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The Sacs or Sauks are a group of Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands culture group. Their autonym is oθaakiiwaki, and their exonym is Ozaagii(-wag) in Ojibwe. The latter is the source of their names in French and English.
Originally, the Sauk had a patrilineal clan system, in which descent was traced through the father. Clans which continue are: Fish, Ocean/Sea, Thunder, Bear, Fox, Potato, Deer, Beaver, Snow, and Wolf. The tribe was governed by a council of sacred clan chiefs, a war chief, the head of families, and the warriors. Chiefs fell into three categories: civil, war, and ceremonial, but only the civil chief was hereditary. The other two chiefs were determined by demonstrating their ability or their spiritual power.
This traditional manner of selecting historic clan chiefs and governance was replaced in the 19th century by United States appointees of the Sac and Fox Agency. In the 20th century, the tribe adopted a constitutional government patterned after the United States form. They elect their chiefs.
The Sauk are believed to have had their original territory along the St. Lawrence River. They were driven by pressure from other tribes, especially the Iroquois, to migrate to Michigan, where they settled around Saginaw Bay. Due to the yellow-clay soils found around Saginaw Bay, their autonym was Oθaakiiwaki (often interpreted to mean "yellow-earth".) The Ojibwe and Ottawa name for the tribe (exonym) was Ozaagii, meaning "those at the outlet". From the sound of that, the French derived Sac and the English "Sauk". Anishinaabe expansion and the Huron attempt to gain regional stability drove the Sac out of their territory. The Huron were armed with French weapons. The Sac moved south to territory in parts of what are now northern Illinois and Wisconsin.
A closely allied tribe, the Meskwaki (Fox), were noted for their hostility toward the French, having fought two wars against them in the early 18th century. After the second war, Fox refugees took shelter with the Sac, making them subject to French attack. The Sac continued moving west to Iowa and Kansas. Two important leaders arose among the Sac: Keokuk and Black Hawk. At first Keokuk accepted the loss of land as inevitable in the face of the vast numbers of white soldiers and settlers coming west. He tried to preserve tribal land and to keep the peace.
Having failed to receive expected supplies from the Americans on credit, Black Hawk wanted to fight, saying his people were "forced into war by being deceived." Led by Black Hawk in 1832, the mainly Sac band resisted the continued loss of lands (in western Illinois, this time.) Their warfare with United States forces resulted in defeat at the hands of General Edmund P. Gaines in the Blackhawk War.
About this time, one group of Sac moved into Missouri, and later to Kansas and Nebraska. In 1869 the larger group of Sac moved into reservations in Oklahoma, where they merged with the Meskwaki as the federally recognized Sac and Fox Nation. A smaller number returned to the Midwest from Oklahoma (or did not go) and became the Mesquakie tribe in Iowa (Meswaki Settlement, Iowa).
Today the federally recognized Sac and Fox tribes are:
Sauk (or Sac) is a part of the Algonquian language family. It is very closely related to the varieties spoken by the Fox and the Kickapoo tribes, so the three are often described by linguists as dialects of the same language. Each of the dialects contains archaisms and innovations that distinguish them from each other, and Sauk and Fox appear to be the most closely related of the three (Goddard 1978). Sauk is also considered to be mutually intelligible, to a point, with Fox. In their own language, the Sauk at one time referred to themselves as asakiwaki [a-‘sak-i-wa-ki], “people of the outlet. (Bonvillain 1995)”
The Sauk people have a syllabic orthography for their language and there exists a Primer Book which was printed in 1977 (based on a “traditional” syllabary which existed in 1906), so that the modern-day Sauk people may learn to write as well as speak their ancestral tongue. A newer orthography was proposed around 1994 to better aid in language revival, since the former syllabary was targeted towards the few remaining native speakers of Sauk; the more recent orthography was presented with native English speakers in mind (Müller 1994).
Sauk has so few speakers that it is considered one of the many endangered languages native to North America.
Sauk does not have a lot of phonemes, compared to many other languages: four vowels, two semi-vowels, and eight consonants.
(Figure 1: Sauk Consonant Chart - adapted from Müller (1994))
The voiceless glottal fricative /h/ had been omitted in the 1977 syllabary, but it has been added back into later editions, because it is an important distinctive sound in the Sauk language (Müller 1994). It may be of interest to note that all of the Sauk consonants are voiceless, with the exception of both nasals.
All three stops are recognized to have at least two allophones each, as follows (adapted from Müller 1994):
(Figure 2: Sauk Semi-vowel chart - adapted from Müller (1994))
Please note that Müller (1994) uses the American Phonetic transcription of the palatal glide, /y/, in her article, but the International Phonetic Alphabet is used for the above chart, transcribing the phoneme as /j/.
(Figure 3: Sauk vowel chart - adapted from Müller (1994))
Vowel length is important in the Sauk language. Müller presents four vowels, each with two allophones (1994):
Pitch and tone are also important when speaking Sauk (Müller 1994).
Sauk is a polysynthetic language – affixes are used to modify words. Because of this, in the Sauk orthography, words are written by separating out each syllable, to aid in language learning.
Both the Sac and Fox languages are known for “swallowing” syllables that are in word-final position, which can make identification of individual sounds more difficult for the language learner. (Müller 1994)
Two samples of written Sauk language, as they appear in Müller (1994):
Ho! Ne nu ta ma!
'Hi! I speak Sauk!'
Ni swi me cli ke a ki a la se te ke wa ki a la te ki ki
e ka ta wi ke mi yak i e we li ke mi ya ki ne ko ti
me cle ke a e cla gwe ne mo tti wi ne li wi tti cle we na
li ta ske wa ne li se ke
"Two turtles were sunning on a bank when a thunderstorm approached. When it began to rain, one turtle said to the other, 'I don’t want to get wet,' and jumped into the lake."
Lake Osakis in west-central Minnesota, the Sauk River, which flows from Lake Osakis, and the towns of Osakis, Sauk Centre, and Sauk Rapids all were named for association historically with a small party of Sac who made camp on the shores of Lake Osakis. They had been banished from their tribe for murder. According to Anishinaabe oral tradition, these five Sac were killed by local Dakota in the late 18th century.
Place names with "Sauk" references include:
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