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Ponca Indian Fact Sheet

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

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   Ponca Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Ponca"? What does it mean?
Ponca is pronounced "pong-kah," and it was the name of a tribal town.

Where do the Poncas live?
The Ponca Indians are original people of original people of Nebraska and South Dakota. The Northern Poncas are still living in Nebraska today, but the Southern Poncas were forced to move to a reservation in Oklahoma during the 1800's.

How is the Ponca Indian nation organized?
The Omahas live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Omaha Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Omahas are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Omaha band was led by a chief who was chosen by a tribal council. Today, the Omaha tribe is governed by a chairman and councilmembers who are elected by all the tribal members.

What language do the Ponca Indians speak?
Most Ponca people speak English today. However, many Poncas, especially elders, also speak their native Omaha-Ponca language, which they share with the neighboring Omaha tribe. If you'd like to know an easy Ponca word, "aho" (pronounced ah-hoe) is a friendly greeting.

Today Ponca is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Ponca people are working to keep their language alive.

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

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

What were Ponca homes like in the past?
The Hidatsa Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Hidatsa lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. When Hidatsa men went on hunting trips, they often used small buffalo-hide tipis (or teepees) as temporary shelter, similar to camping tents. Here are some pictures of a lodge like the ones Ponca people used.

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

What was Ponca clothing like? Did the Poncas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Ponca women wore long deerskin dresses. Ponca men wore breechcloths, leather leggings, and buckskin shirts. Here is a website with Indian breechcloth pictures. The Poncas wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. A Ponca lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills, beadwork, and white ermine fur. Later, Ponca people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with quillwork and fancy beading. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Plains Indian dress in general.

Ponca Indian leaders sometimes wore the long American Indian warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for, but feather caps were more traditional. Omaha women usually wore their hair in two long braids. Some Ponca men wore their hair long, like most of their Plains Indian neighbors. Others, especially warriors, shaved their heads except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads) and wore a porcupine roach. Here is a website with pictures of scalplocks. The Poncas wore tribal tattoos and also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Ponca 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 Ponca transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Ponca Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built bowl-shaped rafts called bullboats out of willow rods and buffalo hide. Over land, the Poncas used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Ponca food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Ponca Indians were farming people. Ponca women worked together to harvest crops of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. Men hunted deer and small game, fished in the rivers and lakes, and took part in seasonal buffalo hunts. Here is a website with more information about American Indian farms.

What were Ponca weapons and tools like in the past?
Ponca hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Ponca men fired their bows or fought with clubs or tomahawks and hide shields. Here are pictures and information about the Indian tomahawk and other traditional weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Ponca tribe interact with?
The Omahas traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau, especially the Pawnee and Wichita. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Indian Sign Language.

The Poncas 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. One tribe the Poncas frequently fought with was the Lakotas.

What are Ponca arts and crafts like?
Ponca artists are famous for their quilling art, beading, and pottery making. Here is a museum website with photographs of different Ponca art forms.

What kinds of stories do the Poncas tell?
There are lots of traditional Ponca legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Ponca Indian culture. Here is a Ponca story about Coyote getting himself into trouble. Here's a website where you can read more about Ponca stories.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Ponca culture and history, an excellent source is The Ponca Tribe. For a more dramatic read, Standing Bear Is a Person and Standing Bear and the Ponca Chiefs are two good books about the Ponca leader Standing Bear and his successful human rights court case establishing the legal personhood of American Indians. You can also browse through our recommendations of Indian history books 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 Ponca Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Poncas

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

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

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

Ponca Words
Ponca Indian vocabulary lists.

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