Yankton/Yanktonai Life Reflects Their Place as Middle Sioux

James River Valley, 1850

Between the Dakota to the east and the Lakota to the west live the Yankton and Yanktonai. The Yanktonai are divided into two groups:  the Lower and the Upper. The Yankton and Yanktonai, sometimes called Nakota because of their dialect, are the Middle Sioux. They live in the valley of the James River and to the west on the Great Plains. The upper Yanktonai claim the North Dakota part of the James River Valley as home.

Their culture reflects their position as the Middle Sioux. Some grow vegetables and fish; some tend toward hunting the buffalo as a way of life. Because of their middle position, some Yankton and Yanktonai act as traders. They build permanent earthlodges and employ the tipi. Theirs is a mixture of Dakota and Lakota ways.

Like the Dakota and the Lakota, family life is the basis for social organization. The enlarged family is very important in caring for one another’s needs.

As with the Dakota and the Lakota, the Yankton and Yanktonai believe that Wakan-Tanka is the Great Spirit who created the universe. Animals and objects have special powers that help people. The Medicine Lodge of the East and the Sun Dance of the West are central to their spiritual life. The Yankton and Yanktonai are truly the Middle Sioux.

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