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Achumawi Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Achumawi tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Achumawi website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Achumawi pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Achumawi Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Achumawi"? What does it mean?
Achumawi is pronounced "ah-choo-MA-wee." That means "river people" in their own language. "Achumawi" was originally just the name of one out of nine related communities who spoke the same language, but in modern times, it has come to refer to all of them. Sometimes you will see their name spelled "Achomawi" instead. Since the Achumawi language was traditionally unwritten, the spellings of Achumawi words in English are not always consistent.

The Achumawi are also known as the Pit River Indians. Pit River is the English name of the most important river in Achumawi territory.

Where do the Achumawis live?
The Achumawis are original people of Northern California. Most Achumawi people still live there today. Here is a tribal map showing the location of the Achumawi and other California Indian tribes.

How is the Achumawi Indian nation organized?
The Achumawi share a tribal goverment with their historical allies the Atsugewi. This shared nation is called the Pit River Tribe. The Pit River tribe is a coalition of nine Achumawi bands and two Atsugewi bands. Most Achumawi people live on six rancherias located within the Pit River tribe. A rancheria is a tribal village or other small parcel of land that California Indians have partial control over. Not all Achumawi people today live on the Pit River rancherias, however. Some live in intertribal communities with members of other tribes, such as the Round Valley Reservation. Others live in Northern California towns.

In the past, each Achumawi village was led by a chief. Achumawi chiefs were usually medicine men, not war leaders, and they did not exert as much power as the rulers of many other cultures. Today, each Achumawi rancheria is governed by a tribal council elected by its residents. In the past there was no central government among the Achumawi bands, but today the Pit River Tribe has a main governing council made up of representatives sent by all eleven of its member bands.

How many Achumawi people are there today?
There are around 1500 Achumawi people in the Pit River tribe today. (The total population of Pit River is 1800, but some of the tribal members are Atsugewi people.) There are also hundreds of other people in Northern California who have Achumawi heritage but are not Pit River tribal members.

What language do the Achumawis speak?
The Achumawi speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Achumawi language. Some Achumawi elders still remember words from this language, and there are younger people who are interested in learning to speak their traditional language again. If you'd like to know some easy Achumawi words, "tusyi uwi" (pronounced toos-yee oo-wee) is a friendly greeting that means "it is good!' You can also look at this Achumawi picture glossary.

What was Achumawi culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Pit River Tribe's homepage.
On their site you can find information about the Achumawi people in the past and today.

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How do Achumawi Indian children live? What games and toys do the Achumawis have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Achumawi children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have toys and games. One popular Achumawi game was the hand game. Players held marked sticks behind their backs and gambled as they guessed the location of each stick. Another Achumawi game was shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. According to tradition, only men and teenage boys played shinny. Achumawi girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Achumawi mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs.

What were Achumawi homes like in the past?
The Achumawis lived in tule houses. Usually these dwellings were made from a cone-shaped frame of wooden poles placed over a basement-like hole dug into the ground. Then the shelter would be covered with mats woven from tule reeds, and packed with a mound of earth over it to keep it well insulated. Because they were partially underground, Achumawi houses appeared smaller than they really were. Here are some pictures of different styles of Indian buildings. Today, most Achumawis live in modern houses and apartments, just like you.

What was Achumawi clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
In the summer, Achumawi people didn't wear much clothing-- only short skirts made of tule fiber. When the weather became cooler, though, Achumawi women preferred to wear long deerskin dresses, and the men wore leggings and deerskin shirts. The Achumawis wore sandals or moccasins on their feet. Here are some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

The Achumawis didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Achumawi women wore woven basket caps. The Achumawis didn't usually paint their faces, but they did wear tribal tattoos. Women tattooed lines on their chins, while men tattooed their arms. Achumawi women sometimes wore beaded necklaces, and Achumawi men wore bone or shell ornaments in their pierced ears and noses.

Today, some Achumawi people still wear moccasins or beaded jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of grass skirts.

What was Achumawi transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Achumawi tribe made dugout canoes by hollowing out large logs from pine trees. They used these canoes to travel and fish on the rivers. Here is a website with pictures of Native canoes. Canoeing is still popular among California Indians, though few people carve a dugout canoe by hand anymore. Today, of course, Achumawi people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Achumawi food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Achumawis were fishing people. Achumawi men used nets and fish traps to catch many different types of fish in the rivers and lakes. They also hunted deer, particularly by driving them into pit traps. These hunting pits may have been the source of the English name "Pit River." Achumawi women gathered acorns and ground them into meal, as well as collecting berries and roots. Here is a website with a Native California acorn cake recipe, and one with more information about American Indian food in general.

What were Achumawi weapons and tools like in the past?
Achumawi hunters used bows and arrows. Achumawi fishermen used pronged spears, nets and basket fish traps. The Achumawi didn't go to war very often, but they used their bows to defend their villages from raids by other tribes. Here is an illustrated list of Indian weapons for you to look at.

What are Achumawi arts and crafts like?
Achumawi artists are known for their fine basket weaving. Here is a picture of an Achumawi conical basket.

What is Achumawi music like?
Traditional Achumawi music is very rhythmic, using clapper sticks, rattles, and hand drums to create complex beats. In modern times Achumawi men also began to play large communal drums as California Indians adopted the intertribal culture of the powwow. Here is a video of a Pit River family demonstrating powwow drumming and singing.

What other Native Americans did the Achumawi tribe interact with?
The Atsugewi tribe has always been the closest ally of the Achumawis. Other nearby tribes who were important trading partners to the Achumawis were the Shasta and Paiute. These tribes used strings of clamshell beads as a type of currency. The Achumawi people were not very fond of the Modocs, who were powerful warriors and sometimes raided Achumawi villages.

What kinds of stories do the Achumawis tell?
There are lots of traditional Achumawi legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Achumawi Indian culture. Here is a story about how the first winter was ended. Here's a website where you can read more about Achumawi myths.

What about Achumawi religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Achumawi life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Achumawi people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about the traditional Achumawi worldview, or this site about Native American spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Achumawi culture and history, one interesting source for kids is Achumawi Tribe. Older readers may enjoy The Morning The Sun Went Down, an oral history by a Pit River author. Two good books for kids on California Indians in general are California Native Peoples and Native Ways; a more in-depth book for older readers is Tribes of California. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Achumawi Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Achumawi Tribe

Achumawi Indian Tribe
An overview of the Achomawi tribe, their language and history.

Achumawi Language Resources
Achumawi Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Achumawi Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Achumawi Native Americans past and present.

Achumawi Words
Achumawi Indian vocabulary lists.

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