Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Atakapas for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students
and teachers to visit our Atakapa Indian
pages for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with
Atakapa pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.
How do you pronounce "Atakapa"? What does it mean? Atakapa is pronounced "ah-tah-kah-pah." It comes from a Choctaw word meaning "man-eaters." They called themselves Ishak, "the people."
Does that mean the Atakapas were cannibals?
According to traditional Choctaw stories, the Atakapas practiced cannibalism on defeated enemies.
However, nobody knows for sure if these were true stories or just legends. No proof of Atakapa cannibalism has been found,
and the Europeans who met the Atakapas did not witness this behavior themselves. It's possible the Choctaw name "Atakapa" was actually
intended to refer to the
Karankawas, who were known for their cannibal war practices, and the French misunderstood the stories.
Where do the Atakapa Indians live?
The Atakapas are original people of southwest Louisiana and southeastern
Texas. Most Atakapa-Ishak descendants are still living there today.
How is the Atakapa Indian nation organized?
The Atakapa tribe is not federally recognized in the United States. That means Atakapa people today
do not have a reservation or their own government. But the Atakapas do have tribal communities where they
continue to practice their culture.
What language do the Atakapas speak?
Most Atakapa people speak English today. Some Atakapas, especially older people, speak a Cajun French dialect.
In the past, Atakapa Indians spoke their own Atakapa language. The Atakapa Indian language has not been spoken since the
early 1900's, but some Atakapa people are trying to learn their ancestral language again.
You can read a Atakapa picture glossary here.
How do Atakapa 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 Atakapa 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 to play with.
Chunkey and stickball were popular sports among teenage boys as they were among adult men.
What were men and women's roles in the Atakapa tribe?
Atakapa Indian men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Atakapa women gathered plants, made clothing,
and did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, ceremonial dances, and traditional medicine.
Only men usually became Atakapa chiefs.
What were Atakapa homes like in the past?
Atakapa people lived in brush shelters, which were small huts made of grass and reeds built around a simple wooden framework.
These brush houses were not large or fancy, but they were easy to build and move from place to place, so they fit the Atakapa lifestyle.
Nobody uses an old-fashioned hut like this anymore. Today, the Atakapas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.
What was Atakapa clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Atakapa men wore breechcloths.
Atakapa women wore wraparound skirts made of deerskin or woven fiber.
Shirts were not necessary in Atakapa culture, but men and women both wore mantles in cooler weather.
The Atakapas usually went barefoot, but sometimes they also wore moccasins on their feet.
Here are some more photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.
The Atakapas didn't wear long headdresses like the
Sioux. Some Atakapa warriors wore
porcupine hair roaches and shaved their heads in the
Mohawk style. Other Atakapa men wore their hair long, like the women.
Here is a website with pictures of these Indian hairstyles.
The Atakapas didn't usually paint their faces, but they did decorate their bodies with
tribal tattoos. Both men and women wore tattoos in the Atakapa tribe.
Today, some Atakapa people still wear moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only
wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.
What was Atakapa transportation like in the days before cars? Did the Atakapas paddle canoes?
Yes--the Atakapa Indians made long dugout canoes from hollowed-out cypress logs.
Here is an article with pictures of Native American dugout canoes.
Over land, the Atakapas used dogs as pack animals.
(There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.)
Today, of course, Atakapa people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.
What was Atakapa food like in the days before supermarkets?
Unlike their neighbors the Chitimachas, the Atakapa Indians didn't do much farming. Instead, they made their livelihood as hunters and fishermen.
Most of their diet was fish and seafood (including oysters, shrimp, and crabs.) Atakapa men also hunted big game like deer, buffalo, and alligators,
and women gathered fruit, nuts, and wild honey. Here is a website with more information
about Native Indian food.
What were Atakapa weapons and tools like in the past?
Atakapa hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used nets, traps, or hooks made of bone.
An Atakapa warrior fired his bow or fought with a hand-to-hand weapon like a club.
Here is a website with pictures and more information about Indian weapon types.
What are Atakapa arts and crafts like?
The Atakapas liked to travel light-- they didn't use much furniture, for example-- but they were famous for their fine red clay
What other Native Americans did the Atakapa tribe interact with?
The Atakapas traded regularly with neighboring tribes like the Chitimacha
and Caddo tribes. Sometimes they fought battles with the
Choctaw and Natchez bands.
What kinds of stories do the Atakapas tell?
There were many traditional Atakapa legends and fairy tales. Storytelling was very important to the Atakapa Indian culture.
But not many of the old legends are still told today.
Here is one legend about the origin of fire. This legend
was collected from a Chitimacha storyteller, but was common to many tribes of the Gulf Coast.
What about Atakapa religion?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. 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
sun worship among the tribes of the Gulf Coast or this site about
Indian religions in general.
Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Louisiana Indian Tales,
a collection of traditional myths from several Louisiana tribes including the Atakapas.
Or Martin's Quest is a kids' novel you might like
about a boy who learns about his Chitimacha and Cajun heritage.
You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American 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
Thanks for your interest in the Atakapa Indian people and their language!