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Atsugewi Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Atsugewi Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Atsugewi"? What does it mean?
Atsugewi is pronounced "ah-tsoo-geh-wee." That means "pine tree people" in their own language. "Atsugewi" was originally just the name of one particular community, but in modern times, it has come to refer to the whole tribe. Sometimes the Atsugewi are also known as the Pit River Indians. Pit River is the English name of the most important river in Atsugewi territory.

Where do the Atsugewis live?
The Atsugewis are original people of northeastern California. Most Atsugewi people still live in this area today. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Atsugewi lands within the state of California.

How is the Atsugewi Indian nation organized?
The Atsugewi share a tribal goverment with their historical allies the Achumawi. 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 Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi village was led by a chief. Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi rancheria is governed by a tribal council elected by its residents. In the past there was no central government among the Atsugewi bands, but today the Pit River Tribe has a main governing council made up of representatives sent by all eleven of its member bands.

What language do the Atsugewis speak?
The Atsugewi speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Atsugewi language. Some Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi words, here is a Atsugewi picture glossary you can look at.

What was Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi people and their customs in the past and today.

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How do Atsugewi Indian children live? What games and toys do the Atsugewis have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi game was the hand game. Players held marked sticks behind their backs and gambled as they guessed the location of each stick. Another Atsugewi game was shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. Both men and women played forms of shinny. Atsugewi girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Atsugewi mothers traditionally carried their babies in baby baskets.

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

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

The Atsugewis didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Atsugewi women wore woven basket hats. The Atsugewis didn't usually paint their faces, but they did wear tribal tattoo designs. Women tattooed lines on their chins, while men tattooed their arms. Atsugewi women sometimes wore beaded necklaces, and Atsugewi men wore shell jewelry in their pierced ears and noses.

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

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

What was Atsugewi food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Atsugewis were fishing people. Atsugewi 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 a pit trap. These hunting pits may have been the source of the English name "Pit River." Atsugewi women gathered acorns and ground them into meal, as well as collecting berries and roots. Here is a website with more information about Indian food.

What were Atsugewi weapons and tools like in the past?
Atsugewi hunters used bows and arrows. Atsugewi fishermen used nets and basket fish traps. The Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi arts and crafts like?
Atsugewi artists are known for their fine basketweaving. Here is a picture of a beautiful Atsugewi basket.

What is Atsugewi music like?
Traditional Atsugewi music is very rhythmic, using clapper sticks, rattles, and hand drums to create complex beats. In modern times Atsugewi 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 Atsugewi tribe interact with?
The Achumawi tribe has always been the closest ally of the Atsugewis. These tribes often got together for feasts and ceremonies, and sometimes intermarried. Other nearby tribes who were important trading partners to the Atsugewis were the Shasta and Paiute. The Atsugewi people were not very fond of the Modocs, who were powerful warriors and sometimes raided Atsugewi villages.

What kinds of stories do the Atsugewis tell?
There are lots of traditional Atsugewi legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Atsugewi Indian culture. Here is a story about the origin of flint. Here's a website where you can read more about Atsugewi myths.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Atsugewi culture and history, one interesting source for kids is Atsugewi 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 the best 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 Atsugewi Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Atsugewi Tribe

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

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

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

Atsugewi Words
Atsugewi Indian vocabulary lists.

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