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Arikara Indian Fact Sheet

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




   Arikara Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Arikara"? What does it mean?
Arikara is pronounced "uh-RIH-kuh-rah." This name may have come from a neighboring tribe's word for "horns" or "male deer." In their own language, the Arikaras call themselves Sanish, which means "the people." In historical records they are often referred to as the Arikaree or Ree Indians.

Where is the location of the Arikara tribe?
The Arikara Indians are original people of North and South Dakota. Most Arikara people are still living in North Dakota today.

How is the Arikara Indian nation organized?
The Arikaras share a single nation with the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. In the past, the Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras lived in separate villages, each with its own chief. But after many of their people died of smallpox in the 1800's, the three allies merged. Together, they are known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Today the Arikaras, Mandans, and Hidatsas live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Three Affiliated Tribes have their own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Arikaras are also US citizens and must obey American law.

What language do the Arikara Indians speak?
The Arikara people speak English today. Some Arikaras, mostly elders, also speak their native Arikara language. If you'd like to know an easy Arikara word, "nawh" (pronounced nah-wah) is a friendly greeting. You can read an Arikara picture glossary here.

Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara speakers cannot understand each other's languages, so the three languages started to decline once the tribes merged. However, some Arikara people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Arikara culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation. On their site you can find information about the Arikara people in the past and today.

How do Arikara Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Arikara children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is a picture of a hoop game played by Plains Indian kids. Arikara girls and boys also enjoyed swimming. An Arikara mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Arikara tribe?
Arikara men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Arikara women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Only men became Arikara chiefs, but both genders could take part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Arikara homes like in the past?
The early Arikara Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Arikara lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. Here are some pictures of a Native American lodge like the ones Arikara Indians used. When Arikara men went on hunting trips, they often used a small buffalo-hide tipi (or tepee) as temporary shelter, similar to a camping tent. Unlike other Plains Indian tribes, though, the Arikaras were not migratory people, and did not use tall tepees for their regular houses.

Today, Native Americans only put up a teepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for housing. Most Arikaras live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Arikara clothing like? Did the Arikaras wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Arikara women wore long deerskin dresses, particularly white ones. Arikara men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. The Arikaras wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. An Arikara lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills, beadwork, elk's teeth, and seashells. Later, Arikara people began to adapt European costume such as cloth dresses and colorful blanket robes. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Arikara men usually wore a few feathers in their hair, as in this picture of the Arikara warrior Rushing Bear. But some Arikara Indian men did wear the long warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for. Traditionally, Arikara people only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Arikara men usually wore their hair in two braids. Sometimes they wrapped their braids in fur. Arikara women wore their hair either loose or braided. Here is a website with pictures of these Indian hair styles. The Arikaras also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Current-day Arikara people may still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Arikara transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No, the Arikara Indians didn't use canoes. Instead, they built bowl-shaped rafts called bull boats out of willow rods and buffalo hide. Bull boats were harder to paddle than canoes and couldn't go as fast, but they could carry a lot of weight. Over land, the Arikaras used dogs pulling travois (a type of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Horses didn't exist in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Arikara food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Arikaras were farming people. Arikara women from different families worked together to raise crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflower seeds. Men hunted deer and small game and took part in seasonal bison hunts. The Arikaras weren't migratory people, so they didn't hunt buffalo as often as other Plains Indian tribes, but buffalo meat was still an important part of their diet because they acquired it in trade from other tribes. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Arikara weapons and tools like in the past?
Arikara hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Arikara men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and spears. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Native American weapon types.

What other Native Americans did the Arikara tribe interact with?
The Arikaras traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau. They especially liked to trade corn to nomadic tribes like the Kiowa and Lakota in exchange for bison hides and meat. The Arikaras often used the Plains Sign Language to communicate with their trading partners.

The Arikaras also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. So the Arikaras sometimes were enemies of neighbors like the Crow, Mandan, and Hidatsa tribes, and other times they were allies. The Europeans who first met them were surprised by how often the Arikara tribe fought with their neighbors, yet how easily they made peace with each other when they were done fighting.

What are Arikara arts and crafts like?
Arikara artists were known for their pottery and baskets. Later, the Arikaras became known for their glassworking and supplied many tribes with Native American beads for their beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Arikaras tell?
There are lots of traditional Arikara legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Arikara Indian culture. Here is one story about how corn came to the Arikaras. Here's a website where you can read more about Arikara Indian mythology.

What about Arikara religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Arikara rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Myths and Traditions of the Arikara Indians, which is an interesting collection of Arikara legends and historical stories. Older readers might be interested in The Arikara War, which tells the story of the 1823 conflict between the Arikara and the US army. If you are interested in ancient history, Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills Country is an interesting book displaying petroglyphs in the Black Hills area made by the Arikaras and neighboring tribes. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

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 2013.

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

Learn More About The Arikaras

Arikara Indian Tribe
An overview of the Arikara people, their language and history.

Arikara Language Resources
Arikara language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Arikara Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Arikara tribe past and present.

Arikara Words
Arikara Indian vocabulary lists.



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