The Santee Sioux originally lived in the north central region of Minnesota. They were called the “frontier guardians of the Sioux domain”, which spread from the Santee homeland in Minnesota westward across the plains to the northern Rocky Mountains in Montana and southward through northwest Nebraska.
The first recorded European contact with the Santee occurred in the latter half of the 1700s when the tribe lived along the northern part of the Mississippi River. The Santee were primarily a woodlands tribe, living in permanent villages and conducting hunts twice a year. To supplement their meat source, they did some farming. After the Santee defeat by the Chippewa tribe in the late 1700s, the Santee were forced to move to southern Minnesota. This move brought them into closer contact with white settlers and eventual conflict. From this time forward, life would be a daily struggle for the Santee Tribe.[soliloquy id=”3476″]The first treaty with the United States government was complete in 1805 with the Santee ceding two-thousand acres of land for one-thousand dollars. Against treaty regulations, Fort Snelling was built in 1819 which allowed for more settlers into the area. Another treaty signed in 1837 ceded all the Santee lands east of the Mississippi River, an area of about 35 million acres, for eight cents an acre. It also set aside land for the Santee Reservation. But the U.S. Congress failed to appropriate the money for the annuity payments due to the tribe. The government also failed to provide the promised farming implements and supplies to raise adequate crops, sending the Santee Tribe into eventual starvation, and leading to the “Santee Uprising of 1862”. [soliloquy id=”3479″]This uprising was short-lived as the U.S. military rushed to quell the rebellion. Over eighteen-hundred Santee were imprisoned and three-hundred charged with murder and sentenced to die. Only President Lincoln’s intervention stopped the executions to be carried out when he commuted all but thirty-eight sentences. Eventually, thirty-three were executed.
In 1863, Congress passed legislation removing the Santee, Winnebago and Chippewa tribes from Minnesota, first to Crow Creek, South Dakota and eventually to Nebraska. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson signed an executive order moving the Santee to the Missouri River region of northern Nebraska.
Today, the Santee Sioux Reservation encompasses an area of roughly 9,449 acres. The approximately 175-square mile reservation is bordered by Lewis and Clark Lake and the Missouri River to the north, and boundary lines to the east, west, and south. About ten percent of reservation land is Tribally-owned or allotted to individual Indians. The resident population is centered in the Village of Santee in the northernmost part of the Reservation. The Village of Niobrara is about four miles to the west of the reservation at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. The Tribe relies primarily on cattle ranching and farming for its livelihood.