Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

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The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma are the original people of what is now Nebraska and northern Kansas. They were forced to move to a reservation in Indian Territory, Oklahoma in 1876.

Official Tribal Name: Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

Address:  881 Little Dee Dr., PO Box 470, Pawnee, OK  74058
Phone: 918-762-3621
Fax: 918-762-6446
Email:

Official Website: www.pawneenation.org

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Chatickas-si-Chaticks, meaning “men of men.”

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Region: Great Plains

State(s) Today: Oklahoma

Traditional Territory: Historically, the Pawnee lived along outlying tributaries of the Missouri River – the Platte, Loup and Republican rivers in present-day Nebraska and in northern Kansas.

Confederacy: The Pawnee Confederacy was divided into the following four bands:

  • Chaui (Tcawi) – generally recognized as being the leading band although each band was autonomous and as was typical of many Indian tribes each band saw to its own although with outside pressures from the Spanish, French and Americans, as well as neighboring tribes saw the Pawnee drawing closer together.
  • Kitkehahki (Republican)
  • Pitahauerat (Tappage)
  • Skidi (Wolf)

 

Treaties: The years 1818, 1825, 1833, 1848, 1857, and 1892 are significant years when the Pawnee ceded territory to the Americans and in 1857 they were settled in Nebraska, in 1875 they were finally moved to Indian Territory, Oklahoma.  Many Pawnee men joined the US cavalry as scouts rather than face the humiliation of reservation life and the inevitable loss of their freedom and culture. 

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The Wolf- The Plains Indians referred to the Pawnees as “Wolves” due to their cunning and courage.

The Banner- “Chaticks si Chaticks” in Pawnee Language, means “Men of Men”

Sprigs of Cedar- The Pawnee use cedar in sacred ceremonies and in prayer. It is a token of prayer and peace.

The Morning Star- The Morning Star symbolizes God. The Skidi believed that this star is where God lived.

The Peace Pipe and Tomahawk- The Peace Pipe standing for peace and the Tomahawk for war. Pawnee Colors – Red for Courage. White for Purity. Blue for Truth.

The original Seal was designed by Brummett Echohawk.

Population at Contact: In 1780 the Pawnee are thought to have numbered around 10,000, but by the 19th century, epidemics of smallpox and cholera wiped out most of the Pawnee, reducing the population to approximately 600 by the year 1900.

Registered Population Today: As of 2002, there were approximately 2500 Pawnee. 

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Government: The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 established the Pawnee Business Council, the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council, and a tribal constitution, bylaws, and charter.

Charter:  Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 
Name of Governing Body:  Pawnee Business Council
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Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes: Wichita Indians 

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The Pawnee ranged from Nebraska to Mexico and, when not fighting among themselves, fought with almost every other Plains tribe at one time or another. Regarded as “aliens” by many other tribes, the Pawnees were distinctively different from most of their friends and enemies.

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Modern Day Events & Tourism: Pawnee Homecoming for Pawnee veterans in July

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The Pawnee lived in permanent earth lodge villages where they farmed. They left the villages on seasonal buffalo hunts, using tipis while traveling. The frame was covered first with smaller poles, tied with willow switches. The structure was covered with thatch, then earth. A hole left in the center of the covering served as a combined chimney/smoke hole and skylight. The door of each lodge was placed to the east and the rising sun.

A long, low passageway, which helped keep out outside weather, led to an entry room that had an interior buffalo-skin door on a hinge. It could be closed at night and wedged shut. Opposite the door, on the west side of the central room, a buffalo skull with horns was displayed. This was considered great medicine.

Mats were hung on the perimeter of the main room to shield small rooms in the outer ring, which served as sleeping and private spaces. The lodge was semi-subterranean, as the Pawnee recessed the base by digging it approximately three feet below ground level. This insulated the interior from extreme temperatures.

Lodges were strong enough to support adults, who routinely sat on them, and the children who played on the top of the structures.

As many as 30-50 people might live in each lodge, and they were usually of related families. A village could consist of as many as 300-500 people and 10-15 households. When a young couple married, they usually lived with the bride’s family.

Each lodge was divided in two (the north and south), and each section had a head who oversaw the daily business. Each section was further subdivided into three duplicate areas, with tasks and responsibilities related to the age of women and girls, as described below. The membership of the lodge was quite flexible.

The tribe went on buffalo hunts in summer and winter. Upon their return, the inhabitants of a lodge would often move into another lodge, although they generally remained within the village. Men’s lives were more transient than those of women. They had obligations of support for the wife (and family they married into), but could always go back to their mother and sisters for a night or two of attention.

Subsistance: The Pawnee had a sedentary lifestyle combining village life and seasonal hunting.

The Pawnee women were skilled horticulturalists, cultivating and processing ten varieties of corn, seven of pumpkins and squashes, and eight of beans. They planted their crops along the fertile river bottomlands. These crops provided a wide variety of nutrients and complemented each other in making whole proteins. In addition to varieties of flint corn and flour corn for consumption, the women planted an archaic breed which they called “Wonderful” or “Holy Corn”, specifically to be included in the sacred bundles.

The holy corn was cultivated and harvested to replace corn in the winter and summer sacred bundles. Seeds were taken from sacred bundles for the spring planting ritual. The cycle of corn determined the annual agricultural cycle, as it was the first to be planted and first to be harvested (with accompanying ceremonies involving priests and men of the tribe as well.)

In keeping with their cosmology, the Pawnee classified the varieties of corn by color: black, spotted, white, yellow and red (which, excluding spotted, related to the colors associated with the four semi-cardinal directions). The women kept the different strains pure as they cultivated the corn. While important in agriculture, squash and beans were not given the same theological meaning as corn.

After they obtained horses, the Pawnee adapted their culture and expanded their buffalo hunting seasons. With horses providing a greater range, the people traveled in both summer and winter westward to the Great Plains for buffalo hunting. They often traveled 500 miles or more in a season. In summer the march began at dawn or before, but usually did not last the entire day.

Once buffalo were located, hunting did not begin until the medicine men of the tribe considered the time was right. Then the hunt began by the men advancing together toward the buffalo, but no one could kill any buffalo until the warriors of the tribe gave the signal. Anyone who broke ranks was severely beaten.

During the chase, the hunters guided their ponies with their knees and wielded bows and arrows. They could incapacitate buffalo with a single arrow shot into the flank between the lower ribs and the hip. The animal would soon lie down and perhaps bleed out, or the hunters would finish it off. An individual hunter might shoot as many as five buffalo in this way before backtracking and finishing them off. They preferred to kill cows and young bulls, as the taste of older bulls was disagreeable.

After successful kills, the women processed the bison meat and skin: the flesh was sliced into strips and dried on poles over slow fires and stored. Prepared in this way, it was usable for several years. Although the Pawnee preferred buffalo, they also hunted other game, including elk, bear, panther, and skunk, for meat and skins. The skins were used for clothing and accessories, storage bags, foot coverings, fastening ropes and ties, etc.

The people returned to their villages to harvest crops when the corn was ripe in late summer, or in the spring when the grass became green and they could plant a new cycle of crops. Summer hunts extended from late June to about the first of September; but might end early if hunting was successful. Sometimes the hunt was limited to what is now western Nebraska. Winter hunts were from late October until early April and were often to the southwest into what is now western Kansas.

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Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Like many other Native American tribes, the Pawnee had a cosmology with elements of all of nature represented in it. They based many rituals in the four cardinal directions. Medicine men created sacred bundles which included materials, such as an ear of corn, with great symbolic value. These were used in many religious ceremonies to maintain the balance of nature and the Pawnee relationship with the gods and spirits. The Pawnee were not part of the Sun Dance tradition. In the 1890s, the people participated in the Ghost Dance movement.

The Ghost Dance was a new religious movement that started with the Paiute and was soon incorporated into numerous Native American belief systems. The traditional ritual used in the Ghost Dance, the circle dance, has been used by many Native Americans since prehistoric times. In accordance with the prophet Jack Wilson (Wovoka)’s teachings, it was first practiced for the Ghost Dance among the Nevada Paiute in 1889. The practice swept throughout much of the Western United States, quickly reaching areas of California and Oklahoma. As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, Native American tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs. This process often created change in both the society that integrated it, and in the ritual itself.

The Pawnee believed that the Morning Star and Evening Star gave birth to the first Pawnee woman. The first Pawnee man was the offspring of the union of the Moon and the Sun. As they believed they were descendants of the stars, cosmology had a central role in daily and spiritual life. They planted their crops according to the position of the stars, which related to the appropriate time of season for planting. Like many tribal bands, they sacrificed maize and other crops to the stars.

There is reference to human sacrifice right up until the mid eighteenth century, Gene Welts in his book The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture makes note of a young Lakota captive who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. She was thought to be the last human sacrifice performed by the Pawnee, Welts attributes this peculiarity to their Aztec kin to the south.

The Pawnee placed great significance on Sacred Bundles, which formed the basis of many religious ceremonies maintaining the balance of nature and the relationship with the gods and spirits. Sacred Bundles have different levels of power and are used by tribal and village priests, doctors, warriors, and certain families. Only women can own the bundles and only men know and perform ceremonies with them. This bundle is ritually kept and never opened. It is exhibited over the sacred place in the lodge. 

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Tribal College: Pawnee Nation College 
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Further Reading:

The Pawnee Indians – George Hyde spent more than thirty years collecting materials for his history of the Pawnees. The story is both a rewarding and a painful one.

The Pawnee Indians: Farmers and Hunters of the Central Plains – Provides an overview of the past and present lives of the Pawnee Native Americans, tracing their customs, family life, history, culture, and relations with the United States government.

The Journal Of An Indian Fighter: The 1869 Diary Of Frank J. North, Leader Of The Pawnee Scouts

The Pawnee Mission Letters, 1834-1851 – Rev. John Dunbar and Samuel Allis set out in 1834 to establish a mission to Indians beyond the Rocky Mountains. Unable to obtain a guide and with only a vague knowledge of the West, they instead encountered the Pawnee Indians in Nebraska. It was the beginning of a twelve-year odyssey to convert the tribe to Protestant Christianity and New England civilization.