Bdewakanton, Bdote, and Mnisota
© May 21, 2016, John LaBatte
Updated on September 28, 2017
What are these Dakota words? Where did they come from? They cannot be found in Stephen R. Riggs’ A Dakota-English Dictionary published in 1890. When I first saw them, I believed them to be corruptions of the traditional Dakota language.
Mdewakanton versus Bdewakanton
According to Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary, Mde is the Dakota word for lake. Carolynn I. Cavender Schommer wrote the Foreword to the Reprint Edition, published in 1992. Schommer defined the Mdewakantonwan (Mdewakanton) as the “Dwellers of the Spirit Lake.” Bde is not listed in Riggs’ Dictionary.
According to Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary, published in 1902, Mde is the Dakota word for lake. Bde is not listed in Williamson’s dictionary.
In the 1800s, various spellings of Mdewakanton were used in hundreds, if not thousands of documents; including U.S. government documents, Minnesota State documents, missionary correspondence and newspaper articles. These words always started with an “M”. I cannot find any spellings that started with a “B”.
Chief Little Crow’s remains are buried in Flandrau, South Dakota. On his gravestone are the words, “TAOYA TE DUTA known as Chief Little Crow of the Mdewakantons.”
The word Mdewakanton is chiseled into gravestones in Doncaster Cemetery near the Upper Sioux Community. These people were proud of their heritage and wanted visitors to know this.
In their book Ehanna Woyakapi: History and Culture of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, published in 1975, Blackthunder, Johnson, O’Connor and Pronovost used Mdewakanton.
There is a sign erected in Kathio State Park by Kathio National Historic Landmark District that quotes Leonard E. Wabasha of the Lower Sioux (Dakota Indian Community): “My people are the Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate. Mdewakanton means the ‘People of Spirit Lake.’…”
In 1988, Mato Nunpa [Chris Cavender] used Mdewakantonwan. He defined it as the “Dwellers by Mystic Lake.” (Cavender, 1988)
In 2009, the TCF Bank Stadium opened on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Funded by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza is located on the exterior of the stadium. The Plaza consists of 11 “sky-markers;” one for each federally recognized American Indian community in Minnesota. The word Mdewakanton appears four times on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community sky-marker, four times on the Lower Sioux Indian Community sky-marker and three times on the Prairie Island Indian Community sky-marker. Shakopee defines the word Mde as “lake.” The words Bdewakanton and Bde DO NOT appear on these sky-markers. (See Bakeman, “Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza.”)
So, where did the Bdewakanton word come from? The first historic occurrence of Bdewakanton that I can find occurred in a 1916 court case in South Dakota. The witness stated that he lived with Bdewakantunwan.
In 2000, Minnesota Historical Society used “Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton) in their Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site exhibit.
In 2001, DNR used “Bdewakantunwan (or Mdewakanton)” in their DNR Fort Snelling State Park exhibit.
In their 2012 book, Mni Sota Makoce, Westerman and White used Bdewakantunwan. They provided no explanation as to why they used “Bde” rather than “Mde.”
However, in their 2013 book, The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters, Canku and Simon show translations of 50 letters written by Dakota prisoners in the years 1863-1866. Their translations used Mdewakantonwan.
In their 2015 book, English to Dakotah Dictionary: As Spoken by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, DuMarce and DeCoteau defined Bde as lake.
According to Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary, in the Dakota alphabet, “b has its common English sound” and “m has the same sound as in English.” (Riggs, 1890, xvii) However, Riggs wrote, “Some Dakotas, in some instances, introduce a slight b sound before the m…” (Riggs, 1890, 2) Note the wording: “Some Dakotas”, “in some instances”, “a slight b sound before the m.” Are some people today misinterpreting this statement? By using the “Bde” spelling implies that Mdewakanton has a hard “B” sound. And what about other Dakota words that start with the letter “M”?
Which is correct: Mdewakanton or Bdewakanton?
Shouldn’t the Federally Recognized Dakota Communities, that have Mdewakanton members, determine what they want to be called? See the Bibliography for a list of these communities. According to their websites on March 12, 2016, none of these communities used the “Bde” spelling. In fact, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community uses Mdewakanton in their community name. Mdewakanton (and its variations that start with “M”) is the correct spelling.
Mdote versus Bdote
Riggs’ A Dakota-English Dictionary defines Mdote as, “the mouth or junction of one river with another (a name commonly applied to the country about Fort Snelling, or mouth of the Saint Peters [Minnesota River]…)” Bdote is not listed in Riggs’ Dictionary. Bdo is listed and defined as, “potatoes.”
In the 1800s, I find that only the “M” form of Mdote or Mendota was used. I do not find the Bdote spelling.
In his 1988 article, Cavender used “mdo-te” and defined it as the “joining of one stream with another.” (Cavender, 1988)
In 2000, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community published a map, “Dakota Presence in the River Valley.” They used Mdote (Meeting of Waters)
I first saw the Bdo-te form in the 2001 DNR Fort Snelling State Park Exhibit.
In their 2012 book, Mni Sota Makoce, Westerman and White used Bdote.
Which is correct: Mdote or Bdote?
I believe that as Mdewakanton goes, so goes Mdote. Mdote is the correct spelling.
Mini versus Mni
Riggs’ A Dakota-English Dictionary defines Mini as, “water.” Minisota is defined as, “the Minnesota or Saint Peters River.” Mni is defined as the Ihanktonwan (Yankton) word for Mini.
I cannot find that the Mni spelling was used in the 1800s.
According to Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary, published in 1902, mini is defined as “water,” and in the Yankton dialect, mni is defined as “water.”
In his 1988 article, Cavender used “Mi-ni.” (Cavender, 1988)
In 2000, MHS used Mi-ni-so-ta in their Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site exhibit.
In 2001, DNR used Mi-ni in their Fort Snelling State Park Exhibit.
In their 2012 book, Mni Sota Makoce, Westerman and White used Mni.
In their 2015 book, English to Dakotah Dictionary: As Spoken by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, DuMarce and DeCoteau defined Mni as “water.”
Which is correct: Mini or Mni?
As shown above, I believe that Mni is a Sisseton, Wahpeton and Yankton form of the Mdewakanton word Mini. Usage of this word depends on location.
We should call people what they call themselves. Mdewakanton people call themselves Mdewakanton.
Bde, Bdote, and Mnisota are the Western Dakota words for the Eastern Dakota words Mde, Mdote and Minisota. Before any “white” organizations assign Dakota names to rivers, lakes or sites, they must consult with nearby federally recognized Dakota Communities.
Federally Recognized Mdewakanton Community Websites – Visited on March 12, 2016
- Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe http://www.santeesioux.com/
- Lower Sioux Indian Community http://lowersioux.com/
- Prairie Island Indian Community http://prairieisland.org/
- Santee Sioux Nation http://www.santeesiouxnation.net/home.html
- Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community http://shakopeedakota.org/
- Upper Sioux Community http://www.uppersiouxcommunity-nsn.gov/
Bakeman, Mary H. “Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza,” Minnesota’s Heritage…Back to the Sources, No. I, January 2010.
Black Thunder, Elijah, Norma Johnson, Larry O’connor and Muriel Pronovost. Ehanna Woyakapi: History and Culture of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Webster South Dakota: Reporter and Farmer, 1975.
Canku, Clifford and Simon, Michael, The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013.
Cavender, Chris C. [Mato Nunpa]. “The Dakota People of Minnesota.” Hennepin County History, Summer 1988,
DuMarce, Eric L. and DeCoteau, Tammy. English to Dakotah Dictionary: As Spoken by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Publishing, Agency Village, South Dakota, 2015.
Riggs, Stephen R. A Dakota-English Dictionary. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1890. Reprint, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 1992.
Riggs, Stephen R. Dakota Grammar: With Texts and Ethnography. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, as Contributions to North American Ethnology, Volume 9, 1893. Reprint by Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota, 2004
Westerman, Gwen and White, Bruce, Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012.
Williamson, John P. An English-Dakota Dictionary. 1st published by American Tract Society, New York, 1902. Reprint, MHS Press, St. Paul, 1992