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Klamath Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Klamath Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Klamath"? What does it mean?
Klamath is pronounced "clam-uth." This word probably comes from the word for "river" in the language of the Chinook tribe. The Klamath people called themselves Maklak, which means "the people," but today most of them refer to themselves as Klamath.

Where do the Klamaths live?
The Klamaths are original people of Northern California and southern Oregon. Most Klamath people still live there today.

How is the Klamath Indian nation organized?
Most Klamath people live on a reservation in Oregon, which belongs to the Klamath tribe and is under their control. The Klamath tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. Other Klamaths live on rancherias together with Wiyot, Hupa, Tolowa, and Maidu Indians. Rancherias are small parcels of land that California Indians have partial control over.

In the past, each Klamath band was led by a chief. Klamath chiefs were usually chosen by a council of elders based on their leadership skills and the importance of their families. Today, the Klamath tribe is governed by a tribal council elected by its residents.

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

What was Klamath culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Klamath Tribe's homepage. On their site you can find information about the Klamath people in the past and today.

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How do Klamath Indian children live? What games and toys do the Klamaths have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Klamath 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 popular Klamath game was the hand game. Players held marked sticks behind their backs and gambled as they guessed the location of each stick. Another Klamath game was shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. Younger children played games trying to catch a ring on a pin or balance a ball on a stick. Klamath girls often played with dolls. Like many Native Americans, Klamath mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradle baskets like this one.

What were Klamath homes like in the past?
The Klamaths lived in earth lodges. 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 brush and packed with a mound of earth over it to keep it well insulated. Because they were partially underground, Klamath houses appeared smaller than they really were. Here are some pictures of different types of Native American buildings. Today, most Klamaths live in modern houses and apartments, just like you.

What was Klamath clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Klamath men wore short wraparound kilts made of deerskin. Klamath women wore longer skirts made of buckskin and plant fiber, decorated with beads. Shirts were not necessary in Klamath culture, but in cool or rainy weather, both genders wore deerskin ponchos and leggings made of woven tule. The Klamaths wore sandals or moccasins on their feet. Here are some photos and links about American Indian dress in general.

The Klamaths didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux tribes. Klamath women wore woven basket caps, and sometimes beaded necklaces. The Klamaths painted their faces different colors for festivities, war, and everyday life. Some Klamath men also wore tribal tattoos on their arms.

Today, some Klamath people still wear moccasins or beaded jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of kilts.

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

What was Klamath food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Klamaths were fishing people. Klamath men used nets and fish traps to catch many different types of fish in the rivers and lakes. They also hunted deer and small game. Klamath women gathered berries, nuts, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native American cuisine.

What were Klamath weapons and tools like in the past?
Klamath hunters used bows and arrows. Klamath fishermen used nets, spears, and basket fish traps. Klamath warriors fired arrows at their opponents or fought with war clubs. They also wore armor and shields made of elk hide, and once horses were introduced, they became skilled at fighting from horseback. Here is a website of pictures and information about the Indian war club and other traditional weapons.

What are Klamath arts and crafts like?
Klamath artists are known for their
traditional baskets. Here is an online gallery of Klamath basket art.

What other Native Americans did the Klamath tribe interact with?
The Modoc tribe has always been the closest ally of the Klamaths. The Klamaths were known as powerful warriors and often raided the villages of neighbors such as the Shasta and Pit River tribes. At other times, however, they traded peacefully with these tribes.

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

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids about the Klamath tribe. One good resource about Klamath culture and history for older readers is is The Klamath Tribe: A People and their Reservation. Tribes of California is a good book on California Indians in general, including information on the Klamaths. The book Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest contains folklore from the Klamath tribe and their neighbors. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American stories for kids. 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 Klamath Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Klamath Tribe

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

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

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

Klamath Words
Klamath Indian vocabulary lists.

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