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The term Nakota (or Nakoda or Nakona) is the endonym used by those native peoples of North America who usually go by the name of Assiniboine (or Hohe), in the United States, and of Stoney, in Canada.

They are Dakotan-speaking tribes that broke away from the main branches of the Sioux nation in earlier times. They moved farther from the original territory in the woodlands of what is now Minnesota into the northern and northwestern regions: Montana and North Dakota in the United States, and Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in Canada. Later they became competitors for resources and enemies of their former language-family "allies". (In each of the dialects, nakota, dakota and lakota means "friend" or "ally".)

History of misnomer

Historically, scholars classified the tribes belonging to the Sioux nation (or Dakota in a broad sense) into three large language groups:

  • Dakota (proper), who were the easternmost group (the original one) and were called Isáŋyathi or Isáŋathi (whence the Europeanized name of Santee);
  • Nakota, who were said to comprise the two central tribes of the Yankton and the Yanktonai, and
  • Lakota, who formed the westernmost group and were called Thítȟuŋwaŋ (term Europeanized into Teton).

The Assiniboine had separated from the mother group of the Dakotan family at an early time. Their language, called Nakota as well, became more distinct and unintelligible to Lakota and Dakota speakers.

For a long time, very few scholars criticized this classification.

In 1978, Douglas R. Parks, A. Wesley Jones, David S. Rood, and Raymond J. DeMallie engaged in systematic linguistic research at the Sioux and Assiniboine reservations to establish the precise dialectology of the Sioux language. They ascertained that both the Santee and the Yankton/Yanktonai referred (and refer) to themselves by the autonym "Dakota." The name of Nakota (or Nakoda) was (and is) exclusive usage of the Assiniboine and of their Canadian relatives, the Stoney. The subsequent academic literature, however, especially if it is not produced by linguistic specialists, has seldom reflected Parks and DeMallie's work.

Their conclusions have been fully confirmed by the 23-year-long research carried out in the field by Jan Ullrich. From it, he compiled his 2008 Lakota dictionary. According to Ullrich, the misnomer of the Yankton-Yanktonai

"began with the mid-nineteenth century missionaries among the Santee who over-applied a rule of phonetic distribution. Because the Yankton-Yanktonai dialect uses the suffix -na where Santee uses -da and Lakota -la, the missionaries thought that the l-d-n distribution applied to all word positions. Thus, they believed the Yankton-Yanktonai people called themselves Nakota instead of Dakota. Unfortunately, the inaccurate assumption of a Lakota-Dakota-Nakota division has been perpetuated in almost every publication since then",

gaining such influence that even some Lakota and Dakota people have been influenced by it.

The change cannot be regarded as a subsequent terminological regression caused by the fact that Yankton-Yanktonai people lived together with the Santee in the same reserves. The oldest texts that document the Sioux dialects are devoid of historic references to Nakota. Ullrich notes particularly that John P. Williamson's English-Dakota Dictionary (1902) lists Dakota as the proper name for the Dakota people, but does not mention Nakota. Still, Williamson had worked extensively with the Yankton and frequently included in his dictionary Yankton variants for Santee entries. Moreover, Ullrich notes that the Yankton scholar Ella Cara Deloria (born in 1888) was among the first to point out "the fallacy of designating the Yankton-Yanktonai groups as Nakota.".

Currently, the groups concerned refer to themselves as follows in their mother tongues:

  • Dakhóta (or Dakhód) – the Santee
  • Dakȟóta (or Dakȟód) – the Yankton and the Yanktonai
  • Lakȟóta (or Lakȟól) – the Teton (this reference has fallen into disuse and now, they simply call themselves the Lakȟóta)
  • Nakhóta (Nakhóda or Nakhóna) – the Assiniboine
  • Nakhóda (or Nakhóta) – the Stoney

Present trends

Recently the Assiniboine and, especially, the Stoney have begun to minimize the historic separation from the Dakota, claiming some identity with the Sioux tradition. The tendency can be seen on Alberta's Stoney official Internet sites, for example, in the self-designation of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation, or in the claim of the Nakoda First Nation to their Sioux ancestry and the value of their native language: "As descendants of the great Sioux nations, the Stoney tribal members of today prefer to conduct their conversation and tribal business in the Siouan mother tongue". Saskatchewan's Assiniboine and Stoney tribes also claim identification with the Sioux tradition.

The Assiniboine-Stoney tribes have supported recent "pan-Sioux" attempts to revive the native languages. Their representatives attend the annual "Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Language Summits." Since 2008, these have been sponsored by Tusweca Tiospaye (Dragonfly Community), the Lakota non-profit organization for the promotion and strengthening of the language. They promote a mission of "Uniting the Seven Council Fires to Save the Language".

The long separation of the peoples has resulted in their languages developing independently and becoming more differentiated; they are no longer mutually intelligible. Lakota and Dakota speakers cannot understand Assiniboine readily. Neither they nor Assiniboine speakers can understand Stoney. The tribes' goal to revive (or create) a unitary Sioux language may be extremely difficult to achieve.

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