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The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is situated in North and South Dakota. The people of Standing Rock, often called Sioux, are members of the Dakota and Lakota nations. "Dakota" and "Lakota" mean "friends" or "allies." The people of these nations are often called "Sioux", a term that dates back to the seventeenth century when the people were living in the Great Lakes area. The Ojibwa called the Lakota and Dakota "Nadouwesou" meaning "adders." This term, shortened and corrupted by French traders, resulted in retention of the last syllable as "Sioux." There are various Sioux divisions and each has important cultural, linguistic, territorial and political distinctions.

The Dakota people of Standing Rock include the Upper Yanktonai in their language called Ihanktonwana which translates "Little End Village" and Lower Yanktonai, called Hunkpatina in their language, "Campers at the Horn" or "End of the Camping Circle". When the Middle Sioux moved onto the prairie they had contact with the semisedentary riverine tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Eventually the Yanktonai displaced these tribes and forced them upstream. However, periodically the Yanktonai did engage in trade with these tribes and eventually some bands adopted the earthlodge, bullboat, and horticultural techniques of these people, though buffalo remained their primary food source. The Yanktonai also maintained aspects of their former Woodland lifestyle. Today Yanktonai people of Standing Rock live primarily in communities on the North Dakota portion of the reservation.

The Lakota, as the largest division of the Sioux, subdivided into the Ti Sakowin or Seven Tents and Lakota people of the Standing Rock Reservation included two of these subdivisions, the Hunkpapa which means "Campers at the Horn" in English and Sihasapa or "Blackfeet," not to be confused with the Algonquian Blackfeet of Montana and Canada which are an entirely different group. By the early 19th century the Lakota became a northern Plains people and practically divested themselves of most all Woodland traits. The new culture revolved around the horse and buffalo; the people were nomadic and lived in tee pees year round. The Hunkpapa and Sihasapa ranged in the area between the Cheyenne and Heart Rivers to the south and north and between the Missouri River on the east and Tongue to the west. Today the Lakota at Standing Rock live predominantly in communities located on the South Dakota portion of the reservation.

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