Build Educational Capital by Learning Tribes, Reservations & Capitals

The United Nations recognizes 193 nations as “member states,” and the Holy See and the State of Palestine as “non-member states.” Two additional countries, Taiwan and Kosovo, are recognized by some of the member states but not officially by the United Nations. 

Each of these 197 nations has a capital, a town where the administrative offices are located. The names of these capitals are the names of their countries in 5 instances: Djibouti, El Salvador, Monaco, San Marino, and Singapore. In 5 other instances, the names of the capitals differ from their countries only by the addition of the word “City.” For example: Mexico City. 

The capitals of 13 of Mexico’s 31 states have the names of their states, whereas in Canada, none of the 10 provinces or 3 territories have capitals with matching names. Similarly, here in the USA, none of the states have capitals with matching names. The closest pairing is Oklahoma and Oklahoma City. 

Three of the 9 reservations in South Dakota, however, have capitals with matching names. Can you name them? (Hint: all three are west of the Missouri River.) None of the 7 Oceti Sakowin reservations beyond South Dakota—Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Lower Sioux Reservation, Prairie Island Reservation, Santee Indian Reservation, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, and Upper Sioux Reservation—have capitals with matching names. The closest pairing is Santee Indian Reservation and Santee. But two of the 9 Oceti Sakowin reserves in Canada have capitals with matching names: Dakota Tipi Reserve and Dakota Tipi, and Whitecap Reserve and Whitecap. 

Only 2.5% of nations around the world, and none of the USA states and none of the Canadian provinces and territories, have capitals with identical names. Therefore, it is anomalous that 33.3% of the reservations in South Dakota, and 20.0% of Oceti Sakowin reservations in the USA and reserves in Canada have capitals with matching names. 

Confusion, or at least a lack of specificity, can result when the names of capitals and reservations are the same. For instance, if we ask, “Where is the fire?” and are told, “Pine Ridge,” the location can be either in a town with an area of less than 3 square miles, or in a reservation that encompasses an area (4,352 square miles) larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. 

Pine Ridge is the capital of Pine Ridge Reservation. The other two reservations whose capitals’ names are matching are Rosebud Reservation and Lower Brule Reservation. Reservations are lands governed by federally recognized tribes whose predecessors were treated as nations by the United States of America and other world nations. Though the USA constrains the sovereignty of these tribal nations, it still recognizes them as “domestic dependent nations.” 

Nations have capitals. States have capitals. These are the towns where the administrative offices of states and nations are located. Federally recognized tribes in the USA have political status higher than states. Tribes have citizens; states do not. Therefore, it is inappropriate to use “headquarters” or “agency” when referring to the town where the administrative office of a tribe is located.

In each capital town there is a building in which the legislative body of the tribe, nation or state meets. These special buildings are almost always architecturally different from other buildings in the capitals; think of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, or the capitol building in Pierre. The capitols of the reservations with lands in South Dakota are also architecturally unique. 

In alphabetical order, the nine capital towns are Agency Village, Eagle Butte, Flandreau, Fort Thompson, Fort Yates, Lower Brule, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Wagner. Can you match these capital towns to the official names of their reservations and tribes? 

To do so requires memorizing 27 data points: the official names of 9 capitals, 9 reservations, and 9 tribes. This sounds like a lot, but most students in 4th grade are required to learn the official names of the 50 states and their capitals. That requires memorizing 100 data points! So there really is no excuse for not learning the tribal capitals and the official names of their reservations and tribes.

(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)