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Otoe Indian Fact Sheet

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

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   Otoe Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Otoe"? What does it mean?
Otoe is pronounced "oh-toh." It is probably a shortened version of a place name or band name in their own language, but it's no longer clear which one.

Where do the Otoes live?
The Otoe Indians are original people of Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa. The Otoe tribe was forced to move to a reservation in Oklahoma during the 1800's, and most Otoe people are still living in Oklahoma today.

How is the Otoe Indian nation organized?
The Otoes share a single nation with the Missouri tribe. According to legend, the Missouris and Otoes were once the same tribe, but split in half after a quarrel between two chiefs' families. Since then, the Missouris and Otoes 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 two tribes merged again.

Today the Otoes and Missouris live on a reservation in Oklahoma, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Otoe-Missouria tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Otoes are also US citizens and must obey American law.

What language do the Otoe Indians speak?
The Otoe people speak English today. In the past they spoke their native Chiwere language, which they shared with the neighboring Ioway and Missouri tribes. Only a few elders still remember the Chiwere language today. But some young Otoe people are working to learn their ancient language again. If you'd like to know an easy Otoe word, "aho" (pronounced ah-hoe) is a friendly greeting used by men and boys, and "aha" (pronounced ah-hah) is a greeting used by women and girls.

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

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How do Otoe 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 Otoe 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. Older boys also liked to play lacrosse. An Otoe mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradle board on her back. Here is a website of Indian cradle board pictures.

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

What were Otoe homes like in the past?
During the fall and winter, the Otoe Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Otoe lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. During the spring and summer, the Otoes moved from camp to camp as they followed the buffalo herds. During those times, the Otoes lived in buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). Tipis were carefully designed to set up and break down quickly. An entire Otoe village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Here are some pictures of these different types of tribal houses.

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

What was Otoe clothing like? Did the Otoes wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Otoe women wore deerskin skirts and poncho-like blouses. Otoe men wore breechcloths with leather leggings. Like most Native Americans, the Otoes wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with mocassin pictures. In cold weather, they also wore long buffalo-hide robes. Later, Otoe people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests. Here are some pictures of Plains Indian clothing (though Otoe men, unlike most Plains Indian men, tended to go shirtless.) And here are some photos and links about Native American Indian dress in general.

Otoe Indian men didn't traditionally wear long warbonnet headdresses like the Sioux. They often wore otter-skin turbans instead. Otoe warriors usually wore their hair in a Mohican hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on the back of their heads). Sometimes they added a porcupine roach to make this hairstyle more impressive. Otoe women wore their hair either loose or braided. Both men and women wore Indian tribal tattoos and also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Otoe 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 Otoe transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Otoe Indians didn't live near the ocean, and when they went fishing, they usually fished from shore. When they traveled over land, the Otoes used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Here is an article with pictures of dog travois. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Otoe food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Otoe Indians were big game hunters. During the spring and summer, the Otoe tribe followed the buffalo herds, and their diet consisted mostly of meat. In the fall, the Otoes returned to their villages to harvest corn, beans and squash. In the winter, they ate dried food, hunted small game, and fished in the rivers. Here is a website with more information about Native American hunting.

What were Otoe weapons and tools like in the past?
Otoe hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used fishing spears and basket traps. In war, Otoe men fired their bows or fought with clubs or tomahawks and hide shields. Here are pictures of Indian tomahawks and other traditional weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Otoe tribe interact with?
The closest Otoe ally was the Ioway tribe. These two tribes spoke the same language and sometimes intermarried. The Otoes also traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau, such as the Omaha and Ponca. These tribes usually communicated with each other using sign language.

The Otoes 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 Otoes frequently fought with included the Pawnee and Lakota.

What are Otoe arts and crafts like?
Otoe artists are famous for their wood sculptures, native beadwork, and parfleche (decorated rawhide containers.) Here are some photographs of Ioway-Otoe beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Otoes tell?
There are lots of traditional Otoe legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Otoe Indian culture. Here is the saga of two mythical Iowa-Otoe brothers. It is very long, but perhaps your class might like to read just the first section.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books about the Otoe tribe written specifically for kids. The Otoe-Missouria People is a good book on Otoe culture and history for older readers. You can also browse through our recommendations of books about Native American history 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 Otoe Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Otoes

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

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

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

Otoe Words
Otoe Indian vocabulary lists.

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