No such thing as Sioux

Do you know that there isn't and never was an American Indian tribe named Sioux? That's a fact. There are Lakota, Dakota, Hidatsa, Mandan, Apache, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Coeur d'Alene, Ottawa, Winnebago, Yakima, Omaha and hundreds of other tribes, b...

Do you know that there isn't and never was an American Indian tribe named Sioux? That's a fact.

There are Lakota, Dakota, Hidatsa, Mandan, Apache, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Coeur d'Alene, Ottawa, Winnebago, Yakima, Omaha and hundreds of other tribes, but no Sioux.

For example, we call Sitting Bull a Sioux. But he was actually a Hunkpapa Lakota. And we call Crazy Horse a Sioux, but he was actually an Oglala Lakota.

You see, the word Sioux was created by French trappers/colonials who chopped the "sioux" part off of the already existing Algonquin word Nadouessioux and used it as an obscenity to demean Native Americans.

Now for the sake of discussion, we'll say that the word "Sioux" means enemy or snake. But in reality, and in the context of the time, the meaning of the word was meant to be much more degrading and the real translation could not be written here.


At the same time they conveniently clumped 12 tribes, the Oglala, Hunkpapa, Brule, Santee, Sans Arcs, Minnwkonjou, Mdewakantonwan, Yankton, Yanktonai, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton, each of which has additional subdivisions, into that "Sioux" category, effectively demeaning them all with one, big, easy swipe.

Which is a little like taking all of the Norwegian, German, Swedish, Danish, Ukrainian, Russian, English, Icelandic, French, Finish Irish and Czech homesteaders who settled the upper Great Plains in the late 1800s, with all of their different dialects and customs, and calling them all baboons or something much worse.

And that, you see, is the origin of the concern shown by many Native Americans over the use of the word "Sioux" by the University of North Dakota for its athletic teams. Then, when you add "Fighting" to the word Sioux, you've essentially accented the insult. Because then, it's a little like referring to those settlers that I just mentioned as not only baboons, but ...obnoxious baboons; which is a name that one would hardly want to be associated with and in the case of "Fighting Sioux," a name that is also absolutely, historically inaccurate. Thus, if you ask a Native American if they are a member of the Sioux tribe, the answer has to be "no" simply because there's no such thing.

Meanwhile, less than two years ago I had an opportunity to visit with Joseph Marshall III while he was in Dickinson for a Native Voices conference at the university. And since I am a UND alum, and one who likes the affiliation of UND with Native Americans, I asked him what he thought of the "Fighting Sioux" controversy.

Now Marshall was born and raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota (or what we call Rosebud Sioux) tribe. And because he was raised in a traditional Lakota household by his maternal grandparents, his first language is Lakota.

Marshall has taught at the high school and college levels, developed native studies curriculums, worked for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and now writes full time, having published nine nonfiction works, three novels, a collection of short stories and essays, several screenplays and has won several writing awards.

In addition, he has appeared in numerous television documentaries, served as technical advisor for movies, was a technical advisor and narrator for the Turner Network Television (TNT) and Dreamworks Television six-part mini-series "Into the West" and played the on-screen role of "Loved by the Buffalo," a Lakota medicine man.

He is a respected member of the Native American community and he is also the one that explained to me that American Indians, (and by the way he said they don't mind being called American Indians), do not have a problem with UND's affiliation with the Native American community. They have a problem with the obscenity ("Fighting Sioux") that is being used.


Now, my research into this and my return from California to North Dakota has revealed a couple of things to me: That even though I grew up near American Indians, I still have so little understanding of them. And yet, I have more knowledge than most North Dakotans, which is really quite alarming.

You see, we seem to think that American Indians are focused on the injustices of the past. When in reality they are focused on the future and preserving their cultural heritage, including the languages, which is the primary purpose of the tribal colleges.

We also seem to think that all Native Americans are government subsidized, don't have to work and thus have it made. When in reality, the system was originally designed to quickly rid them of any government benefits because, for example, if you are a full-blooded Cherokee and you marry a full-blooded Arapahoe, your child will automatically be categorized as one half Native American. If that child in turn marries a full-blooded member of another tribe, their child is now considered only one quarter Native American and so on until guess what? No more benefits.

So as a traditionalist, I hate to think of UND having to change its athletic moniker. But at the same time, isn't it a little tacky and embarrassing to continue using an athletic nickname that was nothing more than an obscenity shouted by belligerent, smelly, saliva-spewing French trappers?

Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communications coordinator.

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