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Unit 8


South Dakota Government

Lesson 4
Tribal Government and Citizenship

     Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota societies have three units. These are bands, tribes, and nations. Bands are called tiyospayes. They are small groups that are usually related to each other. A group of bands joined together is called a tribe, or oyate. A nation is all the oyates together. In the old days, each band had a leader and a holy man. It had a police force and special societies. These groups together made and kept the laws.

     Things changed in the 1800s. First, the United States government created "Head Chiefs." This meant that only one leader, or chief, could do business for each tribe or nation. Then the reservations were set up. The old bands and tribal units were not followed. Instead the Bureau of Indian Affairs made laws for the tribes.

     Then things changed again. It was 1934. The federal government passed a new law. It gave tribes the right to set up governments. These new governments would be like other governments in the United States. On the reservations, tribal members wrote constitutions and voted on them. They set up governing councils. They elected representatives. The system is still used today. In some ways, it is like the old days. Today there are again three units.

Agent reading to group on Rosebud Reservation, 1904
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


Cheyenne River Tribal Council, 1963
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     At the tribal level is the tribal council. On each reservation, tribal members elect officers. The officers are a chairperson, a vice-chairperson, a secretary, and a treasurer. There are also representatives. They come from each district on the reservation. Council members are then put on committees. These groups make sure the work of government gets done. The tribal council can speak for all tribal members. It can speak for the tribe with state and federal governments.


     Council representatives report to their communities. They do this in district councils. These are like the tribal council but smaller. They meet each month. They talk about things at the local level. Then their representatives take their ideas to the tribal council.

     South Dakota tribes also have the National Sioux Council. It is made up of delegates from each tribe in South Dakota. They meet each year. They talk about matters of importance to all the tribes.

Standing Rock Tribal Office
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     Tribal government also has a judicial branch. Each reservation has its own courts. They are similar to circuit courts. There is also an appeals court. Five tribal governments set it up. This was done in 1978. It is called an intertribal appeals court. The Cheyenne River, Sisseton, Lower Brule, Crow Creek, and Standing Rock reservations are part of this court.

     Tribal governments and state government have to work side by side. This relationship is not always easy. To help, South Dakota set up the Department of Tribal Relations. This office is in Pierre. The head this department is called the secretary. He or she works with tribal leaders.


     Government is about people. It is about making their lives safe and whole. Each person can take part. The best way is by using the right to vote. By voting, you can pick people to represent you in tribal, state, or national government. You can choose people you think will do a good job. To do that, you need to look at their goals for government. We vote for candidates whose ideas are like our own. Political parties help us know what things are important to candidates. The most popular parties are the Democratic and Republican parties.

Vote Democrat Button Vote Republican Button

Photos courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     How can you make a difference when you are not yet old enough to vote? You can be a good citizen. What is a good citizen? Good citizens follow the rules of society without being forced. They find out about important issues. They let the government know when it is doing a good job and when it is not. Good citizens vote. They take pride in country, state, and tribe. They work to fix things that are not right. Good citizens give time and energy to make communities a better place.

candidates (n.), people seeking to be elected

committees (n.), small groups of people with jobs to do

communities (n.), social groups sharing government and culture

district (n.), a part of a territory; a region

intertribal (adj.), between tribes

system (n.), combined parts of a whole