top of page

Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series: Spirit Lake Nation

(Word pronunciations are available when the text is the color purple.)

The Spirit Lake tribe, also pronounced as Mni (water) Wakan ("pure source", also translated as "spirit" or "sacred") Oyate, is made up of people from the Sisseton (Sisíthuŋwaŋ) and Wahpeton (Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ) Dakota tribes and Cut-head (Pabaksa- (Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna)) Yanktonai Dakota tribe.


In 1862, a conflict existed between the Dakota tribe and Minnesota settlers in the areas of New Ulm, and Mankato, Minnesota. As a result of this conflict, approximately 4000 Dakota tribal members moved west into North Dakota. On September 3, 1863, General Alfred Sully led U.S. Army troops into Whitestone Hill (also known as Inyan Ska, located 23 miles Southeast of Kulm, North Dakota) to punish the Dakotas who participated in the previous conflict. The attack left approximately 300-400 Dakota children, women and men dead, wounded or captured. Sixty troop members died as well. In addition, any camp remnants including shelter and food sources and reserves, were destroyed by U.S. Army. The Dakota people who survived went north to Fort Garry (near Winnipeg, Manitoba) and eventually came south again, settling near Fort Totten, North Dakota.

The Fort Totten Reservation was established soon after with Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota and Chippewa tribal members residing (it was renamed shortly after as the Devils Lake Sioux Reservation). The Dakota people call God “The Great Spirit” and in turn named the lake “Spirit Lake”. Euro-Americans mistranslated this into “Devils Lake.” Although this name has remained for the community and lake located on the reservation, the Dakota people of the area are now known with the accurate translation as Spirit Lake nation living on the Spirit Lake Reservation. The Spirit Lake Reservation, located in Northeast North Dakota, is bordered on the north by Devils Lake, the largest natural source of water in ND, and on the south by the Sheyenne River.

Paul Yankton Sr., whose Dakota name was Cankdeska Cikana (translates into English as “Little Hoop”) served as a rifleman with the United States Army, 11th infantry, in Lorraine, France during World War II. He died on November 29, 1944 and was the recipient of two Purple Hearts. Receiving Mr. Yankton’s namesake, in 1974, Cankdeska Cikana Community College was established in Fort Totten, ND. CCCC is one of 32 public tribal land grant community colleges in the United States.

Sioux Manufacturing Corporation (SMC) was created in February 1974 to provide employment opportunities for members of the tribe and is 100% owned by Spirit Lake Nation. In addition, 75% of the employees are Indigenous. Their work has involved Department of Defense contracts and SMC is the largest vertically integrated manufacturer of Kevlar® panels (composite armed armors). The SMC logo has significant meaning to the Spirit Lake nation including lightning (the most powerful natural force in the universe representing the pride the company has in the quality of products they produce), horse (symbol of transportation to a better life and represents hard work), and circle (universal symbol of unity, peace and perpetuation bringing people together from diverse cultures and having them work in unison).

Present: The Spirit Lake Tribal council consists of a chairperson, and representatives from four districts: Mission (St. Michael, ND), Woodlake (Tokio, ND), Fort Totten (Fort Totten, ND) and Crowhill (Crowhill, ND). One of the district representatives also acts as the council’s vice-chairperson. and the council has a secretary- treasurer. Fort Totten, North Dakota is home to many critical institutions and infrastructure for the tribe:

Classroom activity from Red Basket- “We are more alike than we are different” North Dakota Teaching of Our Elders website was created to provide resources for teachers. Lesson for Older Students:

Goal – Students will understand that -

  • Tribal peoples had time for all things, storytelling was done in the winter.

  • The value of elder's stories for passing on historical knowledge.

Students will listen while Spirit Lake elder tells of her experience growing up at Spirit Lake people.

Objective: Students will:

  • define the meaning of “oral tradition” for passing on historical events.

  • Know that primary resources for research are different than secondary resources

  • create a list of questions to use to interview an elder in their family or community.

  • Brainstorm proper interview etiquette when interviewing

  • Present their interview findings to their classmates

Lesson for younger students: Goal: younger students will learn about conflict resolution and how it can resolve issues in life. Objective: Students will:

For more detailed and historical information, visit:

164 views0 comments
bottom of page