Home Campaigns Sioux Nation Treaty Council The Ancient Laws of the Oceti Sakowin

The Ancient Laws of the Oceti Sakowin

Compiled by
The Sioux Nation Treaty Council

Edited by Zumila Wobaga,  Spokesperson
[Charmaine White Face]

Oct.  2014

The Ancient Laws of the Oceti Sakowin

Many of the elders of the Sioux Nation Treaty Council requested that the Ancient Laws needed to be written and made available for the young people.  As the colonization by the United States and Canada continues with television, movies, and computers, too many of the young people don’t know who they are, and are behaving in ways that are not the cherished ways of the Oceti Sakowin.  Over several months in 2011 and 2012, the following information was collected.  It is still not complete, but gives a basis from which to begin decolonizing the people of the Oceti Sakowin.


The Oceti Sakowin was the nation known as the Great Sioux Nation.  One of the largest Indigenous nations in North America, the original nation covered a land area now known as 24 American states and parts four Canadian provinces.  The actual numerical population of the Oceti Sakowin is unknown at this time due to the invasion by Europeans on all sides of the original territory.  Not only was terrorism and warfare part of the diminishment of the nation, but disease and starvation killed more of the Sioux people than actual bullets. 

The colonization process that began and continues to plague the Oceti Sakowin, did not consider that such a large nation must have a very refined and stringent way of living to have flourished for tens of thousands of years without destroying their environment or diminishing their resources.  It is the few remnants of that way of living that is trying to be captured in the following, The Ancient Laws of the Oceti Sakowin.

Old Rules

Old Rule: Never impose your will on another.

Old Rule: No one has the right to question another’s understanding or relationship with Wakan Tanka (the Great Sacred, or Great Mystery).

Old Rule: The needs or survival of the many outweigh the needs or survival of the few, or the one.

Old Rule: When you lie, you die.

Old Rule: Rape is punishable by death to the rapist and the victim.  No person would lie about rape, and any person who was raped was so damaged in all ways that they would want to die anyway.

Old Rule: If you have common grandparents, no matter how many generations in between, you may not marry.  Otherwise there will be health problems:  mental and physical disorders, blood disorders that are not curable.  There was no living together without marriage.  Marriage was recognized with a ceremony and witnesses.  Each person in a marriage had their own responsibilities. Each community had their own marriage ceremony.

Old Rule: Murder is punishable by the murderer carrying the responsibilities of the victim.  If a man was murdered by another man, the murderer was then responsible for the well-being of the victim’s wife, children, and any other responsibilities the victim had. 

Old Rule: When a law was broken and the penalty was death, the death penalty was carried out by a member of the perpetrator’s family.  This encouraged strong family policing, strong discipline in the family so a family member wouldn’t have to kill another family member.  Therefore teach the children to have strong self-discipline.

Old Rule: Mentally ill people were considered special people.  Some were sent off to live alone if their presence was detrimental to the community, but food would be taken to them. If they were capable of providing for themselves, they were left completely alone.

Old Rule: The Hunka ceremony made relatives of people, and after that each was considered a full member of that family, tiyospaye, community, and nation. Blood quantum is a wasicu concept, a way for divide and conquer. 

Communal Living

The community is always the basis for survival for all peoples, whether sedentary living in towns and villages, or nomadic, following the seasons and the resources available with the seasons.

In order to protect the environment, what nowadays are known as natural resources, the people lived in small communities called tiyospaye and they were the blood relatives of the wife.  These were her extended family.  A man marrying a woman was expected to live with her people, her tiyospaye.  If he was abusive to his wife or children, her male relatives’ responsibility was to beat him and send him on his way.  This was almost certain death as he would have to be honest when entering another camp when asked where he came from, and why did he leave that place.  It would be very difficult for one person to live entirely by oneself. 

Arranged marriages were common.  The people would observe and know the personalities of the man or woman.  The parents, or grandparents, or guardians would discuss such a marriage, but the decision was always left to the two people involved because a person cannot impose their will on another person.

The language and the rules always separated the men from the women.  This was a truly respect aspect.  Son-in-laws did not speak to their mother-in-law, and very seldom to their mother after reaching puberty.  Daughter-in-laws did not speak to their mother-in-laws, and seldom to male relatives, other than a younger bother.

Blood relationships were much closer than in the European context.  The children in the families of brothers and sisters were also considered brothers and sisters, when in the European context, they would be known as first cousins.  Their children would then be the nieces and nephews, and cousins to each other.  In the European context, these would be considered the first cousins once removed, and second cousins to each other.  The children of the nieces and nephews were all the grandchildren of all the original brothers and sisters.  In the European context, the children would be third cousins.  However, there was no second cousin, or third cousin concept.  A person was a relative in some capacity depending on the lineage, or a cousin.

The Family tree was very important and was taught to the children from when they were very little.  Everyone should be able to know at least 18 birth generations back.

Babies were taught at birth not to cry out, lest game be scared away, or the enemy alerted to the presence of a camp. Children were very quiet. Old accounts of massacres by Europeans upon Native Americans always mention the quietness of the victims, the lack of screams and crying out.
Children were scolded by all of the adults, but only the grandmothers was allowed to physically punish a child.  Willow switches were allowed for slaps on the legs.  Boys and men were kept in line by the whip keeper.  The whip was made of leather thongs tied at the end of a stick, and sometimes stones were tied into the ends of the thong.

There was no divorce.  That came in with the French in 1820 - 40.  The French fur traders were among the first European contacts.  There was a discussion as some said they understood divorce was possible.  Sitting Bull divorced one of his wives and sent her home.  (More discussion is needed about the subject of divorce.)

It was acceptable for a man to have up to three wives if he could provide for them and future children.  The most children a woman would have would be four. Self discipline and self control was practiced by both husband and wife.  Although birth control medicines were known, they were looked down on as self discipline was revered.  In times of famine, birth control was used.  The needs of the whole community always came before the needs of a few or one.


The virtues that everyone made every effort to perfect were:  Courage, Fortitude, Wisdom, and Generosity.  


It is often said that respect and honesty were virtues.  Respect was a foundation.  Everything that was done was based on respect, for oneself, for others, for the creation.  Respect was an unspoken basis of everything, of all the rules and reasons for the rules.


Honesty was a foundation.  When people must have total and complete trust with each other for their very survival, honesty must be the basis.   An old rule: when you lie you die, was not just taught, but was followed through.  Lying was punishable by death, and children learned by observing such punishment.  If there was a disagreement and the word of two people were different, then the truth could either be found out through ceremony, or by a physical trial in which the survivor was found to be telling the truth.  For the Oglala this meant a mile long walk through one of the long canyons in the Badlands.  Observers would follow on the table above the deep canyon.  The person telling the truth would make it through the canyon with the help of the Spirits.  The person who lied would perish.


All of the people were very spiritual.  There were many abilities that the people possessed.  Medicine men and women, and holy men and women were not the only ones who possessed abilities as it is today.  In the old ways, some of the people had other abilities such as telepathy, teleportation, and prescience as they are termed today. 

Medicine men and women had special abilities with the spirits and could heal the sick with certain medicines or rituals. Holy men and women also were in touch with the spirits but through their prayers helped the people in many ways, including with illnesses or injuries.  These people lived by themselves in their own private dwellings.  They could even be married but still had to live alone to be able to pray and converse at any time with the spirits.

The Sweat Lodge and Sun Dance were men spiritual ceremonies.  Women had their own spiritual ceremonies. The ceremonies were greatly respected and not taken lightly otherwise consequences would befall all the people.  Only those having a dream, or told to do a ceremony by the spirits in a ceremony were allowed to do that ceremony.

Pipe respect laws meant that anyone with blood on their hands from killing another human being could not touch a pipe.  Women in their monthly cycle were also prohibited from being in proximity of any sacred objects.

Singers had distinct responsibilities.  They needed to know all of the songs appropriate for each ceremony. Social songs were also sung but spirituality was the underpinning of all songs.

There were Societies specific to either men or women, although there were also non-gender societies such as the dreamers’ society, which was just for those who had specific dreams for the benefit of all the people.   These societies were not just for socializing but were to help the people in a specific way.  Certain abilities would show which society an individual would belong.  The societies watched to know who would fit in with their ideals and purpose.

Information about the ceremonies and societies varies with individual medicine or holy people, the communities, and the sub-nations.  No generalizations can be made on these topics.


Everything and everyone had two names:  a sacred name and a common name.  The common name was what they were called in every day activities.  Their sacred name was only spoken in ceremony, prayers, or honoring.  Their common name was for this world.  Their sacred name is what they are called on the other side when they leave this world.

Specific to Women

Women have two stages: the little girl stage, and the woman stage.  Women had two common names: their little girl name, then their woman name.  There were Puberty rites, the  ishnati for girls. In this ceremony, they were taught by their grandmothers, mothers, aunts about all the ways and responsibilities of women;  how to take care of a home, how to be a good wife, how to be a good mother, how to be a good relative.

Women’s dress was always modest.  Only their hands, sometimes the forearms, and the neck and the face were uncovered.  Cleanliness was a foundation.  Hair was always braided, unless the person was grieving, sick, or praying.  In times of mourning or grief, the hair was cut to signify the loss of part of their life.  Others seeing short hair would recognize that the person was in grief and vulnerable, so more respect was offered.  Or if the hair was untied it signified someone was sick, or praying, and they would be left alone.

The older women in the community made the decisions for all the people.  Women were always for the survival of the people.  The older a woman was, the more experience, wisdom, and spirituality she should have. 
Therefore, the old grandmothers were consulted to make the best decisions for the people.

The old grandmothers slept at the door of the lodge with a war club.  There were many reasons for this:  one is that older women often need to get up in the night to go to relieve themselves.  Another is that the old grandmother would protect all the others in the lodge should an enemy or an animal try to come in through the door.  She would give a warning, and stand in the way of the intruder swinging her war club, whether it was an animal or a human enemy. The grandmother or older woman would protect the family so the family could be safe or make an escape.

Not all the older women wanted to make decisions for the entire community.  A few were chosen by the people and were known as the Kahtela Society.  These were women who were usually 60 years of age or older, and had exhibited by their actions all of their life that they would always consider the needs of the people first, they carried the people in their heart.

Specific to Men

At puberty, boys moved into the Men’s Lodge, which was a place where single and widowed men lived.  The older men watched and taught the young men how to hunt, fight, cook, scout, all the things they needed to know to take care of themselves, provide for a family, and for the community. They also were taught by example, their responsibilities as sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers.  Each person in the Men’s Lodge had their own chores and keeping it clean was everyone’s responsibilities. Some of the Men’s Lodges also followed Society rules and were the lodge of a specific society.

Men had three stages:  the little boy stage, the young man stage, and finally the man stage.  Therefore, men are given three names:  little boy name, young man name, and their final man name.  Again in each stage, a man would have a common name and a sacred name as well.

The young man stage began with puberty when a boy would leave his home and live in the men’s’ lodge.  This was a lodge where the single men lived: those entering puberty, those still young and not married, and those whose wives had died.  The young men had abilities that provided protection and necessities for the entire village.  The older men taught all of the younger ones how to live a respectful, and caring life looking out for the needs of the entire community.

A man’s hair was always braided unless he was grieving, sick, or praying, the same as women.  Only his wife braided his hair after he was married.

Orphans and Elders

There were no orphans as everyone was a relative to someone whether by blood or adoption.  Elders were revered but also given the opportunity by the community to continue their activities as long as they wished.  The ability to go with the spirits when their bodies were too weak was common. 

If you can provide any new information, or add anything to these, please send your comments to: 

Charmaine White Face  Zumila Wobaga
PO Box 2003
Rapid City, SD 57709

Thank you.

Mission Statement

"Defenders of the Black Hills is a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries whose mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories, Treaties made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation."

Speaking about radioactive fallout, the late President John F. Kennedy said,

"Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby who may be born long after we are gone, should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent."

July 26, 1963 upon signing the ban on above ground nuclear tests