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2018-08-30 / Voices

Countries and Their Capitals


There are nine American Indian countries, or nations, with a majority of their land bases within the boundary of the State of South Dakota. In alphabetical order, these nations, or federally recognized tribes, are Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and Yankton Sioux Tribe.

Eight of these nine nations have the words “Sioux Tribe” in their name. The word “Sioux” is a pluralized French contraction of an Ojibwa word for “little snake” or “little enemy.” The ancestors of these nine nations, along with sixteen other nations in the United States and Canada, belonged to the Seven Council Fires, or Oceti Sakowin confederacy.

“Tribe” is a word that refers positively to a traditional social group in a historical context. The Celtic tribes of Europe or the lost tribes of Israel are two examples. In contemporary contexts, the word “tribe” is often strongly associated with negative attitudes such as white superiority and colonialism on the one hand, and groups of people being seen as uncivilized or primitive on the other hand.

Therefore, it is commendable that the citizens of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate voted to change the name of their nation from Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, which was the name when the citizens ratified a constitution establishing the tribe in 1946.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate is the only tribe whose name is entirely in an Oceti Sakowin language. Sisseton and Wahpeton are anglicized spellings of two of the seven Oceti Sakowin traditional nations, or oyates: Sisitonwan and Wahpetonwan.

The nine federally recognized tribes that govern lands in South Dakota were characterized as “dependent domestic nations” by the United States Supreme Court in 1831. Today, their status as nations with limited sovereignty is well established in federal law. As nations, the towns where their governmental and administrative offices are located should be called capitals. But instead, these towns are called “agencies” or “headquarters”.

Why are the seats of government of American Indian nations called “agencies” or “headquarters,” but the seats of government of other nations are called “capitals”? An agency is usually a business or organization that organizes transactions between two parties, or that provides a specific service for a government. Agencies provide services; they do not indicate the locations of government offices. Paris is not the agency of France, nor is Washington, DC the agency of the United States.

Headquarters, however, is a term that does specify the location of some decision-making office. But typically, “headquarters” indicate the premises occupied by the staff of a military commander, business corporation or social organization. Nations do not have headquarters. Ottawa is not the headquarters of Canada, nor is Mexico City the headquarters of Mexico.

American Indian tribes are political entities analogous to other nations in the world. The towns where their seats of government and administrative offices are located should properly and appropriately be called capitals. One characteristic of a capital city is that it is the location of a capital building, a nation’s governmental center. These buildings are almost always architecturally unique. Their designs embody the values and beliefs of a nation. Citizens of nations have positive expectations of their capital buildings, and of their capital cities.

Most of the capital buildings of the American Indian nations with lands in South Dakota are designed and built to convey these important meanings. To visit these capital buildings, make travel plans to the capital cities of Eagle Butte, Fort Thompson, Flandreau, Lower Brule, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Fort Yates and Wagner.

Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies: CAIRNS is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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