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What is the Dakota Reservation?

Terrie Brockmann
Terrie Brockmann

The Dakota Native American Indian tribe is the largest of the Sioux Indian tribe group. The Dakota reservation is land that the American government reserved for the tribe. In the 1700s, Dakota Indians inhabited the Dakota Territory, which covered more than 54 million acres (about 218,530 square km) in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, homesteaders drove the Dakota Indians from the majority of that land. During the 1850s, the U.S. government and the various bands of Dakota Nation Indians signed treaties that reduced the Dakota Territory to what became the Dakota Reservation.

During the summer of 1851, the U.S. government signed two major treaties with various bands of the Dakota tribe. In the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, some of the Dakotas ceded land in the southwestern Minnesota Territory, Iowa, and South Dakota; and later, in the Treaty of Mendota, two other bands of the Dakota Indian tribe ceded more of their land in southeastern Minnesota. More than 7,000 Dakota Indians relocated to two reservations near the Minnesota River. By 1862, these reservations merged into the Dakota Reservation.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In 1862, the government defaulted on the earlier treaties, causing the Indians of the Dakota Reservation to rebel, which escalated into the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. To punish the Indians, the government declared the treaty null and void and seized the Dakota Reservation. The government also banned almost all of the Dakota tribe from Minnesota. They allowed only the Indians who declared loyalty to the U.S. government to stay in Minnesota and put a bounty on all other Dakotas.

During the 1850s, French Canadian traders renamed the Dakota tribe the "Sioux"; and, in the 1800s and 1900s, the U.S. federal government officially referred to the Dakota, as well as some other Indian tribes, as "Sioux." This is part of the reason non-Indian people are unfamiliar with the Dakota tribe today.

In the 21st century, the Dakota Indians have several small reservations throughout the upper Midwestern region, including Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. There also are two Dakota reservations located in Canada. There are other reservations, which historians classify as Sioux, but not necessarily Dakota. Most Dakota Indians live off the reservations.

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