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Kansa Indian Fact Sheet

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




   Kansa Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Kansa"? What does it mean?
Kansa is pronounced "kan-zuh." It comes from their own tribal name for themselves, which means "south wind people." This name is often spelled Kanza instead. Many Kansa people simply call themselves Kaw, which is a shortened form of the same name. Any of these spellings are correct. The Kansa language was originally unwritten, so spellings of Kansa words in English sometimes vary a lot.

Where do the Kansa Indians live?
The Kansa Indians are original people of Kansas and Missouri. Most Kansa people were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800's along with many other tribes, and their descendants are still living there today.

How is the Kansa Indian tribe organized?
The Kaw Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Kansa are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Kansa band was led by a chief who was chosen by a tribal council. Today, the Kaw Nation is governed by councilmembers who are elected by all the tribal members.

What language do the Kansa Indians speak?
The Kansa people speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Kansa language. Although there are no native speakers of Kansa any more, some young people are working to learn their ancient language again. If you'd like to know an easy Kansa word, "ho" (pronounced like the English word "hoe") is a friendly greeting used by men and boys, and "hawe" (pronounced hah-way) is a greeting used by women and girls.

What was Kansa culture like in the old days? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma. On their site you can find information about the Kansa people in the past and today.

How do Kansa 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 Kansa 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. A Kansa mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with cradleboard pictures.

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

What were Kansa homes like in the past?
The Kansa Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. These lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. Kansa houses were very large (more than fifty feet across) and several families shared the same lodge. When Kansa 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, Kansa families did not normally live in teepees. Here are some pictures of lodges, tipis, and other Indian houses.

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

What was Kansa clothing like? Did the Kansas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Kansa women wore wraparound skirts and deerskin shawls. Kansa men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. The Kansas Indians wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. A Kansa warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills and fancy beadwork. Later, Kansa people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, decorating them with beadwork as well. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Kansa Indian leaders didn't normally wear long warbonnets like the Sioux. More often, a Kansa man would wear his hair in the Mohawk style or shave his head completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of his head). Sometimes a Kansa warrior would add a porcupine roach to make this hairstyle more impressive. Kansa women wore their hair either loose or braided. Here is a website with pictures of Native American hair. The Kansas wore tribal tattoos and also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Kansa 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 Kansa transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Kansa 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 Kansas used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Kansa food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Kansas had a varied diet. Kansa men worked together to hunt buffalo, and also shot deer and other small game. Kansa women raised crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. The Kansas also gathered wild foods such as potatoes, roots, and berries. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native food.

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

What other Native Americans did the Kansa tribe interact with?
The Kansas traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Sign Language. The Kansas 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 Kansas frequently fought with included the Pawnee, Cheyenne, and Osage.

What are Kansa arts and crafts like?
Kansa artists are famous for their native weaving, beadwork, and hide paintings. Here is a museum website with photographs of Kaw beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Kansas tell?
There are lots of traditional Kansa legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Kansa Indian culture. Here is a Kansa story about the creation of the world. Here's a website where you can read more about Kansa mythology.

What about Kansa 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 the sweat lodgeused by Kaw, Omaha and other tribes, or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
I don't know of any books about the Kansa tribe written specifically for kids. The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People is a good book on Kansa culture and history that may be useful for you. You can also browse through our general American Indian 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 Kansa Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Kansas

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

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

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

Kansa Words
Kansa Indian vocabulary lists.



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