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The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is situated in North Dakota and South Dakota. The people of Standing Rock, often called Sioux, are members of the Dakota and Lakota nations. “Dakota” and “Lakota” mean “friends” or “allies.” The people of these nations are often called “Sioux,” a term that dates back to the 17th century when the people were living in the Great Lakes area. The Ojibwa called the Lakota and Dakota “Nadouwesou” meaning “adders.” This term, shortened and corrupted by French traders, resulted in retention of the last syllable as “Sioux.” There are various Sioux divisions and each has important cultural, linguistic, territorial, and political distinctions.

The Dakota people of Standing Rock include the Upper Yanktonai in their language called lhanktonwana which translates as “Little End Village” and Lower Yanktonai, called Hunkpatina in their language, “Campers at the Horn” or “End of the Camping Circle.” When the Middle Sioux moved onto the prairie they had contact with the semi-sedentary riverine tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Eventually the Yanktonai displaced these tribes and forced them upstream. However, periodically the Yanktonai did engage in trade with these tribes and eventually some bands adopted the earthlodge, bullboat, and horticultural techniques of these people, though buffalo remained their primary food source. The Yanktonai also maintained aspects of their former woodland lifestyle. Today Yanktonai people of Standing Rock live primarily in communities on the North Dakota portion of the reservation.

The Lakota, the largest division of the Sioux, subdivided into the Ti Sakowin or Seven Tents and Lakota people of the Standing Rock Reservation included two of these subdivisions, the Hunkpapa which means “Campers at the Horn” in English and Sihasapa or “Blackfeet,” not to be confused with the Algonquian Blackfeet of Montana and Canada which are an entirely different group. By the early 19th century, the Lakota became a northern Plains people and practically divested themselves of most all woodland traits. The new culture revolved around the horse and buffalo; the people were nomadic and lived in tepees year round. The Hunkpapa and Sihasapa ranged in the area between the Cheyenne and Heart Rivers to the south and north and between the Missouri River on the east and Tongue to the west. Today the Lakota at Standing Rock live predominantly in communities located on the South Dakota portion of the reservation.

Establishment of Standing Rock Agency

At the time gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the United States government was beginning in earnest to implement its policy to confine all western Indians on reservations. The government wanted all Lakota and Dakota within the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation and out of the un-ceded territories. In order to make the Grand River Agency more functional, the Indian agency and its army support moved 55 miles up the Missouri River to a high tableland at a point where the river was narrow and deep. This new site had a river landing accessible to steamboats, an abundance of cottonwood timber, and good farming land. This area was outside the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation but an Executive Order signed March 16, 1875, extended the reservation’s northern boundary to the Cannonball River. Fort Yates became the military support for the agency and late in 1874 the agency officially became known as Standing Rock Agency.

Since the Standing Rock Agency’s new location at Fort Yates was to be a permanent location, the Yanktonai, under Two Bears, living and farming on the eastern side of the Missouri River, were forced to move across the river. The federal agent at Standing Rock implemented government policies aimed at “civilizing” the Indians; these included encouraging Indians to construct log homes and take up farming. The federal government also distributed rations of food to all Indians living within the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation. These rations consisted of flour, lard, bacon, sugar, coffee, and beef. Rations were used as a way to keep people on the reservation and discourage the people from pursuing a traditional lifestyle of hunting; only those Indians living on the reservation were eligible for rations. In time, when Indians changed to a farming economy the government planned to end the rationing system. As another way to encourage adaptation of the “white man’s civilization,” as it was referred to in government documents, the federal government distributed clothing, blankets, and cloth to the Indians on an annual basis. This, too, was done to discourage pursuit of the old lifestyle with cloth replacing leather for clothing. But more importantly to the government, the clothes made the Indians look more like their counterparts in the majority society and less like Indians. Nonetheless, winters were harsh and rations were often late so Indians continued to leave the reservation to hunt in the un-ceded territory as provided in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.


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