ETHNONYMS: Eastern Dakota, Isanyati, Mississippi Sioux

The Santee are an American Indian group consisting of the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Wahpekute, and Wahpeton, four of the seven divisions of the Dakota. The other three divisions are the Teton, Yankton, and Yanktonai. The Santee spoke dialects of the Siouan Eastern Dakota language, which is closely related to Lakota (spoken by the Teton) and Nakota (spoken by the Yankton and Yanktonai). At the time of contact they lived mainly in what are today Minnesota, northern Iowa, and eastern South Dakota. Today they live on a number of reservations, principally in the northern Midwest, including the Santee Reservation in Nebraska, the Flandreau and Sisseton reservations in South Dakota, the Fort Totten Reservation in North Dakota, the Lower Sioux and Prairie Island communities and Prior Lake and Upper Sioux reservations in Minnesota, and several reserves in Canada. There are about six thousand Santee Sioux today.

The first historical mention of these Dakota is in the Jesuit Relations for 1640, when they were probably living in Eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Their traditions point to an origin to the northeast and suggest that they once lived about the "Lake of the Woods." There is also strong evidence indicating that they moved north at some point from the Southeast, as there were numerous Siouan-speaking groups in the Carolinas at the time of contact. They were evidently forced out of their historic homeland to the west and south by the expanding Ojibwa. In 1862, the Santee, under Little Crow, rose up against the Whites, and as a result of losing the war, they also lost all their remaining land in Minnesota. Many fled to Canada, and others moved south and southwest to the plains.

Aboriginally, the Santee had numerous subdivisions and bands, the latter often led by hereditary chiefs. They had two basic types of dwellings—gabled summer houses made of bark on a pole framework and conical winter houses covered with mats or skins. Hunting, fishing, and agriculture all contributed to subsistence, with maize, beans, and squash grown and fruits, berries, and wild rice gathered. At times, major bison hunts were conducted on the plains, under the Leadership of shamans and various hunt leaders. Women helped the men construct the houses and also grew the crops and gathered wild foods; men hunted, fished, and made war. Both male and female shamans interpreted visions, cured the sick, and prophesized. The Santee believed in a single creator of the universe as well as numerous gods and spirits. In the 1860s they had to adapt to a Plains type of existence, based on hunting bison and other large mammals and on trade with Whites with a reduced role for agriculture. In modern times, on the reservations and reserves, they have been drawn into a wage-labor economy and are assimilating into mainstream society.


Landes, Ruth (1968). The Mystic Lake Sioux; Sociology of the Mdewakanton-Santee. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Meyer, Roy W. (1968). History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wallis, Wilson D. (1947). The Canadian Dakota. American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers 41(1). New York.

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