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The Sioux Native American Series - The Sioux Today

BY KATE WEXELL (staff writer)

[This article is one part of a series of articles by Kate Wexell about the Sioux Native Americans, developed in honor of National Native American Heritage Month this November. Read more in other articles of this series!]

Ranchers in the Great Sioux Reservation

During the late 1800s, the Great Sioux Nation, which was one of the largest groups of Native Americans, was forcibly disbanded as settlers expanded westward. After decades of conflict against the United States government, Crazy Horse surrendered to the army on May 5, 1877. After that, the Sioux people were made to live on reservations for almost a century and give up their traditions and way of life. This included banning their ceremonies, rituals, and in some cases, converting children to a Eurocentric lifestyle and forcing them into Christianity.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the government owed the Sioux people a total of $106 million in compensation for the illegal taking of the Black Hills, which was the most sacred land to the Sioux people. The Sioux people refused to take this money, so it is currently in a fund in Washington, gathering 5% interest each year. Within the Sioux people, many are divided about whether to claim the money, let it gain interest, or to try to gain back their legal rights to the Black Hills.

Today, the Great Sioux Nation consists of parts of Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Many Sioux people live on reservations, where they raise cattle and bison and run casinos. Right now, there are about 100,000 Sioux people living in the United States and around 10,000 in Canada.

Unfortunately, Native American reservations are plagued with depression, violence, poverty, and a lack of education. Rates of suicide are twice the rate amongst Indigenous people as they are amongst the rest of the U.S. population, unemployment is at about 80% on reservation, and school drop-out rates range from 45-62%. The Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation have been identified as the poorest group of citizens in the nation.

Housing on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Different organizations have been formed because of this to protect indigenous people. One example is the Alliance of Tribal Tourism Advocates, which encourages tourism development in accordance with the nation’s beliefs and priorities. Several holy places to the Sioux people have been marked as National or State parks. Some of these include the Badlands (South Dakota), Devil’s Tower (Wyoming), the Black Hills (South Dakota), the Grand Tetons (Wyoming), the Bighorn Mountains (Wyoming), and Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho). At locations like Devil’s Tower, Native Americans are still allowed to tie prayer cloths to the trees and celebrate their rituals there each summer. There are also rules that climbers are prohibited on the geographic feature during the month of June when Native American tribes host their Sun Dance there.

Prayer Cloths at Devil’s Tower

In the Black Hills, which was the historic hunting ground of the Sioux people, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Museum has been erected for about a century, located only ten miles from Mt. Rushmore. The memorial is a statue of Crazy Horse being carved into the cliff face. When it is completed, it will feature Crazy Horse’s entire body riding on his horse, and will be the largest carving of its kind. Crazy Horse was determined as the subject by the elders of the Black Hills tribes, and the process of carving is completely funded by humanitarian projects with no government aid.

In addition, the memorial features a collection of museums that feature resources for the public. The museums contain information about Plains Indians, artifacts, and an art museum of older and contemporary Native American artwork. They also hold resident artists that are able to hold public talks about their work in relation to their culture. During the summer, the museums feature traditional hoop dancers who are able to discuss how they are keeping culture in their life. The site opened the Indian University of North America in 2010, which provides summer and fall programs that provide a paid work experience at the memorial and gives students twelve credit hours to learn about Native American cultures.

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Other Native American tribes, like the Shoshone, have created language learning programs and even an app (Newe Daygwap) to help keep their native tongue alive. It also teaches students core values of their culture. This has been common amongst Native American tribes. Many learning and cultural centers have emerged to teach children language, culture, and dances, though many Native Americans have transitioned to more modern ways of life, including using cellphones, building brick and mortar houses, and going to college. Native American artwork in the contemporary era has also taken on a mixture between old styles and new ones, using different mediums or resources for their creations.


Center of the West Museum (Cody, WY)

Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center (Chamberlain, SD)

Crazy Horse Memorial (Custer, SD)

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