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Makah Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Makah Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Makah"? What does it mean?
Makah is pronounced "muh-kaw." This is an English pronunciation of a neighboring tribe's name for them, which means "generous ones." Their own name for themselves is longer and harder to pronounce, Qwiqwidicciat (which means "people of the point.")

Where do the Makahs live?
The Makah Indians are original people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. They live in Washington state.

How is the Makah Indian nation organized?
The Makahs live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Makah Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Makahs are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Makah village was led by its own local chief or headman, who was always a high-ranking clan leader. Today, the Makah Indians are governed by a tribal council elected by all the people.

What language do the Makah Indians speak?
Makah people all speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Makah language. Nobody speaks this language fluently anymore, but there are still elders who know how to speak some Makah, and some young people are working on learning their ancestors' language again.

Makah is a complicated language with very long words and many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know a couple of easy Makah words, ho' (rhymes with "go") means "yes," and wiki∙ (pronounced wih-kee) means "no." You can also read a Makah picture dictionary here.

What was Makah culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Makah Nation in Washington. There you can find information about the Makah tribe in the past and today.

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How do Makah Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Makah 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 early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. Like many Native Americans, Makah mothers traditionally carried their babies in baby boards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Makah tribe?
Makah women gathered plants, herbs and clams and did most of the child care and cooking. Men were hunters and fishermen and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. The Makah chief was always a man, but clan leaders could be either men or women.

What were Makah homes like in the past?
The Makahs lived in coastal villages of rectangular cedar-plank houses with flat roofs. Usually these houses were large (up to 60 feet long) and each one housed several familes from the same clan. Here are some pictures of a Native American house like the ones Makah Indians used. Today, old-fashioned buildings like these are still made from cedar wood, but they are only used for ceremonial purposes. Makah people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Makah clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Makah men didn't usually wear clothing at all, though some men wore breech-clouts. Women wore short skirts made of cedar bark or grass. In the rain, the Makahs wore tule rush capes, and in colder weather, they wore tunics, fur cloaks and moccasins on their feet. Later, after European influence, Makah people began wearing blanket robes. Here is a website on Makah and other Northwest Indian clothes, and some photos and links about Native American Indian clothes in general.

The Makahs didn't wear long headdresses like the Lakota. Instead, both men and women sometimes wore a basketry hat made of finely woven spruce root. The designs and patterns of these hats often displayed a person's status and family connections. Whalers' hats were especially elaborate. The Makahs painted their faces different colors for war, religious ceremonies, and festive occasions, and women often wore tattoo symbols. Makah women usually wore their hair in either one or two long braids, while men sometimes coiled theirs into a topknot. Like other Northwestern Indians, Makah men often wore mustaches and beards. Here is a website with pictures of Native American Indian hair.

Today, some Makah people still have a blanket cloak or basket hat, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths.

What was Makah transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Makah Indian tribe made large dugout canoes by hollowing out cedar logs. The Makah tribe used these canoes to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare. Here is a website of Native American boat pictures. Today, of course, Makah people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Makah food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Makah Indians were primarily marine hunters. Makah men hunted seals, sea lions, and even whales from their canoes. They also caught fish and hunted deer, birds, and small game on land. Makah women gathered clams and shellfish, berries, and roots. Here is a website with more information about Pacific Northwest food.

Is it true that the Makah tribe still goes whale hunting today?
Yes. The Makah tribe is the only Native American tribe whose treaties with the US government include whaling rights (because they are one of the few Native American tribes in the United States who had a tradition of whaling.) Because of that treaty, the Makah tribe is allowed to hunt one whale every year. This is a controversial situation to some people, but the Makahs believe that their whaling activities are sustainable and that whales became endangered because of white and Asian commercial whalers, not because of the small traditional hunts of the Makah tribe. Here is the Makah tribe's page about their whale hunts.

What were Makah weapons and tools like in the past?
Makah hunters used harpoons tipped with mussel shells and bows and arrows. Fishermen used hook and line or wooden fish traps. In war, Makah men fired their bows or fought with spears and war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and information about Native American war clubs and other traditional weapons. Makah warriors would also wear armor made of hardened elk hide.

What are Makah arts and crafts like?
Makah artists are known for their fine Native American basketry and wood-carving arts, including wooden masks and totem carvings. Here is an online museum exhibit of Makah baskets.

What other Native Americans did the Makah tribe interact with?
The Makahs traded regularly with the neighboring tribes of the Washington coast, particularly the Klallam and Quileute. Other tribes especially liked to buy whale oil and other whale products from the Makahs, who accepted many other goods in return. The Makahs were not known as an especially warlike tribe, but they sometimes did fight with their neighbors or with other Makah villages.

What kinds of stories do the Makah Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Makah legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Makah Indian culture. Here is one Makah legend about a child who defeats an evil ogre woman. Here's a website where you can read more about Makah mythology.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not too many books for kids specifically about the Makah tribe. Younger kids may like Clamshell Boy, a picture book based on a Makah legend. Meet Lydia is an illustrated biography of a modern Tlingit girl which makes a great introduction to Northwest Coast Indian life in general. If you want to know more about Makah culture and history, two good books are The Makah and The Makah Indian Nation. You can also browse through our recommendations of 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 Makah Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Makah Tribe

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

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

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

Makah Indian Words
Makah Indian vocabulary lists.

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