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Native American Collections

The plains and prairies of the American Midwest have long been inhabited by various Native American tribes. These people developed a unique way of life in the Siouxland area long before European settlers discovered and moved into the region. Evidences of the rich cultural heritages from both historic and prehistoric tribes have been discovered over the years, and many of these cultural traditions are still be carried out by the descendants of these great tribes. Listed below are some of the tribes that have inhabited this region in the past, some of which still live in the region today.

Prehistoric Tribes

The three main prehistoric groups that inhabited this region are known as the Great Oasis (900-1100 CE [or AD]), Mill Creek (1100-1300 CE), and Oneota (1200-1700 CE) cultures. The Great Oasis culture extended from southwestern Minnesota to northwest and central Iowa. They were the first people in the region to develop a society based primarily on agriculture, though there is evidence they were also hunter-gatherers. This culture likely developed into the Mill Creek, which is a local component of a larger group horticultural villages that developed along the Missouri River. These people relied on both horticultural crops and hunting animals such as bison, deer, waterfowl and beavers. When the Mill Creek moved up the Missouri River Valley, the area they had abandoned became open to the Oneota people. These people were the first in the region to grow maize (corn), as well as squash and beans. Research suggests that contracts with European settlers and the U.S. government resulted in the Oneota being split up into the modern Otoe, Missouria, Winnebago (Ho-Chunk), Omaha, and Ioway tribes.

Ho-Chunk, “The People of the Big Voice”

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin

The Ho-Chunk people are also known as the Winnebago, from the Algonquin word winnepeko meaning “stinking water.” Their original tribal home was in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin, and in the days before European contact they were one of the most powerful tribes in the Western Great Lakes. Their traditional way of life was focused on hunting, gathering, and farming. They were also skilled metalsmiths and beadworkers, and they used beads to decorate a wide variety of objects, from ceremonial clothes to children’s toys. Their social structure was based on a clan system, with each specific clan providing a key role in the tribe. They also followed the Peyote religion, also known as the Native American Church, which largely combines traditional practices with Christianity. The Ho-Chunk were forced to move from Wisconsin to Iowa in 1832, until they were assigned to a reservation in Nebraska in 1846. Today the Winnebago people mainly reside in Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Ojibwa or Chippewa

Self-named Anishinaabe, “Original People”

The Ojibwa or Ojibwe tribe (anglicized as Chippewa) lived in an area that stretched from Lake Huron to the western plains. The traditional Ojibwa were separated into different migratory bands, which separated into family units in individual hunting areas in the autumn and gathered back together in the spring and summer at fishing sites. They were heavily reliant on wild rice, though certain groups also grew maize. They used birch bark to build canoes, utensils, and dome-shaped wigwams. The Ojibwa had relations with French fur-traders in the region and even fought on the French side in the French and Indian War. Their land was largely ceded to Europeans and the United States through treaties.

Santee or Isanti, “Stone Knife People”

The Santee Sioux Nation

The Dakota or Santee Sioux mostly lived in Minnesota. They were a woodland tribe who lived in semi-permanent villages devoted to farming, with large-scale hunts conducted twice a year. In the early 1700s they began moving into northwest Iowa for hunting. The Santee fought with local tribes over this area of land until a treaty in 1825 relegated the Santee to the border of Minnesota and Iowa. Treaties with the U.S. government in 1830 and 1851 ceded all Santee land to the government. The Santee were greatly affected by an event known as the Minnesota Uprising of 1863. The government had broken promises to the tribe put them on the brink of starvation and forced them into violence with the settlers. The U.S. government sent in troops until the Santee were forced to surrender and submit to a mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota. Today the Santee nation continues to thrive despite the difficulties, and reservations can be found in Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.


Teton Sioux or Lakota

Teton from Tintatonwan, “prairie dwellers”; Lakota is an alternate of Dakota, meaning “allies”

The Teton Sioux or Lakota tribe was and is, along with the Santee and the Yankton, one of three major subdivisions of the much larger Sioux tribal band. They are the westernmost group of the Sioux, and the Lakota people are part of a confederation of seven related tribes. They lived mostly on the plains of the Dakotas, Montana, and Nebraska. In 1730 the Cheyenne people introduced them to horses, and afterward they became a skilled horse culture. They came into contact with Lewis and Clark. In 1851, the Fort Laramie Treaty gave the Lakota dominion over the Great Plains in exchange for granting the U.S. government the land that made up the Oregon Trail. Hostilities ensued when illegal settlers moved into their land and miners moved into the Black Hills, and the U.S. military had to subdue the Lakota by force. Eventually the Lakota were forced to give up much of their land and move to reservations in the Dakotas, Montana, and regions of Canada.

Objects in this Collection

All items and objects used, obtained, and displayed with proper permissions. For more information about any tribe please contact the respective tribal headquarters.

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