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Paiute Indian Fact Sheet

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

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   Paiute Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Paiute"? What does it mean?
Paiute is pronounced "pie-yoot" (rhymes with "boot.") This comes from a word meaning "traveling back and forth" in their own language.

Where do the Paiutes live?
The Paiute Indians were far-ranging people. Different bands of Paiute Indians lived in what is now Nevada, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. Most Paiute people still live in these areas today.

How is the Paiute Indian nation organized?
There was never a centralized Paiute government. Each Paiute band was led by its own chief or headman. Today, there are more than twenty different Paiute tribes, and each one has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. Most of the Paiute tribes are located on their own reservations. (An Indian reservation is land that belongs to a tribe and is under their control.) Other Paiute people live on rancherias (small land allotments in California) or in towns and communities within their traditional territories.

In the past, Paiute chiefs and headmen were usually (though not always) male relatives of the previous leader. Today, Paiute bands have elected leadership, usually a tribal council and/or chairman. Some Paiute bands also continue to select headmen for ceremonial purposes.

What language do the Paiutes speak?
Most Paiute people speak English today. More than a thousand Paiutes, especially older people, also speak their native Paiute language. If you'd like to know a few easy Paiute words, Manahuu (pronounced similar to "ma-nah-hoo") is a friendly greeting. You can also read a Paiute picture glossary here.

What was Paiute culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepages of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and Burns Paiute Tribe of Oregon. On their sites you can find information about the Paiute people in the past and today.


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How do Paiute 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 Paiute 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. Paiute kids enjoyed footraces, and in some bands teenagers and adults played a ball game called shinny. Gambling games were also very popular among Paiutes. Adults wagered at dice or the hand game, which involved holding specially carved sticks out of the other player's sight and trying to guess their positions. Children had a stone-skipping game similar to marbles or jacks. A Paiute mother traditionally carried a young child in a baby board on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Paiute men and women's roles?
Paiute men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Paiute women did most of the child care, cooking, and cleaning, and also made most of the clothing and household tools. Paiute chiefs were nearly always men, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Paiute homes like in the past?
Most Western Paiute Indians lived in wickiups. Wickiups are small round or cone-shaped houses made of a willow frame covered with brush. Eastern Paiute people preferred Plains-style tipis. Tipis (or teepees) are tall, tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses that can be put together or taken apart quickly, like a modern tent. An entire Paiute village could be packed up and ready to move on within an hour. Here are some pictures of tipis, wickiups, and other Native American houses.

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

What was Paiute clothing like? Did the Paiutes wear feather headdresses and face paint?
In some communities Paiute women wore long deerskin dresses, while in others they wore shorter skirts and poncho-like shirt. Paiute men wore breechcloths with leather leggings, and in colder weather, buckskin shirts. Some Paiute people wore Indian moccasins, but others wore sandals made of yucca fiber or simply went barefoot. A Paiute lady's dress or warrior's shirt was sometimes fringed or decorated with beadwork, shells, and elk teeth. Later, Paiute people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with beading and traditional ornaments. Here is a website with more information about Indian clothing in general.

Paiute men did not originally wear Plains war bonnets like the Sioux, but in the 1800's some Paiute leaders adopted this custom from their Plains Indian neighbors. Paiute women sometimes wore basket hats. Traditionally, Paiute people only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Paiute men and women both wore their hair either loose or in two braids. Some Northern Paiutes wore facial tribal tattoos, and many Paiute people also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Paiute 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 Paiute transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Paiute Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built rafts. Some Paiute bands did use reed boats to go fishing in the lakes. Originally the Paiutes used dog travois (a kind of drag sled pulled by dogs) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Paiutes could travel quicker and further.

What was Paiute food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Paiutes were hunter-gatherers, and moved from place to place frequently as they gathered food for their families. Paiute men hunted deer, elk, buffalo, and small game, and went fishing in the rivers and lakes. Paiute women gathered roots, pine nuts, seeds and fruits. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native American food.

What were Paiute weapons and tools like in the past?
Paiute hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used spears, nets, or wooden fish traps. In war, Paiute men fired their arrows or used war spears and buffalo-hide shields. Here is a website of pictures and information about ancient American Indian weapons.

What are Paiute arts and crafts like?
Different Paiute bands specialized in different types of art, some of which included Indian baskets, beadwork, and pottery. Here is a website showing photographs of some Ute and Paiute beadwork.

What other Native Americans did the Paiute tribe interact with?
The different Paiute tribes interacted most closely with one another, and also with their kinfolk the Bannocks, Shoshones and the Paiutes. These tribes traded with each other, assisted each other during disasters, and sometimes intermarried. Paiute bands sometimes also fought wars with other Native Americans, either amongst themselves or against neighboring tribes such as the Blackfoot in the north or the Navajo in the south.

What kinds of stories do the Paiutes tell?
There are lots of traditional Paiute legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Paiute Indian culture. Here is one story about Coyote and the Sun. Here's a website where you can read more about Paiute legends.

What about Paiute 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 Paiute religious traditions or this site about American Indian religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you'd like to learn more about Paiute culture and history, one good source for kids is Paiute. You might also enjoy reading a biography of the Paiute leader Sarah Winnemucca, such as Voice of the Paiutes. Older readers may be interested in Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage, a more in-depth look at Paiute culture and traditions. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native 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 Paiute Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Paiutes

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

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

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

Paiute Words
Paiute Indian vocabulary lists.



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