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Mandan Indian Fact Sheet

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




   Mandan Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Mandan"? What does it mean?
Mandan is pronounced "man-dan." This came from the name of the tribe in the neighboring Sioux language.

Where do the Mandans live?
The Mandan Indians are original people of North Dakota. Most Mandan people are still living in North Dakota today.

How is the Mandan Indian nation organized?
The Mandans share a single nation with the Hidatsa 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 Mandans are also US citizens and must obey American law.

What language do the Mandan Indians speak?
The Mandan people speak English today. Their native Mandan language is still spoken today by only one elder. Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara speakers cannot understand each other's languages, so the three languages have been declining since the tribes merged. However, some Mandan people are working to keep their language alive. If you'd like to know an easy Mandan word, "mihapmak" (pronounced mee-hop-mock) is a friendly greeting.

What was Mandan 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 Mandan people in the past and today.

How do Mandan 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 Mandan 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 Mandan mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with pictures of Native American cradle boards.

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

What were Mandan homes like in the past?
The Mandan Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Mandan lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. When Mandan 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 Mandans were not migratory people, and did not use tall teepees for their regular houses. 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 Mandans live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Mandan clothing like? Did the Mandans wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Mandan women wore long deerskin dresses. Mandan men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. The Mandans wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. A Mandan 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.

Mandan Indian leaders sometimes wore the long Native American warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for, decorated with buffalo horns and ermine tails. Mandan men and women both wore their hair as long as possible, sometimes down to their knees. Traditionally, Mandan 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 Indian hair style pictures. The Mandans painted their faces different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Mandan women wore tribal tattoos on their chins, and unlike most Plains Indian men, some Mandan men wore beards.

Today, some Mandan 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 Mandan transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Mandan 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 Mandans used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Here's a website with pictures of Indian dog travois. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Mandan food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Mandans were farming people. Mandan women 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 Mandans 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 American Indian food.

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

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

The Mandans 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 Mandans frequently fought with included the Dakota Sioux and Shoshones.

What are Mandan arts and crafts like?
Mandan artists are famous for their native beadwork, pottery, and hide paintings. Here is a museum website with photographs of a Mandan buffalo hide painting.

What kinds of stories do the Mandans tell?
There are lots of traditional Mandan legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Mandan Indian culture. Here is one story about why Mandan women carry baskets.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy 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 Mandan culture and history, two good books for kids are Mandan Lifeways and The Mandans. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

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 Mandan Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Mandans

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

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

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

Mandan Indian Words
Mandan Indian vocabulary lists.



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