Spirit Lake Tribe
|6,677 enrolled members|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( North 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 Devils Lake Sioux) is a federally recognized Sisseton Wahpeton tribe based on a reservation located in east-central North Dakota on the southern shores of Devils Lake. Established in 1867 in a treaty between Sisseton Wahpeton Bands and the United States government, the reservation, at , consists of 1,283.777 km² (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 2005, there were 6,677 enrolled members of the tribe. 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 2013 the chairman was Roger Yankton.
Located on the south shore of Devil's Lake, 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. Following an appeal by then-tribal chairperson, Myra Pearson, to President Barack Obama and his White House for assistance, tribal representatives have engaged with a multi-agency task force led by FEMA 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.
Since the late 20th century, the tribe has operated gaming facilities to generate revenues for the welfare of its people. It operates the Spirit Lake Casino. Formerly, the tribe owned two smaller casinos, which were closed in 1996 and replaced by the larger facility.
The reservation's economy has suffered by the isolation from population centers, and the high rate of unemployment has engendered poverty and alcohol abuse among many members. Privately owned businesses on the reservation are few. They include such small, local operations such as Paul's Grocery and Luis Cafe. The tribe has reinvested gaming revenues for economic development, founding Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. In 2006, it was fulfilling more than one million dollars in federal contracts. It is the only private company within the reservation that provides professional and technical employment. As wireless access is difficult to acquire here, the tribe has difficulty expanding high-skilled employment using current communications technology.
Additional attractions at the reservation for visitors are the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve and the Fort Totten State Historic Site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It operates a tribal college, Cankdeska Cikana Community College, which was 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.
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.
During 2012 and 2013 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. Two brothers of the tribal chairman, Roger Yankton, have been convicted of sex crimes. Officials suggest that poverty and alcohol abuse have contributed to the problems.
On October 1, 2012 the Bureau of Indian Affairs took over the tribe's social services program to strengthen protection of children. It investigated 100 reported cases of such abuse in the first month. In February 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).  In March 2013, the tribal court convicted a man charged with abuse in a case highlighted in 2012 by a federal employee.
Representation in other media
- 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.
- "Spirit Lake Tribe" Website
- Spirit Lake Recovery Plan, December 2010, Spirit Lake Nation, accessed 24 July 2014
- Timothy Williams (September 19, 2012). "A Tribe’s Epidemic of Child Sex Abuse, Minimized for Years". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- Timothy Williams (February 15, 2013). "Child Abuse at Reservation Is Topic for 3 Lawmakers". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- 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.
- 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
- Spirit Lake Nation
- Treaty of 1867, Sisseton And Wahpeton Bands
- Fact Finder
- Spirit Lake Reservation, North Dakota, United States Census Bureau
- Spirit Lake Nation, official website