Contrary to what might be expected, the original lands of the Dakota tribe weren't just North and South Dakota. The Dakota Indians also inhabited the Wisconsin and Minnesota regions of the U.S. Today, the Dakota Indians are found throughout North America, with high concentrations in the areas of Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, Illinois, South Dakota and North Dakota in the U.S. and Saskatchewan, Canada. The Dakota people are split into thirteen distinct political subdivisions.
In addition to the political subdivisions, the Native Americans of the Dakota tribe identify with one of seven distinct tribal groups: Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Teton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Yankton and Yanktonai Sioux. The tribal differences are largely cultural. The Indian tribes may prefer to call themselves Dakota, Lakota, Nakota or Sioux. While the first three monikers are the same in meaning in the Dakota Indian nations' language: “allies,” the fourth is an Ojibwa word meaning “little snakes.”
American Indians living on government-allocated land, called reservations, are autonomous, but people of Dakota heritage don't always identify with these groups. Each group has their own government, public services, rules and police. Leaders of the Dakota tribe are elected by popular vote and can be of either gender. Despite these differences, it is almost impossible to distinguish a member of the Dakota tribe from any other person in a modernized country.
Traditionally, Dakota Indians lived in buffalo hide tents called tipis. These tents were 12 feet (3.66 m) to 24 feet (7.32 m) high and were easily broken down in case a tribe needed to move quickly. The Sioux interacted with other Native American tribes, trading regularly with tribes of the Great Plains. Though normally peaceable, the Dakota Indians frequently feuded with the Assiniboine, Ojibwe and Kiowa groups. They participated in arts and crafts such as quillwork and painting.
The Dakota Indians have their own language. While most speak English as their primary language, many are bilingual. In addition to the Lakota language, Dakota Indians of the past were versed in a series of gestures called Great Plains sign language, which allowed members of different Native American tribes to communicate with one another.
In the past, gender roles in the Dakota tribe were divided. Women were in charge of all things domestic, and were also charged with the task of building their home, which the women also owned. Men were charged with hunting and war. Traditionally, only men could become chiefs, and both genders passed the time with storytelling, arts, medicine and music.