Dakota of Minnesota

History on the Dakota of Minnesota


The Dakota are the keepers of the eastern door to the greater D/L/Nakota Nation. The Dakota are comprised of four bands; Mdewakanton, Sissetonwan, Wahpetonwan, and Wahpekute. Located in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, the Dakota have lived for countless generations along the wooded shores of the region’s lakes and rivers.They harvested wild rice, maple sugar, and cultivated gardens. They were semi-nomadic people, spending most of the year in villages populated with Bark Long Houses.The Dakota social-stratification was based upon a matrilineal structure. Social order was maintained through a complex set of kinship laws and a tiospaye (village clan) system. Each village was autonomous and had its own chief. The village chiefs voted democratically for a “Speaker of the Nation”, who would represent the People in all formal settings.

Contact & Treaties

In the early 1600’s, French fur traders started trade negotiations with the Dakota. Throughout the following century trade production increased drastically, with fur trading becoming the primary occupation of Dakota people. With the influx of Europeans, a booming fur industry, and an increase of guns in the area, food sources became strained. Hostile competition became regular between the Anishinaabe (a neighboring tribe) and Dakota.Throughout the 1700’s missionaires increased their presence throughout the region. The British became the dominant Europeans in the area, negotiating a number or treaties with the Dakota. The Dakota language alphabet is created. through the work of the missionaries.By the early 1800’s, the United States of America started to negotiate treaties with the Dakota nation, in hopes to garnish land and remove the local indigenous population away from the growing European community.In 1851, with diminished food resources, increased hostilities, and outright deception the Dakota chiefs have little choice but to sign a treaty ceding all land in Minnesota except for 2 strips of land on both sides of the Minnesota River.

Dakota War of 1862

After the Treaty of 1851, the Dakota are restricted to a reservation along the Minnesota River. The United States creates two primary agencies to administer control and assimilate Dakota people, these are the Upper Sioux and Lower Sioux Agencies.The Untied States breaches the terms of the treaty, failing to provide food and services promised. Local traders refuse to give out food from their stores. With rampant disease, failing crops and starvation threatening, Dakota people revolt against the United States of America. The War of 1862 begins.Chief Taoyateduta becomes head war chief. Villages are split on the war. A group of Christian converts object to the war, helping local farmers escape attack. Others join the war effort and start attacking local towns and the regional military post, Ft RidgelyAfter two months of fighting, the Dakota begin to lose the war. Thousands of non-combatants (women, children, elders) begin to flee Minnesota.The war ends on December 26th, 1862 with the largest mass hanging in US history. 38 Dakota warriors are executed in Mankato, MN. The state of Minnesota proclaims all Dakota people illegal within its boundaries.

Removal & Relocation

Thousands of Dakota flee to Canada seeking political asylum. Any remaining Dakota are arrested.1,200 women and children are forced marched 120 miles to a concentration camp built at Ft. Snelling, near St. Paul MN. Hundreds die in the camp from starvation and disease. The remaining survivors are shipped by boat to the Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota.The refugees in Canada settle throughout the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Countless other families migrate to South Dakota and intermingle with the western Lakota bands.A handful of Dakota families remain in Minnesota, protected by local white farmers and missionaries. These are the families that objected to the war and chose to adopt European standards of living.In 1889, the federal government grants land allotments to the descendents of these remaining families. These land allotments are the foundations of today’s Dakota reservations.


There are 4 Federally-recognized Dakota communities in Minnesota: Prairie Island, Lower Sioux, Upper Sioux, and Shakopee and 1 non-Federally recognized community, Mendota. There are about 4000 Dakota people in Minnesota, with only an estimated 8 fluent speakers remaining.With a long history of systemic oppression and government assimilation policies, including boarding schools and the Indian Relocation Act, Dakota leaders and activists have to address a plethora of issues in the communities: Violence, substance abuse, alcohol, drop out rates, suicide rates, incarceration rates, etc. The effects of The War of 1862 are still felt today: Thousands of Dakota still remain as refugees. The language and culture, deemed wrong and illegal, was not encouraged for four generations.In 2002, Dakota Wicoh’an, in response to the critical state of Dakota language, forms. It is a regional non-profit, headquartered in Granite Falls, working throughout all Dakota communities in Minnesota on the grounds of language revitalization and cultural rejuvenation.