The Lakota Today

Several of the Plains tribes are referred to by the term "Sioux." This inaccurate term is thought to be a French abbreviation of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) word meaning "snake." It was possibly a reflection on the stealth and sudden striking capability for which they were well known among those groups and tribes who considered them to be enemies.

The Sioux identify themselves as Lakota (pronounced in some dialects as Dakota or Nakota), a term which means "friend" or "ally" in the Lakota language. The Lakota Nation is the conglomeration of several bands, known as the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, or the Seven Council Fires. The largest of these Council Fires is the Thítȟuŋwaŋ, which means "the People of the Plains." The Thítȟuŋwaŋ are further divided into seven sub-bands, of which the Oglala is the largest. The Oglala are recognized by the United States government as the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

The Oglala traditionally occupied a large swath of land surrounding the Black Hills area, a sacred site for the Lakota. They boast a long list of great leaders such as Red Cloud, Big Foot, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and American Horse. The people who presently live on the reservation are a wonderful people—filled with a beautiful culture grounded in the traditional Lakota values. While there are many things that any culture finds to be virtuous, there are seven virtues that are considered by many to be the heart of the Lakota lifestyle. These are Wóčhekiye (Prayer), Wóohola (Respect), Wówauŋšila (Compassion), Wówičakȟe (Honesty), Wówačhaŋtognaka (Generosity), Wówaȟwala (Humility) and Wóksape (Wisdom).

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 established the Great Sioux Nation as extending from Canada to the North, through to Kansas to the South, into Wyoming to the west, and Wisconsin to the east. Over the course of many years of war with the United States government, the land allotted to the Lakota was divided among the seven bands, and slowly decreased until it reached the existing borders of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the only remaining reservation for the Oglala Lakota.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is beset with problems, mostly arising from poverty and the cultural damage caused by destructive government programs of assimilation.

  • 80 percent of residents are unemployed. 
  • 12 percent of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree. 
  • With a per capita income of $6,286, the reservation is the second poorest area in the United States. 
  • 61 percent of residents 17 years and younger live below the poverty line. 
  • Life expectancy is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere except for Haiti, with an average of 48 years for men and 52 years for women. 
  • The infant mortality rate is five times higher than the United States national average. 
  • More than 4.5 million cans of beer (12,329 cans a day) are sold annually in White Clay, Nebraska, just over the border of the reservation. The reservation itself is dry. 

Red Cloud Indian School is addressing the needs of the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Red Cloud Indian School teaches the students to be proud of their Lakota culture, language and spirituality. Red Cloud also gives students the educational tools needed for today, by teaching math, science, English, computer science, etc. Our pastoral ministry team helps support people as they deal with the extreme poverty, substance abuse and the despair that can accompany it.