Teton - Orientation

Identification. The Teton are an American Indian group now living predominantly on reservations in South Dakota and in Saskatchewan. The name "Teton" is a corruption of Titunwan, which conventionally is glossed "dwellers of the prairie" but which actually connotes the setting up of campsites. The root ti gives rise to the name of the popular dwelling tipi. Teton designates seven subdivisions of Lakota-speakers who migrated from aboriginal homes in the Great Lakes Region to the Northern Plains. They are called "Oglala," "Sicangu" (or "Brule"), "Hunkpapa," "Itazipco" (or "Sans Arcs"), "Sihasapa" (or "Blackfeet Sioux"), "Oohenunpa" (or "Two Kettle"), and "Mnikowoju." The Teton in turn are one of seven larger divisions collectively known as the Oceti Sakowin," or "Seven Fireplaces," all of which lived originally in the Great Lakes region. The others are known as "Mdewakanton," "Sisseton," "Wahpeton," and "Wahpekute," collectively known as "Santee" and who speak Dakota; and the "Yankton" and "Yanktonais," who are called "Wiciyela" and speak Nakota, a dialect today associated with the Assiniboins. The only proper tribal designation for this group is "Titunwan," the Anglicized form "Teton," or the linguistic designation, "Lakota." All other terms are misnomers or redundant.

Location. Although the Teton's parent stock migrated from the Southeast, arriving in the region of Milles Lacs, Minnesota, in the sixteenth century, the term Teton and its variant forms, particularly the erroneous designation Dakota (proper for the eastern division only), were not identified until 1640, after which time migrating bands occupied a large swath of the northern plains in what is now North and South Dakota, parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Today, most Teton live on reservations in South Dakota, while others, mainly descendants of fugitives of the Custer battle, fled to small reserves in Canada. A large segment of the population lives in urban areas such as Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Rapid City (South Dakota), and San Francisco.

Demography. Early population estimates are meager and largely unreliable. In 1825, however, the Brules were estimated at three thousand; the Oglala at fifteen hundred; and the combined other five at three thousand. These estimates are probably much too low. The current population is similarly difficult to estimate because of intermarriage between Teton and other Indians and non-Indians. But based on estimates derived from population figures for the predominantly Teton reservations in South Dakota and Canada, a current population of sixty-five thousand seems reasonable.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Teton speak a dialect of a newly proposed subfamily of the Siouan language family called Shakowinian, whose other two members include Dakota and Nakota. Today Nakota (or Nakoda) is spoken almost exclusively by the Assiniboins, and most Yankton and Yanktonais speak Dakota. Traces of the Nakota dialect, However, are still found among contemporary Lakota- and Dakota-speakers.

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