Customs & Ceremonies of the Sioux Indians

Updated March 23, 2017

The word "Sioux" refers to seven Indian tribes divided into three structures known as Teton, Yankton and Santee. This Sioux social organisation dates to about 1700 after the Sioux settled in Mississippi and Minnesota. The Sioux marked stages of life and events with customs and rituals using potions, paint, and symbols.


A Sioux man sometimes obtained a love potion from a medicine man to make the object of his affection fall in love. He often serenaded the girl he wanted with songs on his flute. If a girl was interested in a special man she might stand outside her tepee wrapped in a blanket, wait for him and open her blanket for him to come in for marriage. On the morning of a Sioux Indian marriage the village prepared a big feast at which Sioux woman performed a dance. They celebrated until the bride and groom entered with four warriors, who held the corners of a blanket in the air. The couple stood beneath it, and a procession ensued. A master of ceremonies, adorned in a display of colourful paint and feathers, used a baton to unite the couple in marriage.

Death and Mourning.

The Sioux Indian regarded his own death as a continuation of the nature of life and approached it peacefully. Relatives and tribe members placed the dying person's bed outside in the final hours, so the deceased spirit would ascend to the sky. Despite the belief in the afterlife, survivors mourned their dead. They wailed until they could no longer speak. It was a custom of the Sioux women to loosen and cut their hair and strip adornments from their garments. Men applied black make-up to their faces. The dead person's closest relatives cut themselves, painting their bodies with blood. They often give away personal possessions as a sign of sacrifice for the dead.

The Sun Dance Ceremony

The Sun Dance ceremony was an ancient custom held by most Plains Indians, including Sioux. It took place in the summer for four to eight days, symbolising a way to achieve spiritual power and purification. This ceremony was banned in the U.S. government in 1904, because of the tradition of piercing young men in the chest, but is now legal because of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. This act granted Indians the right to practice traditional religious ceremonies such as the Sun Dance. In a Sioux Sun Dance ceremony women are not pierced, because the Sioux believe women endure enough pain in childbirth. Other components of the Sun Dance include sweat lodges, fasting, dance, drumming and the worship of the cottonwood tree.

Childbirth Customs

Ceremonies that bring a baby Sioux into the world begin before labour. The medicine man sings. The singing can last for an entire night with no sleep. Midwives offer cleaning herbs to the mother after she gives birth. They rub her breasts and abdomen with them and cleanse her with water. The same ceremony of a mother's cleansing is performed for the child at birth.

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About the Author

Dan Boone has been writing since 1999. His work has appeared on and he wrote for the "Virgin Voice" magazine and its website, Virgin Voices. Boone has a Bachelor of Arts in composition and arranging from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also holds a certificate in digital-sound engineering from the Trebas Institute in Montreal.