The Dakota Way of Life


The Dakota Way of Life

Ella Cara Deloria
Edited by Raymond J. DeMallie and Thierry Veyrié
Afterword by Philip J. Deloria

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians Series

440 pages
1 diagram, 1 table, index


December 2022


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December 2022


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December 2022


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About the Book

2023 Bronze Medal in Western Nonfiction for the Will Rogers Medallion Award
2023 WHA Dwight L. Smith (ABC-CLIO) Award

Ella Cara Deloria devoted much of her life to the study of the language and culture of the Sioux (Dakota and Lakota). The Dakota Way of Life is the result of the long history of her ethnographic descriptions of traditional Dakota culture and social life. Deloria was the most prolific Native scholar of the greater Sioux Nation, and the results of her work comprise an essential source for the study of the greater Sioux Nation culture and language. For years she collected material for a study that would document the variations from group to group. Tragically, her manuscript was not published during her lifetime, and at the end of her life all of her major works remained unpublished.

Deloria was a perfectionist who worked slowly and cautiously, attempting to be as objective as possible and revising multiple times. As a result, her work is invaluable. Her detailed cultural descriptions were intended less for purposes of cultural preservation than for practical application. Deloria was a scholar through and through, and yet she never let her dedication to scholarship overwhelm her sense of responsibility as a Dakota woman, with family concerns taking precedence over work. Her constant goal was to be an interpreter of an American Indian reality to others. Her studies of the Sioux are a monument to her talent and industry.

Author Bio

Ella Cara Deloria (1889–1971), a member of a prominent Yankton Sioux family, was born on the Yankton Reservation and lived as a child on the Standing Rock Reservation. She studied at Columbia University and is the author of three other books, including Waterlily, Speaking of Indians, and Dakota Texts, all available in Bison Books editions. Raymond J. DeMallie (1946–2021) was Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and former director of the American Indian Studies Research Institute. Thierry Veyrié is a research associate at the American Indian Studies Research Institute. 


"This is a definitive, monumental work."—John Peacock, Tribal College Journal

"Deloria's passion for her ethnographic work, and the subsequent care of the editors, demonstrates the value of collaborative effort when doing ethnography in tribal communities."—Clementine Bordeaux, Journal of Folklore Research Reviews

"It is no exaggeration to say that The Dakota Way of Life is perhaps the most important academic cultural study of Lakota/Dakota society since Dr. James Walker's early twentieth-century work, if not of all time."—Akim Reinhardt, South Dakota History

"The Dakota Way of Life by Ella Deloria is one of the longest awaited and most extensive studies of the Dakota peoples on the high plains to date. Published posthumously, Raymond DeMallie and Thierry Veyrié helped shape an updated version that retains Deloria's voice and original work."—Broc Anderson, Nebraska History

"This book, edited and published long after Deloria's death, is an extensive ethnographic and linguistic 'study of the Sioux,' a comprehensive cultural exploration and a literary preservation of the Dakota way of life."—Jean A. Lukesh, Roundup Magazine

“For its breadth and depth on the specific subject of Lakota ethnography—society, language, etc.—The Dakota Way of Life has no competitors. There is significant material here that still, so long after its recording, has not been brought to light by other authors. The level of detail is also a feature that sets Ella Cara Deloria’s book apart from other works. If Deloria had been male, white, and a tenured academic, her work would have been published when it was completed and would have come to be viewed as a seminal work in the field. It is a vital, necessary contribution.”—Emily Levine, editor of Josephine Waggoner’s Witness

“Ella Deloria’s ethnography—unpublished for some seven decades—is one of the key ‘undiscovered’ texts on which the Lakota/Dakota studies field might rest and continue to grow. . . . The blending of ethnographic formalism with informal accounts, anecdotes, and personal stories gives it the sensibility that real-life observers of Ella Deloria often described: a combination of her serious commitment to record culture and teach it and a personal charisma marked by a sense of humor and a penchant for a good story. . . . This book will stand as the definitive version.”—Philip J. Deloria, author of Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Presentation of Ella Cara Deloria
Editorial Note
Pronunciation Guide
Table of Kinship Terms
1. The Camp Circle
2. Law and Order
3. The Family
4. The Home
5. Courtship and Marriage
6. Wedded Life
7. Death and Burial
8. Relatives of Marriage
9. Formal Relatives of Birth
10. Informal Relatives of Birth
11. Relatives of Social Kinship
12. Birth and Infancy
13. Preadolescence
14. Adolescence
Afterword by Phillip J. Deloria


2023 Bronze Medal in Western Nonfiction for the Will Rogers Medallion Award
2023 WHA Dwight L. Smith (ABC-CLIO) Award

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