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Shasta Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Shasta Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Shasta"? What does it mean?
Shasta is pronounced "shass-tah." Nobody knows exactly where this name came from, but it may have been the name of a particular tribal leader that was taken by settlers for the name of the tribe.

Where do the Shastas live?
The Shastas are original people of Northern California and southern Oregon. Most Shasta people still live there today.

How is the Shasta Indian nation organized? Do they live on a reservation?
The Shasta Tribe is not federally recognized by the United States. That means Shasta people don't have a reservation. They do have an elected tribal council. Although most Shasta people belong to the Shasta Tribe, not all of them do. Some Shasta people live on intertribal rancherias together with people from the Karok and Klamath tribes. Others live separately in Northern California towns.

In the past, each Shasta village was led by a chief or headman, who was chosen by the medicine man (usually from among the last chief's relatives.) Today, each Shasta group is governed by a tribal council elected by its residents.

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

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

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How do Shasta Indian children live? What games and toys do the Shastas have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Shasta 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 Shasta game was shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. Both men and women played forms of shinny. Shasta girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Shasta mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs.

What were Shasta homes like in the past?
The Shastas lived in earthen lodges, also known as pit houses. Usually these houses were made from a 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, Shasta houses appeared smaller than they really were. Here are some pictures of a pit house like the ones Shasta Indians used. Today, most Shastas live in modern houses and apartments, just like you.

What was Shasta clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Shasta men wore short wraparound kilts, buckskin shirts, and, in colder weather, leather leggings. Shasta women wore sleeveless blouses and long skirts made of deerskin and grasses decorated with beads. The Shastas wore moccasins while hunting or traveling, though they usually went barefoot in their own villages. Here are some pictures of Native American clothing for you to look at.

The Shastas didn't wear long war bonnets like the Sioux. For dances and ceremonies, Shasta men sometimes wore elaborate headbands decorated with flicker feathers, like this. Shasta women wore woven basket caps, and both genders wore long strands of beaded necklaces. The Shastas painted their faces for special occasions, and also wore Native American tribal tattoos on their faces and bodies.

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

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

What was Shasta food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Shastas were hunter-gatherers. Shasta men hunted deer and small game and went fishing in the rivers and lakes. Shasta women gathered acorns and ground them into meal, as well as collecting berries, nuts, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native Indians food.

What were Shasta weapons and tools like in the past?
Shasta hunters used bows and arrows. Shasta fishermen used nets and basket fish traps. The Shasta didn't go to war very often, but they used their bows to defend their villages from raids by other tribes. Here are pictures and information about the Indian bows and arrows and other traditional weapons.

What are Shasta arts and crafts like?
Shasta artists are known for their twined baskets. Here is a picture of a Shasta basket.

What other Native Americans did the Shasta tribe interact with?
The Shastas engaged in regular trade with other Northern California tribes, especially the Wintu and Pit River tribes. Sometimes these tribes fought against each other, but when they did, they usually resolved the matter quickly and returned to being trading partners. The Shasta people were not very fond of the Modoc tribe, who were powerful warriors and sometimes raided Shasta villages.

What kinds of stories do the Shastas tell?
There are lots of traditional Shasta legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Shasta Indian culture. Here is a story about how Mount Shasta became a volcano. Here's a website where you can read more about Shasta legends.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Shasta culture and history, one interesting source for kids is Shasta Tribe. Older readers may enjoy The Morning The Sun Went Down, a book of oral history narrated by several Shasta elders. 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 Indian culture 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 Shasta Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Shasta Tribe

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

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

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

Shasta Words
Shasta Indian vocabulary lists.

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