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Pawnee Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Pawnee Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Pawnee 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 Pawnee pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




   Pawnee Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Pawnee"? What does it mean?
Pawnee is pronounced "paw-nee." This was an English form of the Sioux name for the tribe.

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

How is the Pawnee Indian nation organized?
The Pawnees live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Pawnee Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Pawnees are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Pawnee band was led by a chief and a tribal council. Pawnee chiefs were always men, but they usually passed their position on to their sister's children, not their own children. Today, the Pawnee tribe is governed by councilmembers who are elected by all the tribal members.

What language do the Pawnee Indians speak?
Most Pawnee people speak English today. However, some Pawnees, especially elders, also speak their native Pawnee language. If you'd like to know an easy Pawnee word, "Nawah" (pronounced nah-wah) is a friendly greeting.

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

How do Pawnee 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 Pawnee 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 Pawnee mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradle-board on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

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

What were Pawnee homes like in the past?
Most Pawnee Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Pawnee lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. When the Pawnee tribe went on hunting trips, they used buffalo-hide tipis (or teepees) as temporary shelter, similar to camping tents. 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 Pawnees live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Pawnee clothing like? Did the Pawnees wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Pawnee women wore deerskin skirts and poncho-like blouses. Pawnee men wore breechcloths and leather leggings. Men did not usually wear shirts, but warriors sometimes wore special buckskin war shirts. The Pawnees wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. A Pawnee lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with beadwork and painted designs. Later, Pawnee people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

Pawnee Indian leaders sometimes wore the long Native American headdresses that Plains Indians are famous for. More often, Pawnee men shaved their heads except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair in back) and wore a porcupine roach on top. Pawnee women wore their hair either loose or braided. The Pawnees also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Pawnee 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 Pawnee transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Pawnee Indians didn't live near the ocean. When they traveled over land, the Pawnees used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Here's a website with pictures of travois. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Pawnee food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Pawnees were farming people. Pawnee women raised crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. The men worked together to hunt buffalo and antelopes. Originally, Pawnee hunters would drive buffalo onto marshy land where it was easier to shoot them, but once they acquired horses, they hunted buffalo from horseback. Here is a website with more information about Native American farming.

What were Pawnee weapons and tools like in the past?
Pawnee hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Pawnee men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and spears. Here is a website with pictures of Native American weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Pawnee tribe interact with?
The Pawnees traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau, such as the Comanche and Omaha. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Sign Language.

The Pawnees 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 Pawnees frequently fought with included the Apache, Kiowa and Sioux.

What are Pawnee arts and crafts like?
Pawnee artists are famous for their pottery, woven baskets, and hide paintings.

What kinds of stories do the Pawnees tell?
There are lots of traditional Pawnee legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Pawnee Indian culture. Here is one story about a Pawnee girl kidnapped by buffalo. Here's a website where you can read more about Pawnee myths.

What about Pawnee 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 Pawnee religious beliefs or this site about Native American religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk-Tales, a collection of Pawnee legends. Younger kids may like the traditional Pawnee story The Boy Who Loved Bears. If you want to know more about Pawnee culture and history, two good books for kids are The Pawnee Nation and The Pawnee. but because the Pawnees were the victims of a terrible massacre in 1864, this and other books covering the 1800's may be too intense for younger kids. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian 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 Pawnee Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Pawnees

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

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

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

Pawnee Indian Words
Pawnee Indian vocabulary lists.



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