Lakota Tribes and Lands by the Numbers

There are seven federally recognized Lakota tribes; six in the United States and one in Canada. In alphabetical order, they are Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes (AST), Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST), Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (LBST), Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST), Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST), Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST), and Wood Mountain First Nation (WMFN). 

Two of theseAssiniboine and Sioux Tribes and Wood Mountain First Nation ⎯ do not govern lands in South Dakota. AST governs Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, whereas WMFN governs Wood Mountain Reserve in Saskatchewan. 

Earlier this month, CAIRNS published Lakota Origins and Development, an educational handbook that examines the origins and development of the Lakota division of the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy. It begins with a synthesis of the traditional narratives about how Lakotas came to be in this world, and how they organized themselves into a Titonwan nation and then subdivided that nation into the Hunkpapa, Sihasapa, Itazipco, Oglala, Mniconjou, Oohenunpa and Sicangu oyates. These oyates would eventually be organized into the seven federally recognized tribes mentioned above.

Lakota Origins and Development also includes chapters on these tribes and their lands, plus one on suggestions for incorporating all this information into K-12 classrooms. It is important to know some of the historical, social, economic and demographic facts about the five tribes governing lands in South Dakota. 

The constitutions of four of these tribes were ratified in 1935 and one (SRST) was ratified in 1959, thereby officially establishing them as federally recognized political entities. With 2,389 total votes recorded, OST had the most voters. In descending order, the number of recorded votes were 1,635 (RST), 942 (CRST), 591 (SRST), and 446 (LBST). From highest to lowest, the percentage of votes for ratification was 69% (SRST), 67% (LBST), 61% (CRST), 61% (RST), and 56% (OST). 

 According to American Indian Population and Labor Force, published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2005, OST was the largest tribe with 43,146 citizens. Next was RST (26,237), CRST (15,376), SRST (14,170), and LBST (3,036). Though required by law to report these citizenship numbers every five years, the Bureau of Indians Affairs has not done so since 2005. 

The number of residents of the reservations, however, is reported every ten years by the U.S. Census Bureau. These censuses also include a wealth of social, economic and demographic information about the residents and the reservations. For instance, guess how many housing units were for sale in Cheyenne River Reservation (CRR), the largest of the five Lakota reservations by land area (4,419 square miles)? Keep in mind that CRR is larger than Rhode Island (1,545 sq. mi.) and Delaware (2,489 sq. mi.). The answer is 7. Seven housing units were for sale in CRR in 2010. Only Pine Ridge Reservation (PRR) had more, with 11 housing units for sale. Lower Brule Reservation (LBR) had none! This data reveals the housing crisis in these reservations.

Pine Ridge Reservation (18,834) had the most residents, followed by Rosebud Reservation (10,869), Standing Rock Reservation (8,217), CRR (8,090) and LBR (1,505). 

When evaluating information about Lakota tribes and reservations, it is important to remember that “citizens of tribes” is a category of persons that is completely different from “residents of reservations.” There is almost no social, economic or demographic data about the citizens of tribes. Similarly, despite the depth and breadth of information about reservation residents, it is not possible to determine how many of them are citizens of tribes. 

In the absence of this data, tribal governments and the federal government cannot make well-informed decisions regarding tribal citizens. The importance of this data was addressed in Article 10 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which states: “it shall be the duty of the agent each year to forward to [the Commissioner of Indian Affairs] a full and exact census of the Indians” in the reservation. When will this data inadequacy be addressed?

(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)