Paiute Indian Culture


The Paiute Indians lived east of what is now Yosemite National Park.  The streams that flowed from the Sierras helped to make their lives easier.  They lived in small nomadic groups that continued their paths searching for food.  Mostly, these small groups were made up of extended family members and on occasion, several groups would gather for dances and feasts.  Sometimes it was for entertainment, but more often than not it was to find food as a group.

Generally, the women were gatherers and the men were hunters; however, since the amount of plant life was scarce, so were the animals available for hunting.  At best, the men were able to capture small ground animals like lizards, ground squirrels, rats, and rabbits.  Sometimes there would be a community rabbit hunt if there were many rabbits in a given year.

The women would gather bulbs and roots in the spring and seeds and berries in the summer.  They even gather small insects to keep alive.  Grasshoppers, ants, locusts, and other adult insects and larvae were gathered to flesh out their meals.  The nuts and seed that were gathered were often ground down into flour.  The flour would be made into small cakes or cooked into porridge.

Men hunted with clubs, sticks, spears and arrows and bows.  They were not very good at hunting with large animals because of the inefficiency of their bows, though.  Occasionally, when there were many antelope, there would be community hunts.  These group antelope hunts would be directed by an antelope shaman.  The Paiute believe that the shaman could charm antelope by directing them into a trap that would make it easier to kill them.

Women made nets for hunting the rabbits.  The nets would be up to hundreds of yards long and two or three feet high.  A rabbit boss would guide them in setting out the nets and securing them amongst the trees and then the met would drive the rabbits into the net.  This would also be a community effort.  Sometimes individuals would catch rabbits on their own with a throwing stick or a bow and arrow.  While the meat was important, the Paiute also treasured the fur of the rabbit.

The Paiute people were very spiritual.  They believed in the power of dreams.  Natural phenomena in dreams like birds, clouds, plants, and animals were thought to be a representation of the spirit.  Those who could harness the powers of the spirits were considered to have skill endurance, strength, and good luck and if a shaman had the powers of the spirits through dreams they were believed to have the ability to cure.  Dreams were also thought to be able to cause illness.

Because the Paiute did not have very much they weren’t really a threat nor were they targets for others.  While there were sometimes disagreements between bands they feuds didn’t last long because food was more important than a disagreement.  The Paiute lived and survived in a land where many others died because they were not able to adapt.

Posted in Paiute Culture | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why The North Star Stood Still

North Star Polaris

If you sat there watching the stars at night, you’d see streaks of light flashing across the dark sky in front of you. This is thought to be the ancient People of the Sky who were so restless when the world was in its infancy that they travelled endlessly and made trails in the heavens. Sadly, not all of the stars have the ability to move and travel like the others. The North Star sits there alone, still and unable to move and this is Na-gah, the North Star’s story and why The North Star Stood Still.

A long time ago, when Na-gah roamed the earth he spent most of his time adventuring, being daring and brave making his father intensely proud of him, his father rewarding him with huge earrings on his ears to make sure everyone knew he was important. Always feeling so brave, Na-gah would always look to climb mountains, searching out new ones that he could climb and live on. One day, he found a particularly high mountain whose peak disappeared into the clouds, but he couldn’t seem to find an easy way to the top, there was no obvious trail or route. His searching paid off and he soon found a crack which took him down into the mountain but then up through the centre of the mountain towards the top. The going was tough and lots of loose rocks fell around him, but he kept climbing in the vain attempt to make his dad even more proud than he already was, until Na-gah heard a deep and fearsome noise which made him shake and he fell to his knees, becoming afraid and tired from all the climbing.

Na-gah had no option but to give in to his fear and decided to head back and look for another route on the cliffs again, only to find that his way was blocked by all the falling rocks. He dusted himself off and plucked up the courage to climb within the mountain more, now even more determined to successfully make the climb. After a strenuous climb, he saw a flicker of light and his spirit was boosted oncemore knowing that he had made it to the top of the toughest mountain that he’d ever come across. There was only one problem, however, looking around him he could hardly see anywhere to move and there was no path back down with the way he came blocked by the fallen rocks.

Na-gah was stuck on the mountain, but he was happy, for he had climbed the mountain and he was so determined to succeed that he was overjoyed by his achievement. Looking around him, he was at the highest point that he could see and the view of the earth was breathtaking. He then heard his father, Shinoh, calling for him for he’d been searching for him whilst walking across the sky. Shinoh soon realised that Na-gah was stuck on the mountain and felt sad, fully knowing that his adventurous and brave son was no longer able to travel and climb anymore and would die on top of the conquered mountain. Shinoh, however, took it upon himself to give his son the greatest honor by turning him into a star and letting him shine where everyone could see him, acting as a guide in the sky for everything living down below on earth. He is now the North Star, translating into native tongue as Qui-am-i Wintool Poot-see.

Posted in Paiute Legends | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Looking at the Paiute History


image courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS

History traces the Paiute Indians back to around 1200AD where they were thought to inhabit an area in Utah now called Bryce Canyon. Consisting mainly of foragers, gatherers and hunters, their main source of food were rabbits, deer, mountain sheep, berries, buts and roots. Having also settled very close to some of the local main rivers of Utah such as the Virgin, they were able to practice irrigation and raising wheat, corn and squashes.

The Paiute Indians evolved into a tribe with a very close-knit social foundation with family bands branching off and being named after resources or geographical features. These strong family bonds meant that having a natural leader was very rare, preferring to rely on being led by a chief who was more of a facilitator of consensus rather than a ruler.

Although contact with Europeans could have easily affected the way the Paiute Indians went about their day-to-day lives and changing their religious beliefs, it was thought to be the Mormons in 1850s that really affected them, taking over their living and hunting spaces. The primal effect was population reduction of the Paiutes from starvation and disease.

The Paiutes lived on, however and remained a strong community applying for an official reservation in 1891 near St.George with further reservations being established in 1915, 1928 and 1929 at Indian Peaks, Koosharem and Kanosh respectively. even with the presence of these reservations, the Indian natives were never regarded as true citizens, with little federal help and funding being offered with the women spending their lives as maids and the men as farm labor and railroad workers. By 1935, it was the Paiutes took a stand for their rights and adopted the Wheeler-Howard Act which allowed them to practice tribal self-governance and the protection of their reservations. along with funding from the federal reserve.

The Paiute run of luck was to come to a close in the 50s though, when Utah Senator Arthur Watkins instigated the termination policy from Congress, despite acknowledgement that the tribe would be unable to survive without federal assistance. The clan fought back and applied for rights of ownership to the land that they lost when the Europeans settled in North America and were granted 27 cents in every acre in 1965 – the funds were drip fed 6 years later which launched the construction of housing units for the Paiute people between 1976 and 1989.

It wasn’t until Senator Carter re-recognised the existence of the Paiute people in 1980 that they were granted federal inclusion again, some 7 years later after petitions were raised once again by the Indians. In February of 1984, they were granted 4,470 acres of poor land that was scattered across the South West area of Utah along with an incredibly helpful $2.5 million fund for tribal services and development of their economy. The Paiute people put this much-needed grant to excellent use, allocating it to healthcare, educational, housing and industry.

Posted in Paiute History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Paiute Languanges


Northern Paiute

The Northern Paiute people speak Numic languages of the Uto-Aztecan family. This particular language is also known as Numu or Paviotso. As of 1994, there are around 500 fluent speakers. It is a language with subject-object-verb order. It has a small phonemic inventory of around five mono-phtongal vowels and a binary length distinction plus a sixth Numic vowel. In the near-Mono Lake dialect, there are 24 consonants. The first consnant of a morpheme could possibly be mutated. The majority of nouns must have one absolute suffixes when not part of a compound. This helps Northern Paiute share its heritage with the rest of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages.

Southern Paiute

The Southern Paiute speak a language called the Ute-Southern Paiute or Colorado River Numic language. It is a specific dialect that is spoken by their members in the region from Colorado to around the Southern part of California. One particular dialect is Chemehuevi, which is unfortunately fading and may eventually become another dead language. Another particular dialect would be the San Juan and finally, a third particular one would be the Ute. There are mainly five obstruent sounds and 11 unvoiced consonant sounds. Two nasal and glides as well are part of the Southern Ute language.


The Mono tribe has a lot of similarities to the Northern Paiute, but since it is essentially their own language, it is rightfully called the Mono Language. There are two dialects, Western and the Eastern ones. The Eastern Mono are considered the Owens Valley branch of the Paiute and the Monachi term is used to refer to those within the Western Mono. It has a number of vowels, and consonants of various types too. Unfortunately, it isn’t widely spoken and only about fifty or so still spoke it as their primary language. It is considered culturally endangered and hopefully more people will take time to learn it.

Posted in Paiute Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Paiute Creation Story

paiute tribute

Photo by RickC

As many tribes of Natives that roamed the land we now know as America, there were almost as many different creation myths. Different tribes had different views on the creation of the world, and on the population of the land. Some tribes had very shamanistic views, with a pantheon occupied by various spiritual animals that took an active part with the tribes. Others had more general views on the creation of the land; it was there, they lived on it, why question it beyond that? Other tribes, like the Paiute tribe, had something of a more interesting creation and population story, a story that led them to welcome the white settlers as they ventured into Paiute lands.

At its core, Paiute spiritual beliefs followed similar paths of the other native tribes. Their views were mostly shamanic, with living incarnations for each of the great forces of nature. None of these beings were “gods” in the traditional sense. Whenever a spirit appeared, it was for their reasons, and though they might be able to influence the world, and the actions of the tribe that respected them, they did not have direct control over the actions of the world. In Paiute creation, the Earth did not need any kind of great being in order to create, give birth, or otherwise form the world. In fact, their beliefs on the creation of the world sounded very similar to English settlers practicing Christianity.

Though different tribes had different interpretation myths, most tribes did believe in a world covered in water in a mythical flood that left no land anywhere. In some tribes’ myths, various animals of different kinds added earth to the water until it piled, and eventually became land, and then eventually all the land everywhere. In other creation myths, it was two spirits of men, Wolf and Coyote, which lived on the water until they became tired of paddling, and then Wolf created land, so that Coyote might run along it.

Modern Paiute speak of their initial myth to explain the origin of the different kinds of man, as well. The Northern Paiute tribe includes this story as part of their creation myth:

In the beginning of the world there were only four, two girls and two boys. Our forefather and mother were only two, and we are their children. You all know that a great while ago there was a happy family in this world. One girl and one boy were dark and the others were white. For a time they got along together without quarreling, but soon they disagreed, and there was trouble. They were cross to one another and fought, and our parents were very much grieved. They prayed that their children might learn better, but it did not do any good; and afterwards the whole household was made so unhappy that the father and mother saw that they must separate their children; and then our father took the dark boy and girl, and the white boy and girl, and asked them, ‘Why are you so cruel to each other?’ They hung down their heads, and would not speak. They were ashamed. He said to them, ‘Have I not been kind to you all, and given you everything your hearts wished for? You do not have to hunt and kill your own game to live upon. You see, my dear children, I have power to call whatsoever kind of game we want to eat; and I also have the power to separate my dear children, if they are not good to each other.’ So he separated his children by a word. He said, ‘Depart from each other, you cruel children;—go across the mighty ocean and do not seek each other’s lives.’”

Some consider these stories of a modern creation myth, something created to explain how the tribes adapted, and eventually were persecuted by the white settlers. Others see this myth, as well as the myth of the flood, as similarities between the cultures, with components of commonality that give shared belief and spiritualism, not just between the native tribes, but between the tribes and the settlers that eventually took their place.

Posted in Paiute History, Paiute Legends, Paiute Religion | Tagged | 2 Comments