Who are the Pawnee Indians?

Jason C. Chavis

The Pawnee Indians are a group of Native Americans traditionally located in the Nebraska region of the United States. They were one of the most powerful Great Plains Indian nations until the 1800s, when their numbers were decimated through disease and conflict. Today, they are centered in Pawnee, Oklahoma, operating an autonomous government and various businesses including two casinos.

The Pawnee own several businesses in Oklahoma.
The Pawnee own several businesses in Oklahoma.

According to archaeological research, the Pawnee Indians established the pattern of village living around 1250 AD. They were positioned around rivers in the Nebraska region. Families of 30 to 50 people would combine in lodges, large structures held up by poles. Each village had roughly 10 to 15 households, resulting in populations of about 500 people.

The Pawnee Indians were traditionally from the Nebraska region of the United States.
The Pawnee Indians were traditionally from the Nebraska region of the United States.

In the past, the Pawnee Indians were a matriarchal society. Women controlled the way of life and were highly influential in the political decisions. Older women were responsible for rearing children, while younger women performed most of the labor around the tribal area. Men were generally warriors and hunters. Women would make decisions on tribal society and resources, while the males would handle all matters regarding war, hunting and religion.

The Pawnee Indians were composed of four different tribes: the Chaui, Kitehahki, Pitahauerat and Skidi. Traditionally, these divergent groups were at peace and maintained agreements with each other. Despite their commonalities, however, each band fended for itself with little influence from the others. When European contact was made, these tribes began to work together for self-preservation.

The first known contact between the Pawnee and Europeans was with the Spanish during a Francisco Coronado expedition to present-day Nebraska in 1541. Very few relations between the two existed over the course of the next two centuries. During the French and Indian War, the Pawnee Indians allied with the French in an effort to halt Spanish expansion into the area.

The 1800s saw a major decline in the population of the Pawnee Indians due to disease. Europeans and the Siouan Native Americans spread measles, cholera and smallpox; since the Pawnee had no immunity, they were nearly decimated. Nearly two-thirds of the population was killed over the course of 30 years, leaving roughly 3,000 people. This gave the United States government the opportunity to force the survivors onto a reservation in Nebraska in 1859. They were further relocated to Oklahoma in 1874, ultimately killing even more of the population, leaving 633 known tribal members by 1900.

In 1964, the US government finally settled with the Pawnee Nation regarding the illegal removal and seizure of lands. The survivors were awarded over $7,000,000 US Dollars (USD). Today, the Pawnee Indians operate a form of self-government and take part in inter-tribal meetings and powwows with the Wichita Indians.

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Discussion Comments


How long did it take for the Pawnee Indians to build their homes and how did they build their homes?

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