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Wintu Indian Fact Sheet (Wintun)

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

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    Wintu Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Wintu"? What does it mean?
Wintu is pronounced "win-too." That means "people" in their own language. It is often spelled Wintun instead. Like most Native American languages, the Wintu language was traditionally unwritten, so spellings of Wintu words in English sometimes vary a lot.

Where do the Wintus live?
The Wintus are California Native Americans. Most Wintu people still live in California today.

How is the Wintu Indian nation organized?
Each Wintu band has its own rancheria, which is a tribal village or parcel of land under the partial control of a tribe. Not all Wintu people live on these rancherias, however-- some Wintus live together with neighbors from other tribes in intertribal communities such as the Round Valley Reservation, and others live in nearby towns.

In the past, each Wintu village was independent and led by its own chief. There never was a centralized Wintu government, only a loose coalition between villages. This is still true today. Each Wintu rancheria has its own government, although today, they are led by elected tribal councils instead of a hereditary chief.

What language do the Wintus speak?
The Wintu speak English today. Some older people also speak their native Wintu language. If you'd like to know an easy Wintu word, "Ayukii" (pronounced ah-yoo-kee) is a friendly greeting. Here is a Wintu picture glossary you can look at.

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

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

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

What were Wintu homes like in the past?
The Wintus lived in earth lodges, also known as pit houses. Usually these houses were made from a cone-shaped frame of wooden poles placed over a basement-like hole dug into the ground. Then the frame would be covered with sheets of redwood bark. Because they were partially underground, Wintu houses appeared smaller than they really were. Here are some pictures of different types of pit house like the ones Wintu people used. Today, most Wintus live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Wintu clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Wintu men didn't usually wear clothes, though they sometimes did wear short deerskin kilts. Wintu women wore long grass skirts decorated with shells and beads. Shirts were not necessary in the Wintu culture, but both men and women wore ponchos or deerskin robes in cool or rainy weather. The Wintus usually went barefoot, but sometimes wore leather sandals while traveling. Here are some photos and links about the clothing of Native Americans in general.

The Wintus didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. For special occasions, like a dance, Wintu men might wear a special headdress decorated with woodpecker scalps. Wintu women wore woven basket caps. The Wintus didn't normally paint their faces, but women did wear tribal tattoo markings on their chins. Both genders wore earrings and long strands of beaded jewelry.

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

What was Wintu transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No, the Wintu people did not often travel by boat, and when they did, they normally used rafts. A few Wintu bands did make a type of reed boat from tule rushes. Today, of course, Wintu people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Wintu food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Wintus were hunter-gatherers. Wintu men hunted deer, rabbits, and small game, and caught fish in the rivers and lakes. Wintu women ground acorns into meal, as well as gathering berries, nuts, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native American foods.

What were Wintu weapons and tools like in the past?
Wintu hunters used bows and arrows. Wintu fishermen used nets and basket fish traps. The Wintu didn't go to war very often, and when they did, they usually shot arrows at their opponents instead of fighting them hand-to-hand. Here are pictures and information about the Indian arrows and other traditional weapons.

What are Wintu arts and crafts like?
Wintu artists are known for their native basketry. Here is a picture of a Wintu basket.

What other Native Americans did the Wintu tribe interact with?
The different Wintu villages interacted primarily with each other. Since each village was independent, they did a lot of trading, cooperating, and sometimes fighting with one another. But they also had good relationships with the neighboring Pomo and Shasta tribe. Sometimes these tribes fought battles with each other over territory or resources, but they usually resolved these fights quickly and returned to being trading partners.

What kinds of stories do the Wintus tell?
There are lots of traditional Wintu legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Wintu Indian culture. Here is a story about Coyote saving the world from a fire. Here's a website where you can read more about Wintun myths.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Wintu culture and history, one good source is Wintu Tribe. Older readers may enjoy In My Own Words, a book of oral history told by a Wintu elder. 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 Indian 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 Wintu Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Wintus

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

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

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

Wintun Words
Wintun Indian vocabulary lists.

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