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Hidatsa Indian Fact Sheet

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




   Hidatsa Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Hidatsa"? What does it mean?
Hidatsa is pronounced "hee-daht-sah," and it was the name of a tribal town.

Where do the Hidatsas live?
The Hidatsa Indians are original people of North and South Dakota. Most Hidatsa people are still living in North Dakota today.

How is the Hidatsa Indian nation organized?
The Hidatsas share a single nation with the Mandan and Arikara tribes. In the past, the Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras lived in separate villages and each had their own government and leadership. 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 Hidatsas, Mandans, and Arikaras 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 Hidatsas are also US citizens and must obey American law.

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

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

What was Hidatsa 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 Hidatsa people in the past and today.

How do Hidatsa 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 Hidatsa 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. Hidatsa girls and boys also enjoyed swimming. A Hidatsa mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with Native American cradle board pictures.

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

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

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

What was Hidatsa clothing like? Did the Hidatsas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Hidatsa women wore long deerskin dresses. Hidatsa men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. The Hidatsas wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. A Hidatsa warrior's shirt was fringed and covered with beadwork, porcupine quills, and feathers; a lady's dress was often decorated with elk's teeth and cowrie shells. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Hidatsa Indian leaders sometimes wore the long feathered warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for, decorated with buffalo horns and ermine tails. Hidatsa men and women both wore their hair as long as possible, sometimes down to their knees. Traditionally, Hidatsa people only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Both men and women usually kept their hair in two long braids, but sometimes left it long and loose for special occasions. Here is a website with pictures of Indian hair. The Hidatsas painted their faces different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Hidatsa women wore tribal tattoos on their chins, and unlike most Plains Indian men, some Hidatsa men wore beards.

Today, some Hidatsa people 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 Hidatsa transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Hidatsa Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built bowl-shaped rafts called bull-boats out of willow rods and buffalo hide. Over land, the Hidatsas used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Here is a website about dog travois. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Hidatsa food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Hidatsas were farming people. Hidatsa women from different families worked together to raise crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Men hunted deer and small game and took part in seasonal buffalo hunts. The Hidatsas 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 traditional Indian food.

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

What other Native Americans did the Hidatsa tribe interact with?
The Hidatsas traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau. They particularly liked to trade corn to tribes like the Kiowa and Lakota in exchange for buffalo hides and meat. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Sign Language.

The Hidatsas 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. Some tribes the Hidatsas frequently fought with included the Sioux and Shoshones.

What are Hidatsa arts and crafts like?
Hidatsa artists are famous for their quill embroidery, beadwork, and carving arts. Here is a photograph of a Hidatsa painted robe.

What kinds of stories do the Hidatsas tell?
There are lots of traditional Hidatsa legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Hidatsa Indian culture. Here is one story about how the Hidatsa corn ceremony began.

What about Hidatsa 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 Hidatsa religious beliefs or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Waheenee, an Indian Girl's Story, which is the interesting biography of a 19th-century Hidatsa girl, or An Indian Winter, which is a beautifully illustrated book about a 19th-century visit to a Mandan-Hidatsa village. If you want to know more about Hidatsa culture and history, one good book for kids is The Hidatsa. You can also browse through our Native American book list.

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 Hidatsa Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Hidatsas

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

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

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

Hidatsa Words
Hidatsa Indian vocabulary lists.



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