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.

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3 Responses to Paiute Indian Culture

  1. Tamera says:

    i am trying to name my daughter. my father is a member of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. i asked him for a traditional name and he said he didn’t know and that i should google it. i did and this is the best site that came up. can you give me a referance of where i can find traditional northern paiute names.

  2. stephen schaff says:

    My great great aunt Sarah Winnemucca wrote a book called “life amoung the paiutes”..there are lots of names in there Tocmetony.It’s a really good and enlightening read..I highly reccomend it.

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