Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 13, Plains.
The relatively new volume 13, The Plains, of the Handbook of North American Indians published by the Smithsonian Institution in 2001 brings students and scholars apparently up-to-date on the ethnological research of the area. This impressive 2 part work edited by Raymond J. DeMallie and his associate editor Douglas R. Parks is, as all the other area and subject volumes 1 to 20, a massive contribution to American Ethnography and at times a struggle for us lesser mortals to comprehend and inwardly digest; but we try!
This volume offers a number of revisions from earlier standard reference works in chapters dealing with the Sioux. Their choice of the anglicized designation for the tribal name is explained in the chapter "Sioux until 1850" (p. 718). In the synonymy for this chapter Parks claims "the name Sioux never meant snake" (p.749) and traces their name back to the Ottawa designation "na-towe-ssi". Since it was previously thought to derive from the Ojibwa-Franco "nadowissiweg" 'little adders' or 'snakes' (or 'enemies') and hence derogatory, some writers' recent tendency to use alternative terms for Sioux appears premature and unnecessary. Certainly many writers and Indian people are against its use.
The Sioux are first mentioned by Europeans in 1640 under the name "Naduesiu" by Nicollect in the Jesuit Relations, and until the time of the Franquelin map of 1697 and the list of Sioux villages by Pierre-Chartes Le Seur 1699 - 1702 (23-27 villages) were distinguished only as "Sioux of the East" and "Sioux of the West" reflecting their location relative to the Mississippi River. There is no mention at this period of the three dialects corresponding to the three major Sioux divisions that developed later during their westward advance. Since the Assiniboine or "Assinipour" were already a distinct tribal identity in 1640 considerable doubt arises concerning their specific split from the Yankton--Yanktonai rather than from the Sioux as a whole. It appears the divisions into the three dialectic groups occurred later during the late 17th and 18th centuries, i.e., the four Santee tribes Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wakpeton and the slightly divergent Sisseton, the Yankton-Yanktonai and the Teton, (geographically during the 19th century, the Eastern, Central and Western divisions) often called the "Seven Council Fires", a reference to the seven constituent tribes or sub-tribes of the people as a whole.
The three major dialects have traditionally been termed Dakota or 'D' dialect for the Santee, Nakota or 'N' dialect for the Yankton-Yanktonai and Lakota or 'L' dialect for the Teton. However, Parks insists the Yankton-Yanktonai dialect "while frequently designated an 'N' dialect uses 'D' ..... at the beginning of words" (p718). He further suggests Nakota (or Nakoda) is properly only the self-designation of the Assiniboine-Stoney. However, in another chapter "Siouan Languages" (p.97) he concedes the "Yankton-Yanktonai and Sisseton ..... also have 'N' where the Teton has 'L' and Assiniboine ...... have 'N' but presumably not at the beginning of words. Consequently, Parks' message is not entirely clear.
It is also important to note DeMallie and Parks for the most part do not use the suffix 'Sioux' to describe constituent parts of the nation, e.g. Teton Sioux or Oglala Sioux perhaps as this might suggest parallel status within the tribe, when in fact the Oglala are obviously a sub-group of the Teton. Unfortunately, recent commentaries on material culture are littered with confusing designations such as Dakota Sioux, Lakota Sioux, Teton Lakota etc., when Teton and Oglala are perfectly adequate designations in themselves and we should understand their political significance.
Perhaps only the geographical terms 'Eastern Sioux' or 'Western Sioux' or reservation names 'Rosebud Sioux' sit adequately in cognitive form. Dakota and Lakota are the same self identifying words for the nation as a whole in differing dialects, although the former was often used by early writers' to describe the whole nation and the latter is favored today but limited to the Western (Teton) of North and South Dakota, but perhaps both terms serve best when applied to linguistic studies only.
In addition to the Handbook Volume 13 another good presentation of Sioux social and political history and of the use of appropriate nomenclature can be found in Oglala Religion by William K. Powers (Univ. Of Nebraska Press, 1975).
These Smithsonian Handbooks generally have retained the conventional English names for tribal groups despite the often pejorative and eccentric connotations of many and the recent reintroduction of native designations. In any case it would seem impossible now to put those genies back in the bottle, and some writers could help by explaining these changes before introducing some new or revised tribal title leaving some of us wondering who they are describing. In many cases these magnificent books cover these points in the synonymy for each tribal section and should be in the bookcase of any serious student of the indigenous people of North America.
The writer has discussed these apparent changes with Louis Garcia of Spirit Lake, North Dakota and Richard Hook, Richard Green and John Bishop of the U.K. and thank them for their interest and responses. However, this reviewer would appreciate comments from readers.
Reviewed by Michael G. Johnson Walsall, West Midlands, U.K.