Spirit Lake Tribe

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Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe
Total population
7,256 enrolled members[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States (  North Dakota)
English, Dakota
Christianity (incl. syncretistic forms), Midewiwin
Related ethnic groups
Assiniboine, Stoney (Nakoda), and other Siouan peoples

The Spirit Lake Tribe (in Santee Dakota: Mni Wakan Oyate, formerly known as Devils Lake Sioux) is a federally recognized tribe based on a reservation located in east-central North Dakota on the southern shores of Devils Lake. It is made up of people of the Pabakse (Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna), Sisseton (Sisíthuŋwaŋ) and Wahpeton (Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ) bands of the Dakota tribe.[2]

Established in 1867 in a treaty between Sisseton-Wahpeton Bands and the United States government, the reservation, at 47°54′38″N 98°53′01″W / 47.91056°N 98.88361°W / 47.91056; -98.88361, consists of 1,283.777 square kilometres (495.669 sq mi) of land area, primarily in Benson and Eddy counties. Smaller areas extend into Ramsey, Wells and Nelson counties.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2011, the tribe had 6,748 enrolled members.[1] At the time of the U.S. 2000 census, 4,435 members were living on the reservation but slightly more than 6,000 are estimated to live there currently. The unemployment rate was 47.3% in 2000. The largest community on the reservation is Fort Totten.


The tribe has a written constitution and an elected government, with a chairman and tribal council. In 2014 the chairperson was Myra Pearson.


The reservation of the tribe is located on the southern shore of Devil's Lake, which has been historically the territory of the Dakota people. The Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Cut-Head bands of Dakotas were relocated to the Spirit Lake Reservation as a result of the 1867 treaty with the United States that established a reservation for Dakotas who had not been forcibly relocated to Crow Creek Reservation in what is now called South Dakota.[3][4] The name "Devils Lake" is a calque of the Dakota phrase mni wak’áŋ (literally: spirit water),[5] which is also reflected in the names of the Spirit Lake Tribe and the nearby town of Minnewaukan. The Dakota called the lake mni wak’áŋ chante, which separately translate as mni (water), wak’áŋ (literally "pure source" but often translated as "spirit" or "sacred"), and chante (heart). European-American settlers misconstrued this name to mean "Bad Spirit Lake", or "Devils Lake." The "bad" referred to the high salinity of the lake, making it unfit to drink, and "spirit" meant the mirages often seen across the water. The Christian concept of the devil was not present in Dakota philosophy.[6]

Because Devil's Lake is a closed-basin watershed, the reservation has suffered increasingly frequent episodes of flooding since the 1990s. It has lost homes, land and economic opportunities due to the severity of this problem. Tribal chairperson, Myra Pearson, appealed in the 21st century to President Barack Obama and his White House for assistance. Since then tribal representatives have engaged with a multi-agency task force led by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to develop a recovery plan. It was published in 2010 and includes economic and cultural development goals in addition to strategies to combat the flooding.[7]


Since the late 20th century, the tribe has operated gaming facilities on its reservation to generate revenues for the welfare of its people. It operates the Spirit Lake Casino. The tribe had owned two smaller casinos, which it closed in 1996 and replaced by the larger facility. As part of its economic development, it has founded Spirit Lake Consulting.

Additional visitor attractions at the reservation are the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve and the Fort Totten State Historic Site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Spirit Lake Tribe operates Cankdeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college established in the 1970s. The two-year college provides classes in subject areas needed by the reservation and to prepare students for other jobs, as well as strengthening their Dakota culture and language.


  • Crow Hill District, Crow Hill, North Dakota
  • Fort Totten District, Fort Totten, North Dakota
  • Mission District, St. Michael, North Dakota
  • Woodlake District, Tokio, North Dakota

Fort Totten is the reservation's economic and government center. The tribal administration, tribal college and Spirit Lake Consulting offices are located in the community. The tribe's Vocational Rehabilitation program works to assist tribal members in finding employment.

Child welfare[edit]

Beginning in 2012, tribal and federal authorities focused on reducing child sexual abuse, which was identified as endemic on the reservation. For years both tribal and federal law enforcement officials had failed to prosecute such crimes. The reservation residents include a high number of registered sex offenders, some of whom have responsibility for children. Officials suggest that poverty and alcohol abuse have contributed to the problems.[8] Kind Hearted Woman (2013) is a PBS Frontline documentary about Robin Poor Bear, a woman on the Spirit Lake Reservation, and the severe problems of sexual abuse and violence there.[9]

On October 1, 2012 the Bureau of Indian Affairs took over the tribe's social services program to strengthen protection of children.[10] It investigated 100 reported cases of such abuse in the first month. In February 2013, the two North Dakota senators and a representative met with tribal officials and members at a town hall meeting at Spirit Lake to discuss reforms underway, including fingerprinting of all adults living with foster children (a requirement that had not been satisfied before).[10][11] Because of listening sessions on the reservation, the Administration for Children and Families (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) developed seven priority recommendations to be addressed by child welfare stakeholders at the Spirit Lake Reservation.[12] Included was a recommendation for the Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services Agency and BIA to jointly develop policies and procedures that encompass all aspects of child welfare services including that foster homes must comply with federal and state safety checks, including background checks on all adults residing in the home. As a result of the exposure of crimes against children on the reservation, the Native American Children's Safety Act enacted in 2016 amends the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act to further ensure children's safety by requiring Indian Tribes to conduct background checks before placing children in foster care.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Spirit Lake Tribe" Website
  2. ^ Ullrich, Jan (2008). New Lakota Dictionary (Incorporating the Dakota Dialects of Yankton-Yanktonai and Santee-Sisseton). Lakota Language Consortium. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-9761082-9-1.
  3. ^ http://www.spiritlakenation.com/history/ Spirit Lake Nation 2017, accessed July 5, 2017.
  4. ^ Feb. 19, 1867 "Treaty With the Sioux--Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands, 1867," http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol2/treaties/sio0956.htm.
  5. ^ Buechel, Eugene. (1970) Lakota-English Dictionary. Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Indian School.
  6. ^ Williams, Mary Ann (Barnes) (1966). Origins of North Dakota place names. Bismarck, North Dakota: Bismarck Tribune, 1966. pp. 20, 236. OCLC 431626.
  7. ^ Spirit Lake Recovery Plan, December 2010, Spirit Lake Nation, accessed 24 July 2014
  8. ^ Timothy Williams (September 19, 2012). "A Tribe's Epidemic of Child Sex Abuse, Minimized for Years". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  9. ^ Sarah Childress"What Happened on the Spirit Lake Reservation?", 1 April 2013, article related to Kind Hearted Woman, 2013 PBS documentary, accessed 24 July 2014
  10. ^ a b Timothy Williams (February 15, 2013). "Child Abuse at Reservation Is Topic for 3 Lawmakers". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  11. ^ Press office Senator Heidi Heitkamp (February 8, 2013). "HOEVEN, HEITKAMP, CRAMER: INTERIOR, BIA TO HOLD TOWN HALL MEETING AT SPIRIT LAKE ON SOCIAL SERVICES REFORMS" (Press release). Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  12. ^ U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. "Testimony from Nikki Hatch on Native American Children's Safety Act before Committee on Indian Affairs". Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  13. ^ U.S. Department of the Interior - Indian Affairs. "Native American Children's Safety Act (NACSA) (P.L. 114-165)". Retrieved 2018-08-13.


External links[edit]