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Tolowa Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Tolowa Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Tolowa"? What does it mean?
Tolowa is pronounced "taw-law-wah." That is the name for their tribe in the language of their Yurok neighbors. In their own language, Tolowa people called themselves Deeni, which means "the people." Today, most of the people use the name "Tolowa" to refer to themselves.

Where do the Tolowas live?
The Tolowas are original people of Northern California and southwestern Oregon. Most Tolowa people still live there today.

How is the Tolowa Indian nation organized?
Most Tolowa people live on the Smith River Rancheria, which belongs to the Tolowa tribe and is under their control. The Tolowa tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. Other Tolowas live on rancherias or reservations together with Hoopa, Yurok, Wiyot, and Maidu Indians.

In the past, each Tolowa village was ruled by the wealthiest man in town. Today, since the rancherias are home to Indians from many different tribes, they are ruled by tribal councils which are elected by all the residents.

What language do the Tolowas speak?
The Tolowas speak English today. Some elderly people also speak their native Tolowa language. If you'd like to know an easy Tolowa word, "Dv-laa-ha~'" (pronounced duh-lah-hahn) is a friendly greeting. Here is a Tolowa picture glossary you can look at.

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

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

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How do Tolowa Indian children live? What games and toys do the Tolowas have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Tolowa 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 Tolowa game was the hand game. Players held marked sticks behind their backs and gambled as they guessed the location of each stick. Another Tolowa game is shinny, which is an athletic sport similar to lacrosse and rugby. Both men and women played forms of shinny. Tolowa girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Tolowa mothers traditionally carried their babies in baby baskets. Here are some pictures of Native American baby baskets.

What were Tolowa homes like in the past?
The Tolowas lived in rectangular redwood-plank houses with pitched roofs and chimneys. Usually these buildings were large and an extended family lived in each one. Here are some pictures of a plank house like the ones Tolowa Indians used. Today, most Tolowas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Tolowa clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Tolowa men didn't usually wear clothes, though they sometimes did wear short kilts. Tolowa women wore longer skirts made of deerskin and grasses decorated with shells and beads. Shirts were not necessary in the Tolowa culture, but both men and women wore ponchos or deerskin robes in cool or rainy weather. The Tolowas wore Native moccasins on their feet. Here are some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Tolowas didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. For dances and ceremonies, Tolowa men sometimes wore special headdresses decorated with flicker feathers, like this. In daily life, Tolowa women wore woven basket caps, and men sometimes wore a deerskin headband. The Tolowas painted their faces for dances and special occasions. They also wore American Indian tattoo designs. Women tattooed lines on their chins, and men tattooed their arms. The Tolowas often wore strands of beaded necklaces around their necks. Tolowa men wore shell jewelry in their pierced noses, as well.

Today, some Tolowa people still wear moccasins or shell jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of kilts.

What was Tolowa transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Tolowa tribe made dugout canoes by hollowing out redwood logs. A Tolowa canoe could be more than thirty feet long. The Tolowa tribe used canoes to travel up and down the coast of California for trading, fishing and hunting. Here is a website with pictures of Native American wooden canoes. Canoeing is still popular among California Indians, though few people carve a dugout canoe by hand anymore. Today, of course, Tolowa people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Tolowa food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Tolowas were fishing people. Tolowa men caught fish and mollusks from their canoes. They also hunted sea lions, birds, and small game. Tolowa women gathered acorns and ground them into meal, as well as collecting seaweed, berries, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about typical Indian foods.

What were Tolowa weapons and tools like in the past?
Tolowa hunters used bows and arrows. Tolowa fishermen used nets and spears. The Tolowa didn't go to war very often. When they did, they usually fired arrows at their opponents. But occasionally Tolowa men would fight duels with each other using war clubs (usually not to the death.) Here is a website of pictures and information about the weapons of Native America.

What are Tolowa arts and crafts like?
Tolowa artists are known for their native baskets. Here is a picture of a beautiful Tolowa basket hat.

What other Native Americans did the Tolowa tribe interact with?
The Tolowas had close ties with neighboring Northern California tribes such as the Hupa, Karok, and Yurok. These tribes traded with each other, invited each other to festivals, and sometimes intermarried. Occasionally they fought with each other, but usually they settled their disputes quickly and returned to being allies.

What kinds of stories do the Tolowas tell?
There are lots of traditional Tolowa legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Tolowa Indian culture. Here is a story about the beginning of the world. Here's a website where you can read more about Tolowa myths.

What about Tolowa religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Tolowa life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Tolowa people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Tolowa 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 Tolowa culture and history, one interesting source is Tolowa Tribe. Older readers may enjoy Understanding Tolowa Histories, a more complicated book about Tolowa Native culture through the years. 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 Native American fiction. 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 Tolowa Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Tolowa Tribe

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

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

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

Tolowa Words
Tolowa Indian vocabulary lists.

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