Prior to the arrival of European explorers and fur traders in North
Dakota, at least seven different groups of Native Americans lived
in what is now North Dakota: the Assiniboine, Chippewa, Mandan, Hidatsa,
Arikara, Cheyenne and Yanktonai (branch of the Dakota). The Cree also
spent time in the area.
the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan spoke different languages, observed
different customs, and lived miles apart, there were numerous similarities
in their buildings and farming methods. These three tribes, identified
today as the Three Affiliated Tribes, lived in permanent earthen lodges
along the Missouri River in central North Dakota. Primarily they were
farmers who grew corn, sunflowers, pumpkins, beans, and squash. They
hunted buffalo and other animals for extra food and also served as
"middlemen" in trade between other Native Americans.
The Assiniboine called themselves Nakoda (the people) or Nakota (the
generous ones) and were allies of the Cree. Their language is a dialect
of Dakota and they were typically large game hunters and lived in
hide tipis. The Dakota were their bitter enemies and they were considered
quite warlike. They were predominantly located in the northeastern
region of North Dakota and now reside across the border in Canada.
The Cheyenne were originally woodland dwellers, then semi-sedentary
plant growers associated with the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa. Later
they moved further west and developed into excellent horsemen and
buffalo hunters, and became, for a while, a great warrior nation.
They were very adaptable and inventive and eventually allied with
The Chippewa were originally forest dwellers, and the southern group
eventually settled in the Turtle and Pembina mountain areas of northeastern
North Dakota. The name Chippewa is the popular adaptation of Ojibway.
As they moved westward they came into conflict with and defeated the
Fox and Dakota who challenged them.
The Dakota are commonly known as Sioux or Dakota Sioux, but the correct
name is Lakota, and the fuller name is Teton Lakota. The word Sioux
is probably from the old Chippewa word for "enemies to the west."
The Dakota were originally a great nation, having three dialects and
seven major bands or council fires. To most non-Indians, the Dakota
are the classic example of the Plains Indian warriors. Ironically,
they were originally a shy forest people driven westward by the Chippewa.
By the mid to late 1800s, after obtaining horses and guns, they became
mighty warriors, driving out all tribes before them and earning the
respect of the whites due to their mastery of military tactics and
The Cree were a huge, diverse band of hunters and occupied a large
part of Canada and parts of extreme eastern North Dakota. They were
friendly with the Chippewa, but fought the Iroquois and Dakota. The
majority of the Cree now live on reservations in Manitoba, Canada.
After signing treaties with the United States government from the
1850s to the 1870s, North Dakota Native Americans were placed on several
reservations. Many tribal members remain on these reservations still
today. There are five reservations in North Dakota, two of which occupy
land in both South and North Dakota. The Spirit Lake Nation (Devils
Lake Sioux) is located at Devils Lake, in east central North Dakota.
The Fort Berthold Reservation is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes
(Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan), and lies in the west-central part
of the state along the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Reservation
(Standing Rock Sioux) straddles both North and South Dakota and is
about forty miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota. The Turtle Mountain
Reservation (Chippewa and Metis) is the northernmost reservation,
just below Canada in north central North Dakota. The Sisseton Reservation
(Sioux) is predominantly in South Dakota, with just the northernmost
edge in southeastern North Dakota.