This page contains information about the social structures of the Lakota people, circa mid-19th century.
Go to What Are Winter Counts page Links to exhibit of Lakota winter counts contained in the Smithsonian collection Who are the Lakota? Social Structure Links to information about the environment of the plains that the Lakota inhabited druing the times these counts were kept. Links to a page contining three subpages containing additional resouces. A downloadable teachers' guide, a bibliography and a page containing additional information sources including links to other online resources.

Originally the Sioux spoke the same language. Over the centuries as they expanded their territories, this language began to evolve into three major dialects.

Lakota in the West, Nakota in the middle, and Dakota in the East.

At the time of the Sioux migration to the Great Plains, the people were grouped into seven major divisions. Together, they formed the “Seven Council Fires,” called 'Oceti Sakowin'.


Map displaying the territory of the classical Sioux during the mid-19th century. Map shows the three part dialect division of Lakota, Lakota and Dakota. Lakota area includes Western Nebraska, South Dakota and south-western Noth Dakota. Nakota area includes north-western Iowa and Minnesota, Eastern South and North Dakota. Dakota area includes significant portion of Minnesota, northern Iowa and eastern Wisconsin.

Many members of these dispersed groups would come together each year to celebrate the Sun Dance. The Lakota belonged to the largest of these groups—the Titunwan, or Teton Sioux. Located in the western-most Sioux territory, they spoke a common dialect and shared certain customs different from their Dakota and Nakota counterparts.

The Titunwan are grouped into seven ospaye.

Each ospaye was further divided into bands of extended family groups, called tiospayes.

A typical tiospaye comprised of a man, his brothers and/or male cousins and their families who travelled together year-round.

Together, each tiospaye numbered around 150-300 people.


Expanded version of map above, showing a hierachical breakdown of Lakota social structre as described in the main text.