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Atakapa Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Atakapans 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.

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    Atakapa Tribe

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. 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 natives of southwest Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Most Atakapa-Ishak descendants are still living in that area 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, such as the Atakapa Ishak Nation.

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.

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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?
Originally, 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 semi-nomadic Atakapa lifestyle. Nobody uses an old-fashioned hut like this anymore, though. 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, while 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 tattoo designs. 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? Did they grow corn?
Unlike their neighbors the Chitimachas, the Atakapa Indians didn't do much farming. Instead, they made their livelihood as hunters and fishermen, and traded with the Chitimachas and Caddos to get corn. The most important part of the Atakapa 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 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 pottery.

What other Native Americans did the Attakapa tribe interact with?
The Attakapas traded regularly with neighboring tribes like the Chitimacha and Caddo tribes. Sometimes they fought battles with the Choctaw and Natchez bands.

Why are there so few Atakapa people today? Did Europeans kill them?
The Europeans never fought the Atakapas directly, but European diseases like smallpox devastated the Atakapa population and their villages disbanded. Some survivors joined neighboring tribes like the Caddo, while others intermarried with local Cajun and African-American communities. Because of this, most Atakapa descendents today are mixed-race.

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 region.

What about Atakapa religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Atakapa life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Native American people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. 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?
Historic Indian Tribes of Louisiana is a good overview of Louisiana's Native American cultures, including the Atakapans. You may enjoy Louisiana Indian Tales, a collection of traditional myths from the Atakapa tribe and their neighbors. Or Martin's Quest is a kids' novel you might like about a boy who learns about his Cajun and Louisiana Indian heritage. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American stories 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 Atakapa Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Attakapas

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

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

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

Atakapa Indian Words
Atakapa Indian vocabulary lists.

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