The Paiute tribe comprises three different Native American groups, all of which originate from the Western United States. These groups, which are scattered across different states from Arizona to Idaho, include the Northern, Southern, and Owens Valley Paiute. Each of these individual groups may be included together as a single Paiute Nation due to language and cultural similarities, and each individual group speaks one of several Numic language variants. Certain other groups, such as the Bannocks and Coso people, also speak similar languages and have at times been referred to as Paiutes.
Throughout history, the term Paiute tribe has referred to different groups of people. Prior to the outside interference of settlers from the United States, the term Paiute may have referred only to a single band known as the Corn Creek tribe from what is today southern Utah. The word Paiute itself may mean either true Ute or water Ute, depending on which word the prefix "pai" originated from. The many different groups that are today known as Paiute may refer to themselves using a number of terms. People in the Northern Paiute tribe typically refer to themselves as the Numa or Numu, and the Southern Paiute tribe calls themselves the Nuwuvi.
The Northern Paiute originally inhabited the Great Basin, ranging from southern Oregon to eastern California and western Nevada. They consisted of numerous small bands of people and often referred to themselves based on their primary sources of food. One Paiute tribe that exists in the present day at the reservation of Walker River is the Northern Paiute Nation Agai-Dicutta band, whose name can be translated as trout-eaters.
Further south, various Paiute tribes historically occupied parts of southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. These groups are collectively known as the Southern Paiute Nation, and are linked to the Northern Paiute through their use of similar Numic languages. As part of a number of acts intended to force Native American assimilation, the various Southern Paiute tribes were forcibly disbanded in the 1950s. Certain tribes later fought for federal recognition, which was granted some 30 years later.
Another group that is often included in the Paiute tribe is the Owens Valley Paiute. These people traditionally lived in proximity to the Owens River, near what is now the border between California and Nevada. They typically use the Mono language, which is a Numic language similar to those spoken by other Paiute peoples.