Facts for Kids: Lakota Indians (Lakotas, Lakota Sioux)

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Lakota Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Lakota Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Lakota Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Lakota pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Lakota Tribe

What is the difference between the Dakota and Lakota Sioux? What do these words mean?
There is no real difference. "Lakota" and "Dakota" are different pronunciations of the same tribal name, which means "the allies." One Sioux dialect has the letter "L" in it, and the other dialect does not. This is only a pronunciation difference, not a political one. Of the 13 Sioux political subdivisions, seven pronounce the word "Lakota," four pronounce it "Dakota," one pronounces it "Nakota," and one is split between pronouncing it "Dakota" and "Nakota." But they all consider themselves part of the same overall culture.

"Sioux," on the other hand, is not a Dakota or Lakota name. It comes from the Ojibwe name for the tribe, which means "little snakes." Many Lakotas and Dakotas use the word Sioux to refer to themselves when they're speaking English, however.

Where do the Lakota people live?
The original Lakota homelands were in what is now Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota and South Dakota. The Lakotas traveled freely, however, and there was also significant Lakota presence in the modern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, and northern Illinois, and in south-central Canada. Today, most Lakota people live in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Saskatchewan.

How is the Lakota Indian nation organized?
There are 13 Sioux political subdivisions, combined into seven major tribes (the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Teton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Yankton, and Yanktonai Sioux tribes.) However, today, these divisions have more cultural significance than political. Each Lakota band is politically autonomous, which means it has its own land and leadership and makes decisions independently of other Lakota bands. Like most Native American tribes, each Lakota community lives on its own reservation ("reserve," in Canada), which belongs to them and is legally under their control. However, the US and Canadian governments still consider the Lakotas citizens. Each Lakota band has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. The political leader of a band is called "itancan" in the Lakota language, usually translated as "chief" or "president" in English. The itancan used to be a man chosen by tribal councilmembers, but today Lakota tribal leaders can be of either gender and are popularly elected in most Lakota bands, just as mayors and governors are.

What language do the Lakota people speak?
Nearly all Lakota people speak English, but about 15,000 Lakota Indians are bilingual in their native Lakota language. Despite pronunciation differences, Dakota and Lakota speakers can understand each other easily, just like people who speak American English and Canadian English can. If you'd like to know a few easy Lakota words, "hau" (pronounced similar to the English word "how") is a friendly greeting in Lakota, and "wašte" (pronounced wash-tay) means "good." You can see a picture glossary of Lakota animal words here-- click on each word to hear it spoken aloud.

What was Lakota culture like in the past? What is it like now?
There are many different Lakota bands, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota has an especially informative website where you can learn about Lakota history and culture.


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How do Lakota Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Lakota children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian children had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonists' children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with, and older boys in some bands liked to play lacrosse. Lakota mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with Lakota cradleboard pictures.

What were Lakota men and women's roles?
Lakota women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Lakota woman built her family's house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Houses belonged to the women in the Lakota tribes. Men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Usually only men became Lakota chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Lakota homes like in the past?
The Lakota people lived in large buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). Tipis were carefully designed to set up and break down quickly. An entire Lakota village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Originally tipis were only about 12 feet high, but after the Lakota acquired horses, they began building them twice that size. Here is a website of Plains Indian teepee pictures. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Lakota families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Lakota clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Lakota women wore long deerskin or elkskin dresses. Lakota men wore breechcloths with leggings and buckskin shirts. In bad weather, they also wore buffalo-hide robes. The Lakotas wore moccasins on their feet, which they often decorated with elaborate beadwork. Here is a website with pictures of Indian beaded moccasins. In colonial times, the Lakota adapted European costume such as vests, cloth dresses, and blanket robes. Here are more pictures of Lakota clothing styles, and some photographs and links about Great Plains Native American clothing in general.

Lakota warriors and chiefs were well-known for their impressive feathered war bonnets, but they didn't wear them in everyday life. Both Lakota men and women wore their hair long, cutting it only when they were in mourning. There were many different traditional Lakota hairstyles, but long braids were the most common. Men often wrapped their braids in fur or tied quillwork strips around them. Here is a website with pictures of traditional Indian hairstyles. On special occasions, the Lakotas painted their faces and arms with bright colors and animal designs. They used different patterns for war paint and festive decoration.

Today, some Lakota people still wear moccasins or a beaded vest, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Lakota transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Lakota tribes knew how to make birchbark and dugout canoes, but more often, they traveled overland. Originally the Lakotas used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Lakota became known as expert riders and traveled greater distances. Horse riding is still popular in the Lakota nation today, but like other Americans, Lakota people also use modern vehicles like cars now.

What was Lakota food like in the days before supermarkets?
Originally the Lakota Indians were corn farmers as well as hunters, but once they acquired horses they mostly gave up farming, and moved frequently to follow the seasonal migrations of the buffalo herds. Most of their diet was meat, especially buffalo, elk and deer, which they cooked in pits or dried and pounded into pemmican. The Lakota also collected chokecherries, fruit, and potatoes to eat. Here is a website with more information about American Indian cuisine.

What were Lakota weapons and tools like in the past?
Lakota warriors used bows and arrows, spears, tomahawks, and buffalo-hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about Lakota tomahawks and other Native American weapons. Hunters also used snares, and when Lakota men hunted buffalo, they often set controlled fires to herd the animals into traps or over cliffs.

What other Native Americans did the Lakota tribe interact with?
The Lakota traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains. They particularly liked to trade buffalo hides and meat to tribes like the Arikara in exchange for corn. These tribes usually communicated using American Indian Sign Language.

The Lakotas also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. Some tribes the Lakota frequently fought with included the Assiniboine, Chippewa, and Kiowa Indians.

What are Lakota arts and crafts like?
Lakota women are known for their porcupine quillwork and beadwork, and the men are known for their elaborate buffalo-hide paintings. Lakota artists also make pottery, star quilts, and ceremonial peace pipes carved from catlinite.

What kinds of stories do the Lakota people tell?
There are lots of traditional Lakota legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Lakota Indian culture. Here is a Brule Lakota story about Thunderbird. Here's a website where you can read more about Lakota mythology.

What about Lakota religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Lakota life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Lakota people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Lakota religious traditions or this site about Indian beliefs and values in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Lakota Sioux Children and Elders Talk Together, an interesting book about Lakota traditions today and in the past. For younger readers, two excellent illustrated stories are Moonstick, a story about changes in the traditional Sioux Indian lifestyle, and Lakota Hoop Dancer, the story of a modern Lakota dancer. If you want to know more about Lakota culture and history, three good sources for kids are The Lakota Sioux, If You Lived With The Sioux, and The Sioux and Their History. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books for kids. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Lakota Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Lakotas

Lakota Indian Tribe
An overview of the Lakota Sioux Indians, their language and history.

Lakota Language Resources
Lakota Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Lakota Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Lakota people past and present.

Lakota Words
Lakota Indian vocabulary lists.



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