Changes in Culture of the Plains Indians in the Late 19th Century
In the late 19th century, the so-called Plains Indians, including the Lakota Sioux experienced great changes imposed on their lives and existence, which necessarily affected their culture. This paper discusses those culture changes and their effects on the Lakota Sioux.
In the mid-nineteenth century, according to Wishart (Ed.) (2011), the Sioux dominated their region, supported by the Arapho and Cheyenne tribes. Although the Sioux had suffered losses from disease due to contact with Europeans, their nomadic lifestyle helped reduce the impact compared with others who were village-based. Wishart reported that despite various treaties negotiated, there were still incidents of fighting between the Plains Indians and the U.S. military in the mid-1850’s, then the later discoveries of gold in Colorado ,Montana and the Black Hills region of the Sioux reservation (the latter in 1874)caused further flare-ups, eventually resulting in war, which ultimately caused all the Plains Indians to become based on reservations. Not only did that end the nomadic life of the Lakota Sioux, but it also ended their living from hunting bison which by then were almost extinct. The government and well-meaning reformers also worked to end the Indian tribal customs, in order to assimilate them into white society – a process referred to as “civilizing.” Those measures extended to legislating against tribal customs and religion, attending Christian church and adopting “citizen” clothing and hairstyles.
A paper by Fenelon published in the Journal of World-Systems Research (Spring 1997) discussed the fates of the Indian peoples, including the Lakota Sioux, due to what he referred to as the “imposition of political and civic nationality, creating or at least manipulating "identity" for most Lakota in terms of their relations with the United States.” He described those manipulations of their tribal identity as conflicting with their own concepts of identity, describing them as becoming “subordinated Indian Nations.” He notes that whereas others relate that subordination to genocide, he – in contrast – saw those imposed controls on their customs and traditions as cultural domination, yet without consideration for the consequential effect of systematic elimination of the essence of a once separate native people.
As an example of the now lost distinct Lakota culture, Fenelon described their former concept of tiered responsibility towards family, neighbours, village, and so on, extending ultimately in seven stages to their “nation.” That concept hardened as pressures increased on the Indians by encroaching foreigners, eventually marginalizing them within their own territories, established in 1890 when the Lakota reservation was compulsorily split into six separated areas.
The New South: How it Re-invented Itself and Where it Failed
According to an introductory text by the Levine Museum of the New South, entitled “What is the New South?” the meaning of the “New South” is not just a location, but is also the people and the time period from the end of the Civil War in 1865 until the present. In addition to referring to that southeastern part of the U.S. that began to grow and prosper once again after 1865, the term also refers to new ideas about the Southern economy, the culture and the politics. The article also claims it to mean the “spirit of re-invention” of society and the economy, made necessary by slavery coming to an end.
An extensive account of the New South was provided by an online feature entitled “America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War” (2003), based on the 1997 Foner And Mahoney book with the same title. It began by explaining that the so-called period of Reconstruction lasted until 1877, and was America’s first attempt to establish an interracial democratic society. It tried to give the freed black slaves a new equality in America as a now reunited country. Legislation and Constitutional amendments introduced by Congress enforced equal rights principles, giving them rights of voting and holding office.
However, the newly-established authorities in the south encountered determined opposition and violence from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. As a consequence, the northern states gave up supporting attempts to protect and enhance the rights of those former slaves. That effectively caused Reconstruction to end in failure and the return of white supremacy across the southern states, leaving the issue of racial inequality to be resolved by subsequent generations.
The paper reported that for many years, the widespread view was that Reconstruction had failed due to poor government and corruption. However, recent research coupled with improved race relations in the U.S. has changed that view, resulting in Reconstruction now being viewed as a period of positive progress – not only for the one-time slaves but for the South in general.
In terms of successes of Reconstruction, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, approved in January 1865 and formally abolishing slavery must be top of the list. However, as the paper reported, the ending of slavery brought about conflicts between the blacks and the whites, the former striving to assert their independence from their former masters and the latter endeavoring to retain the old social order. The freed slaves reunited formerly separated families, (a core pillar of black community), set up their own schools and churches, and began demanding those equal rights – both civil and political. Many black people were now also able to register their marriages, which previously had not enjoyed any legal standing. Because of their thirst for education – denied them for so many years – schools for the newly-freed black children proliferated, in many cases funded by the blacks themselves raising the money to buy the land and build the school. The article reported that by 1869 there were more black teachers than whites in the total of almost 3,000 employed; also that many freed slave families moved to the cities to get their children education, which they then passed on in the evenings to their parents.
Overall, even in those early years of Reconstruction, successes outweighed the failures.
“America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War.” (2003). Digital History. Retrieved from
Fenelon, J. “From Peripheral Domination to Internal Colonialism: Socio-Political Change of the Lakota on Standing Rock.” (1997). Journal of World-Systems Research Vol 3, No. 2. Spring 1997. Retrieved from
“What is the New South?” (n.d.). Levine Museum of the New South. Retrieved from
Wishart, D. (Ed.). “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.” (2011). University of Nebraska (Lincoln). Retrieved from