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The term Nakota (or Nakoda or Nakona)[1] is the endonym used by those native peoples of North America who usually go by the name of Assiniboine (or Hohe), in the United States, and of Stoney, in Canada.

They are Dakotan-speaking[2] tribes that broke away from the main branches of the Sioux nation in earlier times. They moved farther from the original territory in the woodlands of what is now Minnesota into the northern and northwestern regions: Montana and North Dakota in the United States, and Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in Canada. Later they became competitors for resources and enemies of their former language-family "allies". (In each of the dialects, nakota, dakota and lakota means "friend" or "ally".)

History of misnomer[edit]

Historically, scholars classified the tribes belonging to the Sioux nation (or Dakota in a broad sense) into three large language groups:[3]

  • Dakota (proper), who were the easternmost group (the original one) and were called Isáŋyathi or Isáŋathi (whence the Europeanized name of Santee);
  • Nakota, who were said to comprise the two central tribes of the Yankton and the Yanktonai, and
  • Lakota, who formed the westernmost group and were called Thítȟuŋwaŋ (term Europeanized into Teton).

The Assiniboine had separated from the mother group of the Dakotan family at an early time. Their language, called Nakota as well, became more distinct and unintelligible to Lakota and Dakota speakers.

For a long time, very few scholars criticized this classification.[4]

In 1978, Douglas R. Parks, A. Wesley Jones, David S. Rood, and Raymond J. DeMallie engaged in systematic linguistic research at the Sioux and Assiniboine reservations to establish the precise dialectology of the Sioux language.[5] They ascertained that both the Santee and the Yankton/Yanktonai referred (and refer) to themselves by the autonym "Dakota." The name of Nakota (or Nakoda) was (and is) exclusive usage of the Assiniboine and of their Canadian relatives, the Stoney. The subsequent academic literature, however, especially if it is not produced by linguistic specialists, has seldom reflected Parks and DeMallie's work.[6]

Their conclusions have been fully confirmed by the 23-year-long research carried out in the field by Jan Ullrich. From it, he compiled his 2008 Lakota dictionary. According to Ullrich, the misnomer of the Yankton-Yanktonai

"began with the mid-nineteenth century missionaries among the Santee who over-applied a rule of phonetic distribution. Because the Yankton-Yanktonai dialect uses the suffix -na where Santee uses -da and Lakota -la, the missionaries thought that the l-d-n distribution applied to all word positions.[7] Thus, they believed the Yankton-Yanktonai people called themselves Nakota instead of Dakota. Unfortunately, the inaccurate assumption of a Lakota-Dakota-Nakota division has been perpetuated in almost every publication since then",[8]

gaining such influence that even some Lakota and Dakota people have been influenced by it.[9]

The change cannot be regarded as a subsequent terminological regression caused by the fact that Yankton-Yanktonai people lived together with the Santee in the same reserves.[10] The oldest texts that document the Sioux dialects are devoid of historic references to Nakota. Ullrich notes particularly that John P. Williamson's English-Dakota Dictionary (1902) lists Dakota as the proper name for the Dakota people, but does not mention Nakota. Still, Williamson had worked extensively with the Yankton and frequently included in his dictionary Yankton variants for Santee entries.[8] Moreover, Ullrich notes that the Yankton scholar Ella Cara Deloria (born in 1888) was among the first to point out "the fallacy of designating the Yankton-Yanktonai groups as Nakota.".[8]

Currently, the groups concerned refer to themselves as follows in their mother tongues:

  • Dakhóta (or Dakhód) – the Santee
  • Dakȟóta (or Dakȟód) – the Yankton and the Yanktonai
  • Lakȟóta (or Lakȟól) – the Teton (this reference has fallen into disuse and now, they simply call themselves the Lakȟóta)
  • Nakhóta (Nakhóda or Nakhóna[11]) – the Assiniboine[12]
  • Nakhóda (or Nakhóta) – the Stoney[12]

Present trends[edit]

Recently the Assiniboine and, especially, the Stoney have begun to minimize the historic separation from the Dakota, claiming some identity with the Sioux tradition. The tendency can be seen on Alberta's Stoney official Internet sites, for example, in the self-designation of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation,[13] or in the claim of the Nakoda First Nation to their Sioux ancestry and the value of their native language: "As descendants of the great Sioux nations, the Stoney tribal members of today prefer to conduct their conversation and tribal business in the Siouan mother tongue".[14] Saskatchewan's Assiniboine and Stoney tribes also claim identification with the Sioux tradition.[15]

The Assiniboine-Stoney tribes have supported recent "pan-Sioux" attempts to revive the native languages. Their representatives attend the annual "Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Language Summits." Since 2008, these have been sponsored by Tusweca Tiospaye (Dragonfly Community), the Lakota non-profit organization for the promotion and strengthening of the language.[16] They promote a mission of "Uniting the Seven Council Fires to Save the Language".[17]

The long separation of the peoples has resulted in their languages developing independently and becoming more differentiated; they are no longer mutually intelligible. Lakota and Dakota speakers cannot understand Assiniboine readily. Neither they nor Assiniboine speakers can understand Stoney.[8] The tribes' goal to revive (or create) a unitary Sioux language may be extremely difficult to achieve.


  1. ^ The word's linguistic evolution is like the other Dakotan dialects: from the original "Dakȟóta/Dakhóta" there has followed the term "Dakȟód/Dakhód" (with the inversion of "t" into "d"); in Lakota that has entailed the ulterior (usual) mutation of "d" into "l", which has produced "Lakȟól" (cf. Ullrich, ad nomen), as a term variant for "Lakȟóta"; in the same way, in Nakota, beside the form "Nakhóda" has evolved the further variant (with the usual mutation of "d" into "n") of "Nakhóna" (the orthography used in the present article is the "lakota standard orthography" of Jan Ullrich's latest New Lakota Dictionary). For the usage of the term "nakona" by Fort Peck's Assiniboine, cf. and Archived 2011-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Dakota branch of the Siouan language family", Ethnologue; cf. Western Siouan languages/Family division
  3. ^ See, as examples, Frederick W. Hodge (ed.), Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, 2 Pts./vols., Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, U.S. GPO, 1907/1910 (1:376), and Robert H. Lowie, Indians of the plains, American Museum of Natural History. Anthropological Handbook 1, New York: McGraw Hill, 1954 (8)
  4. ^ Among the first was the Yankton/Lakota scholar Ella Deloria [cf. below] (Ullrich, p. 2). The inaccuracy of the scheme was also discussed, in 1976, in Patricia A. Shaw's PhD Dissertation, Dakota Phonology and Morphology, University of Toronto (cited by Parks & Rankin, p. 97). For a non-linguist point of view, cf. also E. S. Curtis (The North ... , vol. 3, The Teton Sioux. The Yanktonai. The Assiniboin, p. 142 [1]): "All tribes of Sioux use the term Dakóta, or Lakóta, to designate those who speak one of the Dakota dialects, excepting the Assiniboin. The latter, however, include themselves under the term (Nakóta)".
  5. ^ A summary of the research can be found in Parks/DeMallie, 1992.
  6. ^ See the works by G. E. Gibbon and J. D. Palmer cited among the sources of the present article or Paul B. Neck's book about Dakota chief Inkpaduta (Inkpaduta. Dakota Leader, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8061-3950-0)
  7. ^ The missionaries' error was facilitated by the fact that in Lakota, the letter "d" was replaced by the letter "l", in so systematic a way that it disappeared from the alphabet (cf. Ullrich, p. 693).
  8. ^ a b c d Ullrich, p. 2.
  9. ^ Raymond DeMallie reports that the word 'nakota' had "become a symbol of self-identification for Yankton and Yanktonai young people that distinguished them from the Santee-Sisseton and Teton ..." ("Sioux ...", p. 750).
  10. ^ A like thesis is held by James H. Howard. While admitting that, in modern times, all the oriental and central Sioux groups use the term Dakhóta to designate themselves (and the whole nation), he suggests that the form Nakhóta has just "fallen into disuse'" among the Yankton and the Yanktonai (The Canadian ... , p. 4)
  11. ^ Cf. above
  12. ^ a b The endonym includes both the Assiniboine/Stoney and the Lakota/Dakota.
  13. ^ Cf.
  14. ^ Cf. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2017-10-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Cf. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2013-02-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). According to the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre (SICC), some elder Stoney say they can understand Lakota better than Assiniboine. They believe they may be "Rocky Mountains Sioux" rather than descendants of the Hohe ("Rebels," as the Assiniboine used to be called).
  16. ^ Thuswéčha Thióšpaye
  17. ^ Cf. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-13. Retrieved 2009-10-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). The Lakota promoters acknowledge a common origin with the Nakota peoples: 2008's Language Summit was an effort to unite the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota ("Sioux") oyate (peoples) in both the United States and Canada to revive the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota languages. In the program of the 2009 summit, the list of the tribes forming the "Seven Council Fires" included the Assiniboine and Stoney in the "Fire" of the Yanktonai. (This was the group from which they are said to have separated historically.) Later, the two Nakota tribes were shifted to the end of the list. The wording, "Also includes the Stoney and Assiniboine People," was retained.2009 Summit Archived 2009-12-11 at the Wayback Machine


  • Curtis, Edward Sheriff, The North American Indian : being a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians of the United States, and Alaska (written, illustrated, and published by Edward S. Curtis; edited by Frederick Webb Hodge), Seattle, E. S. Curtis [Cambridge, Mass. : The University Press], 1907–1930, 20 v. (Northwestern University)
  • DeMallie, Raymond J., "Sioux until 1850"; in Raymond J. DeMallie (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 2, p. 718–760), William C. Sturtevant (Gen. Ed.), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 2001 (ISBN 0-16-050400-7)
  • Guy E. Gibbon, The Sioux: the Dakota and Lakota nations, Malden, Blackwell Publishers, 2003 (ISBN 1557865663)
  • Howard, James H., The Canadian Sioux, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1984 (ISBN 0-8032-2327-7)
  • Lewis, M. Paul (a cura di), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
  • Palmer, Jessica D., The Dakota peoples: a history of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota through 1863. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2008 (ISBN 0786431776)
  • Parks, Douglas R., DeMallie, Raymond J., "Sioux, Assiniboine and Stoney Dialects: A Classification", Anthropological Linguistics, Special Issue, Florence M. Voegelin Memorial Volume, Vol. 34:1-4 (Spring - Winter, 1992), pp. 233-255 (accessible online at JSTORE.
  • Parks, Douglas R. & Rankin, Robert L., "The Siouan languages", in Raymond J. DeMallie (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 1, p. 94–114), William C. Sturtevant (gen. ed.), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 2001.
  • Ullrich, Jan, New Lakota Dictionary : Lakhótiyapi-English / English-Lakhótiyapi & Incorporating the Dakota Dialects of Santee-Sisseton and Yankton-Yanktonai, Bloomington, Lakota Language Consortium, 2008 (ISBN 0-9761082-9-1).
  • Christopher Westhorp, Pocket guide to native Americans, Salamander Books, Londra, 1993 (ISBN 1856000230) – Italian edition consulted: Indiani. I Pellerossa Tribù per Tribù, Idealibri, Milan, 1993 (ISBN 88-7082-254-0).
  • This article is a substantial translation from Nakota in the Italian Wikipedia.