The Dakota Continue Their Forest Ways

On the Minnesota River, 1850

The Dakota have always been a people of the woods and rivers. Their four main groups or bands are the Mdewakanton (Spirit Lake People), the Wahpekute (Shooters among the Leaves), the Wahpeton (People Dwelling Among the Leaves), and the Sisseton (People of the Ridged Fish Scales.)  The Medwakanton live along the Mississippi, and the Wahpekute along the Minnesota River. To their west are the Wahpeton and Sisseton.

The Dakota generally live in permanent villages in large houses constructed mainly of bark. They live off the harvest of the rivers, lakes, and forest: fish, deer, and berries. Most also grow corn, squash, and beans. They harvest wild rice and make maple syrup. The Sisseton and Wahpeton sometimes venture west for buffalo.

As in the case of other native people, the extended family is very important. Grandparents impart traditions and values to the children.

Religion is not a simple matter. People and nature do not compete with one another but are elements in the same system that is controlled by Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. People, animals, birds, rocks, all things of the universe have spiritual power. Often the power of animals and other beings is greater than that of people. A young man can receive this power through fasting, purifying himself in a sweat lodge, and begging a medicine man for a sacred protective spirit. Through the Medicine Dance people receive the ability to cure. The Sun Dance provides supernatural power to medicine men and warriors. The Dakota remain a people of the forest.


By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change