The Sioux Nation

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12596

What nation do you live in? Do you know the United States has nations within the nation? Native Americans have nations of their own, and you'll learn about one of those and their customs and history!


People and Their Environment, World Cultures

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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When referring to Native Americans, what is the difference between a tribe and a nation? Isn't the United States their nation?

Sioux chief

Image by Karl Bodmer, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

A tribe is a single group of Native Americans, whereas a nation is a group of several Native American tribes.

Often times, similar tribes would join together to form a nation. A nation would work together to protect their land from other tribes and settlers. In this lesson, you will learn about one of the largest Native American nations: the Sioux.

As you read through the information about the Sioux nation, write down the most interesting facts you see. You will be able to use the notes you take during activities in the Got It? and Go! sections.

Who were the Sioux?

In the 1700s and 1800s, the Sioux were made up of about one-fourth of all Native American tribes in North America. Each of the tribes lived in the same region and spoke a similar language, making it easy for the tribal leaders to meet and communicate. Each of the Sioux tribes was also divided into three major divisions: Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota, and Lakota. The language a particular Sioux tribe spoke determined their division.

Where were the Sioux located?

The Sioux primarily lived in the Great Plains region of the United States. The Great Plains are considered the present-day states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Can you find each of those states on the map?

map of the United States

How did the Sioux travel?

The Sioux were nomadic. This means they were constantly moving. Initially, the Sioux would have to travel by foot. When settlers began venturing west, they traded horses with the Sioux. Travel by horse made life much easier for the Sioux by allowing them to travel faster and carry more with them.

What did the Sioux eat?

The Sioux were constantly moving to follow their food source, the buffalo. Sioux Native Americans primarily ate meat, so they had to make sure they always had access to the buffalo. Hunting the buffalo was a dangerous job. Before the Sioux had horses, they would force the buffalo off a cliff. Once they had horses, they could ride alongside the buffalo, and take them down with a spear or bow and arrow.


How did the Sioux dress?

The Sioux used every part of the buffalo. They would make their shoes and clothing out of the skin of the buffalo. Winters on the Great Plains are very cold, so they created large coats and blankets out of the buffalo’s fur. Even buffalo hair and tendons were used to make thread to sew the skins together.

Did the Sioux live in houses?

The Sioux lived in tipis. Tipis made a good home for the Sioux because they were portable. Since the Sioux were constantly moving, they needed their homes to move with them. A tipi had a cone shape. It was made from long branches and buffalo skins. There was a flap in the front, where people could enter and exit. Typically, there was a small hole in the top where all the branches came together, so that smoke from fires could escape. Tipis were easy to assemble, take down, and reassemble in a new location.

Shoshoni tipis

Image by W.H. Jackson, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924.

What did the Sioux men do?

Sioux men were considered the hunters and warriors. Their primary responsibilities included hunting for food and defending their family and tribe. Sometimes, they would fight other Native American tribes, and sometimes they would fight explorers and settlers.

What did the Sioux women do?

Sioux women were in charge of the home. Each time the family relocated, the women were responsible for taking down and reassembling the homes. The women were also responsible for cooking, cleaning, and sewing clothes.

What interactions did the Sioux have with European and American settlers?

You have already read that the Sioux traded with Europeans and Americans. Unfortunately, not all interactions between the Sioux and the Europeans and Americans were positive. To learn more about the interactions between the Sioux and the settlers, watch Sioux Wars | 3 Minute History, by Jabzy. As you watch the video, continue writing down any facts you find interesting:

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Do the Sioux still exist today?

The Sioux nation does still exist today, but it is much smaller than it was 200 years ago. Currently, about seven major tribes make up the Sioux nation. Each tribe lives on a reservation — an area of land designated by the government for Native American tribes — in the Great Plains. Each reservation has its own government with its own leaders and laws. Today, most reservations look like any other small American town. Most Sioux live in regular homes rather than tipis, eat food from a market, and dress in store-bought clothing.

Share the facts you wrote down with your teacher or parent.

  • How are the Sioux similar to other Native American groups you have learned about?
  • How are they different?
  • Maybe you even know a Native American. If so, are they Sioux?
  • How do their tribal customs compare to the Sioux?

When you are finished discussing these questions, move on to the Got It? section to take a short quiz about the Sioux.

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