On the western edge of the Lake Traverse Reservation, the Army established Fort Wadsworth, later re-named Fort Sisseton, where the Sisseton Wahpeton leaders, under force of Army Cannon, were ordered to establish up to 30 scout camps where they were to detect any of the other Dakota people who had escaped from Minnesota and were trying to return to Minnesota. General Sibley's orders to the Sisseton and Wahpeton Scouts were very clear, as he ordered them to TAKE NO PRISONERS, and should they fail in regard to this order, they and their families themselves would be killed by the Army. The scouts followed their orders to the letter, and approximately 150 prisoners were executed.


Since the Army could not justifiably exterminate the scouts and their families numbering approximately 1,500 Sisseton Wahpetons, the government consented to allow the Sisseton and Wahpeton leaders to request Congress to create a special reservation for them. On February 19th, 1867, Congress approved the request of the Sisseton Wahpeton leaders, and the Lake Traverse Reservation was established pursuant to provisions of Treaty. This Sisseton Wahpeton Treaty however contained many policies of acculturation which included the requirement that the reservation be allotted to members of the tribe, that schools be established, and that a tribal government would be authorized as well as a tribal police force.


From 1884 until 1913, the Sisseton Wahpetons utilized an adoptive from of tribal government based on the model of the Soldiers Lodge, however the federal Indian agents and missionaries strenuously opposed this form of tribal government, preferring that christianized members of the community comprise the elected positions on the tribal council. In 1913, owing to conflicts and turmoil, the federal Indian agent at Sisseton Agency abolished the tribal government and established an advisory committee, comprised of church elders and others who were amenable to government policies of enforced acculturation and assimilation.


In 1934, the government urged the Sisseton Wahpetons to adopt the Indian Reorganization Act, however sufficient families on the Lake Traverse Reservation were influential enough to defeat this proposal, stating that their Treaty of 1867 still remained in effect, and that the Sisseton Wahpeton people can and should organize its own government pursuant to provisions of this treaty. In 1946, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved a Constitution and By-Laws which returned governance to the Sisseton Wahpeton people, citing authority to do so from the tribe's Treaty of 1867.


In 1978, Congress approved the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which recognized that tribes and their members have the right to practice their own religious beliefs, rites, and customs, and can utilize their own language. Since enactment of this law which finally granted freedom to the Sisseton Wahpeton people to practice their own religious and cultural ways, the overwhelming task of renewing and sustaining the human and natural resources of the tribe and its communities on the Lake Traverse Reservation has been challenging for contemporary tribal leaders.


It is said that in 1867, the people could drink water from any of the streams and lakes on the Lake Traverse Reservation, and that fish and game always were in great abundance. When the Sisseton Wahpeton leaders were banished from their homelands in Minnesota in 1862, they paid a heavy price in order to acquire a new homeland, and now this homeland in the name of progress and productivity has become polluted. The Sisseton Wahpeton people are urging their leaders to restore the lakes and streams, and they are asking for safe water to drink. The small band of refugees in 1863 consisted of only 1,500 tribal members, and today there are close to 11,000 Sisseton Wahpetons on their homeland who want to be keepers of their mother, the earth, whether with regard to her water, the food, and the wildlife.


The Sisseton Wahpeton people know that renewal and new life cannot come from their efforts alone, that our brothers and sisters from across this land from other tribes and nations must come together to bring about this renewal. Our young people who comprise over 45% of our enrollment and the children yet to be born require us to unite, and set forth an agenda for renewal and hope.






Differences in Native, non-Native culture

Lesson in Traditional Native Culture


The following information is adapted from information included in presentations by Sisseton Indian Health Service (IHS) personnel.


Values are defined in the following ways: Interrelated ideas, beliefs, and practices, to which strong feelings are attached; integral part of every individual; in general terms, can often be identified as being characteristic of a group of even a nation; very slow to change in comparison to the more superficial items (for example, clothing, shelter, "trends") of a culture; represent the "heart" of a culture, reflect and are derived from its language, social structure, economic, and physical stages; contain the established ideals of life, a culture's "way of life"; and provide an emotional stance to be used as a yardstick for judging behavior.


Recognizing that these are generalizations, and that most people's values (and behaviors) lie someplace between them, here is a comparison between Indian and non-Indian value systems:


Indian Values


Time is unimportant. Clocks are not watched. Things are done as needed. Often the family gets up as the sun rises and retires soon after the sun sets. "Indian time" means when everyone gets there. A community meeting may be set for 1:00 p.m., but people come as much later as they wish, so the meeting may begin an hour or two later. This bothers no one. (Additional: If people gather before a scheduled event, it may begin earlier than announced. I have seen funeral services begin before the scheduled time, but this may be unusual. But if you are anxious to see the grand entry at a wacipi, and come "on time," better be prepared to relax for up to a couple of hours before it happens.)


Non-Indian Values


Time is important. Time is of the utmost importance. When someone says they will be somewhere at 10:00 a.m., they must be there at ten. Otherwise, it is felt they steal another person's time. More and more, non-Indians rush. In these cultures, it is felt that using time to its fullest extent is good.


Indian Values


Today concept. Indian people generally live each day as it comes. Plans for tomorrow often appear to be left until the future becomes the present -- although gathering, harvesting, and storing of foods for winter months was a traditional method of survival for many tribes.


Non-Indian Values


Tomorrow concept. Non-Indians constantly are looking toward "tomorrow." Such items as insurance, saving for college, planning vacations, and so on, suggest to what extent non-Indians hold this value.


Indian Values


Patience. To have much patience and to wait is considered to be good and respectful.


Non-Indian Values


Action. The person admired is the one who is quick to act. They get things done and move on quickly to the other things. To sit idly, and let the competitor pass by acting more quickly, is considered bad.


Indian Values


Shame. The Indian community groups often shame an individual (to instruct, or encourage re-entry into what is considered by the group to be acceptable behavior), but once this is accomplished, no lingering guilt is felt by the individual.


Non-Indian Values


Guilt. After a non-Indian commits an act that he or she believes to be wrong, he/she carries inside the burden of having done something wrong. This terrible feeling may make them ill mentally and physically.


Indian Values


Extended family. Aunts often are considered to be mothers. Uncles are called "fathers," and cousins are brothers and sisters of the immediate family. Even clan members are considered relatives, so that Indian cultures consider many more individuals to be relatives than do non-Indians.


Non-Indian Values


Family. The biological family is often of the utmost importance, and relationships are often limited to this group.


Indian Values


Age. Respect is given elders, for it is believed that experience brings knowledge. The older one is, the more knowledgeable he or she is. No effort is made to conceal white hair or other signs of aging.


Non-Indian Values


Youth. Millions of dollars are spent annually for hair dyes, make-up, and other items to make older people look younger.


Indian Values


Few material things. Members of the tribe are often suspicious of individuals who collect many material possessions. Some tribes, the Sioux for example, even hold celebrations and give away most of their possessions to others as "love gifts" (giveaways).


Non-Indian Values


More and more, non-Indian cultures value the acquisition of material things. Many such possessions become status symbols and are considered highly desirable.


Indian Values


Giving. The person respected in many Indian cultures is the one who shares his/her wealth with others (sharing knowledge, experience, and material goods.


Non-Indian Values


Saving. An individual with the quality of thrift is believed to have acquired a value worth much.


Indian Values


Man lives in perfect balance with nature, ideally. The earth is given by the Creator to enjoy. If one accepts it as it is and lives with it in harmony, there will be no sickness or lack of food.


Non-Indian Values


Man controls nature. Constantly, the non-Indian culture searches for new ways to control and master the elements. Artificial lakes are made; natural waters are drained; in general, the natural environment is altered, paved and pushed into shapes and conditions that may not allow continued survival for all.


Here is another model highlighting some of the cultural differences. Indian values are cited first, non-Indian values following in each instance:


*Indian: Live in harmony with nature. Non-Indian: Must have mastery over nature.


*Indian: Present time orientation. Non-Indian: Future time orientation.


*Indian: Explanation of natural phenomena -- mythology. Non-Indian: Scientific explanation for everything; nothing happens contrary to explainable, natural law.


*Indian: Level of aspiration -- follow in ways of the old, traditional people. Non-Indian: Climb the ladder of success, each expected to achieve a higher level than parents.


*Indian: Cooperation. Non-Indian: Competition.


*Indian: Anonymity. Non-Indian: Individuality.


*Indian: Submissiveness. Non-Indian: Aggressiveness (socially acceptable).


*Indian: Work to satisfy present need. Non-Indian: Work to get ahead.


*Indian: Share wealth. Non-Indian: Save for the future.


*Indian: "Time is always with us," Indian time. Non-Indian: "Time lost can never be regained."


*Indian: Humility. Non-Indian: Win first prize if at all possible, or at all costs.


*Indian: Win once, let others win. Non-Indian: Win all the time.


Children's Place in Circle


In indigenous cultures, children have always had high esteem, viewed as "gifts" of the Creator. From a Native perspective, the child would be the inner spoke of a medicine wheel.


From that center, each outward circle might be seen as the following: mother, father, siblings; maternal and paternal grandparents; aunts, uncles, cousins; elders; extended family tiospaye; and the community (clan, band, or tribe).


This model contrasts with non-Native cultures which separate the nuclear family from other relatives and other members of the community.


Differing Communication Traits


Another way of assessing differences is in how people communicate with one another, their body language for example.


Here are several generalizations concerning differences between indigenous and non-Native cultures:


*Situation: Eye contact during conversion. Indian: Very little eye contact; most conversation conducted while looking away from each other; direct eye contact may be considered disrespectful to other person. Non-Indian: Eye contact is continuous or nearly continuous during conversation; lack of eye contact considered lack of respect, not paying attention to the other.


*Situation: Manner in speaking voice. Indian: Tends to pitch voice lower and speak more softly and slower. Non-Indian: Tends to speak with a higher pitch and faster and louder.


*Situation: Custom of handshake in greeting others. Indian: Traditional handshake is soft with only one or two "pumps" of a gentle nature, gentle pressure. Non-Indian: Handshake is firm, with several "pumps" of the hand; premise is that the firmer and longer the handshake, the more sincere the greeting.


*Situation: A Native and non-Native try to communicate. Indian: Is in no hurry to begin a conversation, is not uncomfortable with periods of silence at the beginning of, or during, conversation. Non-Indian: Feels must get conversation going quickly, is uncomfortable with silence, thus tends to be over-talkative.


*Situation: Communication between people of brief acquaintance. Indian: Tends to express openness, informality, and friendliness; willing to believe the best about people. Non-Indian: Tends not be open to people of brief acquaintance; personal thoughts not usually expressed at first meeting while trying to determine if this person can be trusted.


*Situation: Answer to a question. Indian: Reply is delayed until facts are sifted through; thus, a few moments of "silence" may be appropriate before making a reply. Non-Indian: Reply is immediate although the first words of a conversation often contribute little to the answer; may talk while formulating answer.


*Situation: Explanation given by a non-Native to a Native person. Indian: Nodding of the head and exclamations made indicate understanding of what is being said only, not necessarily agreement. Non-Indian: Assumes that Native gestures mean agreement and understanding.


*Situation: Verbal manipulation. Indian: Verbal manipulation, for example "selling" techniques and promotion devices, are not used; being humble is important. Non-Indian: Feels that to a large extent a person's success in life depends on skills to influence, or manipulate, others.


*Situation: An anxiety provoking social situation. Indian: Remains motionless and watches for cues from others or from the situation; once the pattern, or situation is interpreted, only then is action taken. Non-Indian: uses "aggressive experimentation," to try again, until the pattern is discovered and/or the situation no longer exists or is a threat.


Models of Lifestyle, Control


There are other ways to compare and contract indigenous and non-Native ways of life. For example, North American indigenous peoples were traditionally hunters, food gathers, herders, and/or horticulturalists, before contact.


With European immigration came agriculture, technology, and an industrial way of life.


Labeling these general ways of life as "traditional" and "industrial," here are other differences (note -- there is overlapping in these models):


*Traditional: Relative equality among people; horizontal social power organization. Industrial: vertical power hierarchy, with authority coming from the top down.


*Traditional: Generalists. Industrial: Specialists.


*Traditional: Self-sufficiency, sharing, for survival. Industrial: Dependency and self-organization, for survival.


*Traditional: Extended family. Industrial: nuclear family.


*Traditional: Socio-cultural values are pre-determined. Industrial: Self-determination, choices.


*Traditional: Openly spiritual, close to nature; power comes from within (pervasive wakan); spirituality entertwined in daily living. Industrial: Education and knowledge are power; pen is mightier than the sword; formal religion; spirituality less directly involved in day-to-day life.


*Traditional: No need for formal contracts; trust and respect. Industrial: Socio-legal systems, self-gain; mistrust.


*Traditional: Land is sanctuary; not subject to private ownership. Industrial; Land is property, to be bought, sold, used.


*Traditional: Time is meaningless. Industrial: Time is money; great emphasis on time.


*Traditional: Nomadic, freedom of movement. Industrial: Dependence upon standardization, internalization; tied to time clock, job.




Visitor's guide to the 143rd annual

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi




Welcome to the annual Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Pow Wow or Wacipi, as it is known in the Dakotah Language. The 143rd annual wacipi is being held July 2-4, 2010. This event is the longest-running annual event in South Dakota and one of the oldest established celebrations throughout the United States.


Open to the public, the annual pow wow is always well attended and draws more foreign tourists than any other event in the Glacial Lakes region. This visitor's guide was developed by the Institute for Dakota Studies, Sisseton Wahpeton College, to assist visitors in the enjoyment of the wacipi -- “a gathering of the people to celebrate with traditional songs and dances.


This year’s gathering features a traditional arbor, constructed three years ago and updated several times.


There will be admission fees: $5 for a weekend pass; $2 for a day pass. Entry is open to all people of all ages.


A wacipi was originally a spring event held to celebrate the seasonal renewal of life. People would congregate to sing, dance, renew old friendships, and form new ones. Pow wows held a religious significance as an opportunity for families to hold naming and honoring ceremonies. In the Dakota tradition, the celebration was also a prayer to what in Dakota is called Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit, the Creator, or Grandfather. The word "pow wow" is traced by some to the Algonquin language and is believed to have been used by non-Indians to mean, in general, a council or meeting.


Today, pow wows are still very much a part of the lives of members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and for other American Indians. While some begin as early as March, the "pow wow season" normally runs from June until September (with some notable exceptions, such as the Sisseton-Wahpeton Veterans Day Pow Wow and May graduation pow wows). Pow wows are held every weekend, often at several locations simultaneously during peak periods. Many families pack up and "go on the pow wow circuit," camping out and enjoying the traditional celebrations of singing, dancing, and seeing old friends not since the previous season.


Competitive singing and dancing for prize money is a relatively recent change in the pow wow. In a contest pow wow, prize money is awarded to top point-getters at the culmination on the last day of the pow wow. Purses have increased significantly at many pow wows. This year’s SWO wacipi is a contest pow wow.


Just as all pow wows have changed somewhat over the years, so has the annual pow wow of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate been changing. Most spiritual ceremonies -- for example, naming ceremonies -- have recently been excluded and are no longer part of many pow wows. But special memorial and honoring ceremonies, and ceremonies for fallen eagle feathers, do continue.


It is important to note that the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation are working to return to the spiritual and traditional roots in their annual wacipi as well as in other aspects of community life.


The circle is an important symbol to Dakota people. It is used extensively during wacipi. The dancers come to the center of a circle, the drums and the audience form a circle around them, the concessions form another circle around the gathering. The pow wow brings the circle of Sisseton-Wahpeton people closer to family, friends, and to the Dakota culture.


Grand entry


A pow wow begins with the grand entry. Spectators should always stand and remove caps or hats during grand entry, flag songs, honor songs, and invocation or other prayers. The grand entry itself is likely derived from rodeos and wild west shows; it is the parade of honored persons and dancers which opens each session of pow wow dancing. Dancers demonstrate their style and regalia.


All dancers are requested to take part in the grand entry. (In a contest pow wow, they can lose points or risk elimination for failing to do so. This year’s pow wow is a traditional event, with dancers in full regalia being paid “day money,” with the exception of prizes given away for winners of specials.)


Because of the tradition of honoring akicita, or warriors, veterans are also prominent in most pow wow grand entries, and the Sisseton-Wahpeton pow wow is no exception. Watch for the flags to be carried by veteran honor guard members.


Special recognition will be given to those soldiers now serving in harm’s way in the Middle East War.


At the head of the procession, the eagle staff is carried into the circle €“ signaling the opening of the grand entry. It is followed by the American, Canadian, state, and tribal flags.


Title holders from tribal pageants, such as Miss Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and Junior Miss Princesses, enter next, followed by invited dignitaries and honored guests.


Male dancers then enter with traditional dancers first, then grass dancers and fancy dancers.


Incidentally, the "grass dancers" are a holdover from many years ago. These dancers would come onto the field first, to trample down the tall grass and thus make ready the pow wow grounds for other dancers who would come later. Early in June, local Dakota Oyate, including grass dancers, gathered here at the Tribal ceremonial grounds for a special “blessing ceremony.” Prayers were invoked over the grounds, and the grass dancers performed this traditional trampling down of the grass.


Junior boys, then junior girls, follow in the same order as the adults. The last to enter the arbor are the little boys (tiny tots -- traditional and fancy dancers), and little girls (tiny tots -- traditional and fancy shawl dancers).


The dancers come clockwise, or sunwise, showing the audience, singers, and other dancers, that they are dressed and ready to dance. They show their outfits or regalia (the term "costume" is believed by many to be derogatory and its use is not appropriate) and their steps, letting people know who they are and what they can do.


When the grand entry song ends, there is a flag song (honoring the American flag) and a victory song (honoring akicita and for all the oyate, the people), then an invocation blessing the gathering. The eagle staff (positioned above the American flag to signify the first nation) is tied to the pole in the center of the arbor or brought to the announcer's stand. The dancing then begins.


Types of songs and the drum


Dakota people create different types of songs for different occasions, such as grand entries, dance categories, and honoring ceremonies. While they differ in tempo, words, and emotion, pow wow songs all follow a similar structure.


There are songs for all occasions, such as honor songs, veterans songs, and war party songs.


Many pre-reservation songs have been put aside in favor of the large number of newly created ones.


Some groups sing only their own songs, others borrow songs and perform their own as well.


The songs are not written, but tape recorded and then learned by both singers and dancers.


Singers are not judged by the sweetness of their voices. In the Northern Plains, the higher parts of the song are sung falsetto and the melody gains energy and rhythm as the voice descends. The sound is produced at the back of an open mouth and throat. The volume and quality of the voice depends largely on well-developed abdominal muscles. Singers are judged on the range, volume, strength, and expressive quality of their voices as well as how they blend with the rest of the group. Women sing an octave higher than the men and sometimes join the men in songs. Women may "trill" at special places in the song to indicate deep emotion such as joy or appreciation of the song.


The drum is an essential ingredient of the pow wow. These sacred instruments come from many sources. Some are handed down in a family, others are donated to a drum group. Older drums are made of deer, elk, horse, or buffalo hides, but contemporary bass drums can be purchased, renovated, and finally blessed, and considered sacred as are the older drums.


The drum is more than a musical instrument. It has its own life. Some drum groups have gone through ceremonies to have their drums blessed and named. The drum is regarded as possessing its own powerful spirit. Gifts are made to the drum, and a drum may have its own sacred medicine pipe.


In some traditions, the drum symbolizes the heartbeat; in others, the powerful medicine of thunder.


The drum is always treated with respect. Nothing is set on a drum, nor does anyone reach across it.


The beat of the drum is like a heartbeat, starting slowly, then beating more quickly as the singers move ahead in the song. The drumsticks connect the singers to the power of the drum as they sing. The drumming is judged by the rhythm of the song.


Usually drum groups are judged only on the songs they sing for the dance specials and on intertribal songs. There are many different kinds of rhythms and drumbeats played as required by the type of contest song. The drumbeats must be in perfect time, each player must be in unison.


People unfamiliar with pow wows should remember that the term "drum" also refers to the drum group itself.


There are many well-known drum groups from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Many play at area and regional pow wows, some have been asked to perform at national events and sites, ranging from California universities to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Among the well-known groups are Grey Fox, Wahpekute, Ridge Runners, Buffalo Lake Singers, Dakota Nation, Iyaptapi (Big Coulee), and the Tiospa Zina Tribal School Drum.


Types of dance


To understand and appreciate pow wow dancing, it is helpful to be familiar with the different dance categories. In general, there are separate dance divisions for men, women, juniors, and tiny tots, as well as separate contests for men and women over 50 years of age.


For men, there are three different dance competitions: traditional, fancy, and grass dancing.


The men's traditional dance began when war parties would return to the village and "dance out" the story of a battle and when hunters would dance their story of tracking and then capturing prey. The outfit of the traditional dance is more subdued in color than that of other dancers. Frequently decorated with bead and quill work, the circular bustle of eagle feathers represents cycles and unity. The eagle feather spikes on the bustle point upward, representing a channel between the Great Spirit and all things on earth. Traditional dancers are often veterans and carry items which symbolize their status as warriors -- shields, weapons, honor staffs. The traditional dance step is done with the ball of the foot touching the ground on the first beat, and the whole foot on the second beat. Dance movements are patterned after animals and birds as an imitation of tracking or of the animal itself.


The men's grass dance originated with the Omaha Tribe, probably in the 1860s. A very popular dance, outfits feature colorful fringe. The basic step of the grass dance involves the ball of one foot being tapped on one beat and placed down flatly with the next. Weight is shifted from foot to foot.


Men's fancy dancing is relatively new. It is more a freestyle dance with fancier footwork, increased speed, acrobatic steps, and varied body movements. Most dancers wear brilliantly colored bustles. Dancers must stop with the music with both feet on the ground.


Traditionally, women danced only to certain songs or on special occasions and usually in the background. The women's traditional dance consists basically of remaining stationary and bending the knees with a slight up and down movement of the body. Most women traditional dancers wear or carry a shawl, some carry an eagle or hawk feather fan.


The women's fancy shawl dance is relatively new. Outfits consist of a knee length cloth dress, beaded moccasins with matching leggings, a fancy shawl, and jewelry. Footwork is the chief element of the fancy dance, the style moving toward more movement, especially spinning.


The jingle dress dance had all but died out at one time, but interest has been rekindled and now women from many tribes make and wear them. The jingle dress cannot be mistaken. It is made of cloth and covered with hundreds of metal cones, or jingles.


All people, including tourists in the audience, are welcome to dance during a round dance. The round dance is a chance for everyone to dance moving clockwise around the arbor. Street clothes are acceptable, no special regalia is necessary.


Additional information about the men's bustle or "Crow"


James Steele adds the following information concerning the bustle or "crow," as it was originally called: There was no circular piece in the old days but a square. The two feather spikes represent two slain warriors and the quills themselves represent arrows and should be tipped with red horsehair. The two trails of feather represent going and coming, and the name crow comes from the bird because of its keen sense of smell -- especially of dead flesh. Other feathers included in the original crow were magpies, buzzards, and eagles . . . because that was the order they would appear after a battle. The small shells or bells attached to the spikes represented the sound of the battle. Only men with great war honors or feats wore the "crow." The 5 x 5 center piece was made from an entire eagle skin, and other bird skins (crow, magpie) were used as decoration.



Other aspects of the pow wow


There are several interesting aspects of pow wows that should be mentioned. The first is the eagle feather. During an eagle feather ceremony, spectators should stand and remove caps or hats. Picture taking is not permissible at this time. To Dakota people and most American Indians, the eagle feather is sacred. When an eagle feather falls from a dancer's outfit, the pow wow stops and this special ceremony is performed.


In some traditions, a fallen eagle feather is treated as an enemy because the sacred power of the feather can turn against the person who has lost it. The ceremony is necessary to capture the feather, ask forgiveness, and pray over it to restore the feather's power for good. Different tribes have different customs. In some traditions, the eagle feather is looked upon as a protector and its accidental dropping is similar to the American flag touching the ground. Other traditions simply have a veteran pick up the feather and return it after the prayer and the gifting.


During an honor song, spectators should always stand and remove caps or hats. As the name suggests, honor songs are requested at a pow wow to honor a person or people. A family might request an honor song for a returning son or in memory of a deceased relative. Honor songs can be made for almost any occasion. In some traditions, people with a Dakota name have their own songs for use when the person is honored. In other cases, there are "generic" honor songs for people.


As already mentioned, veterans are greatly honored by Dakota people. In today's society, they often receive too little attention for their sacrifices. The honor accorded veterans at pow wows takes many visitors by surprise. Veterans are especially well honored by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, who have several active veterans organizations. Veterans serve as flag bearers and they retrieve dropped eagle feathers. They are honored with many songs.


The respect for veterans is an integral part of Dakota culture. It is a tradition which grew from times when the welfare of a village depended upon the quantity and quality of the fighting men €“ the akicita. To be a warrior was a man's purpose in life. And the veterans of today are given the same honor and respect as warriors of long ago. In some tribes, bravery is still honored as one of the four virtues -- bravery, generosity, wisdom, and fortitude.


Of course, today, women are included as they also serve in the armed forces and several of our Oyate women have been deployed in harm’s way.


The giveaway is believed to be universal among American Indians. Unlike societies where one expects to receive gifts for accomplishments, Native American society holds that a person being honored has a giveaway and provides gifts for others. It has been said that the chief of a tribe was always the poorest man in the village, for he looked out for the good of all his people. Charged with their welfare, honored by them, the chief gave away blankets, horses, food, and whatever else the people needed. Today, giveaways by people being honored or in honor of someone else, are common at pow wows.


Visitors will also notice a renewed interest in traditional moccasin games. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate are involved in intertribal and international efforts to revive these games, and a moccasin tournament is now an integral part of each year’s annual wacipi.


“Pow Wows Now and Then” (a poem)


(Editor's note: The following poem was written by Jake Thompson on April 10, 1980. Jake writes of the value of this celebration: "The annual coming together of the whole Tribe expresses and deepens the Dakota value of sharing.")


Seeing new and old - friends, Indian cars, teepees, eagle feathers, honor, fringed shawls, fancy dance outfits, traditional regalia, contests, eagles, singers, dancers, "snags."


Smelling new and old - cooking, the four winds, sweat, horses, campfires, dogs, smoke, buckskins, "perfume."


Hearing new and old - songs, laughter, bells, eagle bone whistles, jokes, drums, the camp crier, applause, gossip, the announcer, 49's, "I love you."


Touching new and old - drumsticks, respect, giveaways, hospitality, handgames, Mother Earth, drums, tradition, generosity, "her."


Tasting new and old - corn soup, fry bread, coffee, rations, cold ones, Indian tacos, dust kicked up, commodities, water, and “that good-bye kiss.”