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Miwok Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Miwok Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Miwok"? What does it mean?
Miwok is pronounced "mee-wuck." That means "the people" in their own language.

Where do the Miwoks live?
The Miwoks are original people of Central California. Most Miwok people still live there today.

How is the Miwok Indian nation organized? Do they live on a reservation?
Most Miwok people live on rancherias, which are parcels of land in the state of California that are similar to reservations. There are five different Miwok rancherias, each with its own tribal leadership. Not all Miwok people today live on these rancherias, however. Some live in intertribal communities with members of other tribes, such as the Round Valley Reservation. Others live in Northern California towns.

In the past, each Miwok band was led by a chief. Miwok chiefs were almost always men. In some bands the chiefdom was hereditary, while in others, the chief was chosen by the clan elders. Today, each Miwok rancheria is governed by a tribal council elected by its residents. There is no centralized government controlling the different Miwok bands, and there never has been.

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

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


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How do Miwok Indian children live? What games and toys do the Miwoks have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Miwok 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 Miwok game was shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. Younger children played a skipping stone game similar to jacks. Miwok girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Miwok mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradle boards on their backs.

What were Miwok homes like in the past?
The Miwoks lived in tule houses. 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 mats woven from tule reeds, and packed with a mound of earth over it to keep it well insulated. Because they were partially underground, Miwok houses appeared smaller than they really were. Here are some pictures of different types of Indian buildings. Today, most Miwoks live in modern houses and apartments, just like you.

What was Miwok clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Miwok people didn't wear much clothing. Miwok men generally went naked, and Miwok women wore only short grass skirts. In mountain villages, though, women sometimes wore buckskin dresses instead and the men wore leggings and deerskin shirts. The Miwoks wore moccasins on their feet while hunting or traveling, though they usually went barefoot in their own villages. Here are some photos and links about Native American costume in general.

The Miwoks didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. For dances and ceremonies, Miwok men would wear special headbands made of flicker feathers, like this. The Miwoks did paint their faces for special occasions, but not for everyday life. They also wore tribal tattoos on their faces and necks. Miwok men wore shell jewelry in their pierced noses, and both genders wore earrings and beaded necklaces.

Today, some Miwok people still wear moccasins or beaded jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of grass skirts.

What was Miwok transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Miwok 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 with pictures of Indian dugout canoes. Canoeing is still popular among California Indians, though few people carve a dugout canoe by hand anymore. Today, of course, Miwok people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Miwok food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Miwoks were hunter-gatherers. Miwok men hunted deer and small game and caught fish in the rivers and lakes. Miwok women gathered acorns and ground them into meal to make bread and fruits, as well as collecting berries, nuts, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native American food.

What were Miwok weapons and tools like in the past?
Miwok hunters used bows and arrows and snares. Miwok fishermen used nets and spears. Miwok warriors usually fired arrows at their enemies. Here is a website of pictures and information about the weapons of Native America.

What are Miwok arts and crafts like?
Miwok artists are known for their fine basketry. Here are pictures of some Miwok baskets.

What other Native Americans did the Miwok tribe interact with?
The different Miwok villages traded and intermarried primarily with one another, but they also had friendly relations with many of their neighbors. The closest traditional ally of the Sierra Miwok was the Maidu tribe, and the closest ally of the Coast Miwok was the Ohlone tribe.

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

What about Miwok religion?
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 Miwok religious traditions, or this site about Native American religious belief in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Miwok culture and history, two interesting sources for kids are Miwok and Eastern Miwok Tribe. Younger readers may enjoy Lord of the Animals, a picture book based on a Miwok Indian myth. Two good books for kids on California Indians in general are California Native Peoples and Native Ways; a more in-depth book for older readers is Tribes of California. You can also browse through our recommendations of American Indians 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 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Miwok Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Miwok Tribe

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

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

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

Miwok Words
Miwok Indian vocabulary lists.



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