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Wiyot Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Wiyot Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Wiyot"? What does it mean?
Wiyot is pronounced "WEE-yot." This was their word for Eel River, which was part of their territory. Sometimes it is spelled Weott instead.

Where do the Wiyots live?
The Wiyot Indians are original people of Northern California. Their surviving descendents still live there today.

How is the Wiyot Indian nation organized?
Wiyot descendents live together with Yurok, Hoopa, Tolowa, and Mattole Indians on four rancherias. Rancherias are small parcels of land that California Indians have partial control over. Each rancheria has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. However, the Wiyots are still US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Wiyot village was ruled by a headman, similar to a mayor. 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 Wiyot Indians speak?
The Wiyot people speak English today. The last native speaker of the Wiyot language died in 1962. But some younger people are trying to learn the language again. If you'd like to know an easy Wiyot word, "He'ba'lo'" (pronounced similar to hay-bah-loh) is a friendly greeting. You can also see a Wiyot picture dictionary here.

Why are there so few Wiyot people today?
In 1860, a murderer named Hank Larrabee attacked the Wiyot women and children during a religious ceremony while the Wiyot men were away. He and his followers killed almost all of them. After this massacre, the Wiyot tribe had to merge with other California Indians like the Yurok and the Hoopa to survive.

What was Wiyot culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Wiyot Tribe's homepage, where you can find information about the Wiyot Indians past and present.

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How do Wiyot Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Wiyot 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 early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. One Wiyot game was the stick game. Players held marked sticks behind their backs and gambled as they guessed the location of each stick. Like many California Indians, Wiyot mothers traditionally carried their babies in baby baskets. Here is a website of Indian baby basket pictures.

What were Wiyot homes like in the past?
The Wiyots lived in rectangular redwood-plank houses with pitched roofs and chimneys. Usually these houses were large and several families would share one. Here are some pictures of Indian homes like the ones Wiyot Indians used. Today, Wiyot people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Wiyot clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Wiyot men wore a deerskin loincloth. Wiyot women wore long grass skirts decorated with shells and beads. Shirts were not necessary in the Wiyot culture, but both men and women wore ponchos or deerskin robes in cool or rainy weather. The Wiyots wore sandals or moccasins on their feet and strands of shell necklaces around their necks. Here are some photos and links about Native American costume in general.

The Wiyots didn't wear Indian war bonnet headdresses like the Sioux. Wiyot women wore woven basket caps, and warriors sometimes wore a deerskin headband decorated with woodpecker scalps. The Wiyots didn't paint their faces, but women tattooed lines on their chins.

Today, some Wiyot people still wear moccasins or shell jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths or grass skirts.

What was Wiyot transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Wiyot Indian tribe made dugout canoes by hollowing out redwood logs. A Wiyot canoe could be more than thirty feet long. The Wiyot tribe used these canoes to travel up and down the coast of California for trading, fishing and hunting. Here is a website of dugout canoe pictures. Today, of course, Wiyot people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Wiyot food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Wiyot Indians were fishing people. Wiyot men caught fish and mollusks from their canoes. They also hunted sea lions, deer, and small game. Wiyot women gathered acorns and ground them into meal, as well as collecting berries and roots. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Wiyot weapons and tools like in the past?
Wiyot hunters used bows and arrows. Wiyot fishermen used spears, nets, and wooden fish traps. The Wiyot tribe didn't go to war very often, but sometimes men would fight duels using clubs and hide shields. Here is a website of pictures and information about American Indian weapons.

What are Wiyot arts and crafts like?
Wiyot artists are known for their fine basket making and wood sculpture. Here is a picture of a beautiful Wiyot basket.

What other Native Americans did the Wiyot tribe interact with?
The Wiyot were not as active in trading as some of their northern California neighbors, and very rarely fought with other tribes. They mostly kept to themselves. They were on friendly terms with the nearby Yurok tribe, though. The Wiyots and Yuroks traded with each other and sometimes shared food.

What kinds of stories do the Wiyot Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Wiyot legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Wiyot Indian culture. Here is one Wiyot legend about why owls live in the dark. Here's a website where you can read more about Wiyot stories.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
I don't know of any children's books written by Wiyot authors or specifically about the Wiyot tribe. 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. There are two good books for kids on the Yurok tribe, who areclose kinfolk of the Wiyot: Yurok Tribe and Yurok. Weaving A California Tradition is a charming book about a contemporary Mono girl learning to weave baskets--an art form also important to the Wiyot people. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American 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 Wiyot Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Wiyot Tribe

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

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

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

Wiyot Words
Wiyot Indian vocabulary lists.

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