What is the Quapaw Tribe?

Grayson Millar

The Quapaw Tribe of Indians — "Ugahxpa" in the Quapaw language — is a group of Native Americans historically located in present-day Arkansas to the west of the Mississippi River at its confluence with the Arkansas River. Their language is of the Siouan Proper Language Family, Dheiga Branch. The Quapaw language is no longer spoken, but it has been documented twice in the 20th century. The Quapaw Tribe dwells on the Quapaw Tribal Jurisdictional Area in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. This area includes the Tar Creek Superfund site, part of which has been declared by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to be one of the country's most toxic areas, mostly because years of pollution by mining companies have left behind elevated levels of lead in the groundwater.

The Quapaw Tribe of Native Americans historically located in present day Arkansas west of the Mississippi River.
The Quapaw Tribe of Native Americans historically located in present day Arkansas west of the Mississippi River.

It is believed that the Quapaw Tribe relocated from the Ohio River Valley to its traditional region at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. The state of Arkansas takes its name from the Quapaw, who were known by other Native American groups as "Akansa" or "Akansea," names that mean "land of the downriver people." Their migration is thought to have resulted from wars with Iroquois invading from the north at some point after the year 1200, and they settled in the confluence of the Arkansas and the Mississippi by the mid-1600s. Prior to this settlement in their proper historical region, the Quapaw had encountered a Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto. The meeting initially was hostile, the two sides were able to reach a peace agreement.

During France's colonial rule in the region, French explorers and settlers had a friendly relationship with the Quapaw, and many French men married Quapaw women and produced offspring. During French explorer Louis Jolliet's expedition down the Mississippi River, Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette recorded hospitable reception from the Quapaw. After the region was transferred to the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase, the Quapaw Tribe signed a treaty in 1818 in which they ceded a large portion of their territory to the U.S. government.

Following the treaty, the Quapaw tribe was subject to epidemics, wars and forced relocation, during which their population declined exponentially throughout the 19th century. After several more treaties, in which they ceded more land, the Quapaw Tribe was relocated to its current location in the northeast portion of Oklahoma. By 1910, the Quapaw were only a remnant of a tribe with 307 members, including those of mixed blood. In the early 20th century, the remaining Quapaw turned to farming on the land of the Quapaw Reservation.

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