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Celebrating South Dakota's 125th Birthday -- Or Not

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South Dakota, like North Dakota, was named after a people; the Dakota or Sioux as they were misnamed by the French, missionaries and the settlers.

Before it became a state it was known as Dakota Territory, clearly identifying it as a land belonging to the Dakota. It became a state on November 2, 1889. One year and 57 days after statehood one of the worst massacres of innocent Indian men, women and children took place on December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, clearly within the boundaries of the new state.

Nearly 300 innocent victims died that December day many of them torn apart by the new Hotchkiss machine guns, the first time these deadly guns were used against human beings. When the young Nicholas Black Elk saw this carnage he later said, "And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard: A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream."

This year on November 2, South Dakota will be celebrating its 125th Anniversary as a State. For nearly all of those 125 years the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota people who make up the largest minority in the state were excluded from participation in the state legislative body and were denied the basic freedoms accorded to every white citizen of the state.

They did not become citizens of the state until 1924 when the United States made them citizens of the United States. First understand that the state was named after a people; but Dakota is not only a people, it is a dialect. That is why those people erroneously noted as Sioux called themselves Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. Simply put all of the so-called Sioux spoke the same language with a slightly different dialect. Where the Dakota used a "D" the Lakota used an "L" and the Nakota used an "N." For example the word for friend in Dakota is koda, and Lakota it is kola and in Nakota it is kona.

Of course it is much more complicated than that. When one delves more deeply into it they will find that there were actually four dialects: The Santee, Yankton, Teton and Assiniboine and each of these dialects has slight differences, but not sufficient enough for all of the Dakota to understand each other.

According to a dictionary by the great Lakota educator Albert White Hat. Sr., Sicangu Lakota, the name Sioux came about in the 17th century by French trappers and missionaries when they adopted the last syllable of the Ojibwe term "nadowessioux" (literally "snake lesser"). Since the Ojibwe called their major enemy, the Iroquois, "nadowewok" (snake) "Sioux" was the last part of an Ojibwe word that meant in itself only "minor" or "lessor." The tribes were further divided into the Oceti Sakowin or People of the Seven Council Fires."

Most of what I write here are simple things the white citizens of South Dakota ignored or failed to learn and continued to shoot and murder the "Sioux" people because there was no law to stop them. The life of an Indian to them was no more important than that of a coyote. And we should never forget that the United States once placed a bounty on a "redskin," much as they did on a beaver skin or pelt. And there are those out there who still wonder why most Native Americans hate the word "redskin."

If you were a Lakota, Dakota or Nakota, how would you feel about celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Statehood for South Dakota knowing that you had been excluded, discriminated against, murdered and had most of your land stolen from you by the State of South Dakota?

I'll leave it up to the Oceti Sakowin to decide that.

Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji, can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com. Tim was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991