Native Americans Terminology

Note: FR = French; SP = Spanish.

Ak chin farming: Farming based on an irrigation method consisting of the collection and channeling of floodwaters from arroyo mouths.

Allotment: A term denoting the government action of carving up communally held tribal land and granting sections of it to individual Indians. This activity characterized the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the Dawes Act).

Annual round: The annual cycle of activities engaged in by traditional societies.

Arroyotmp44-1I: A dry, sandy wash, prone to flash flooding during storms.

Atlatltmp44-2: A tool used to increase the leverage of the human arm in order for hunters to throw spears with greater velocity and accuracy.

Babichetmp44-3: Semi softened rawhide, used mainly in the far north for a number of purposes such as snares, nets, bowstrings, and line.

Baleen: A growth in the upper jaw of certain whales. Baleen is light, strong, and flexible. It serves the whales as a strainer and has been used by people to make tools and ceremonial objects.

Bent-corner boxes: An art form in which men steamed, bent, and then carved and/or painted pieces of red cedar. Bent-corner boxes were characteristic of Northwest Coast people.

Berdachetmp44-4i: Literally "male prostitute,"the term refers to any person participating in the cross-cultural practice of gender crossing. In general, females acting the male role were always considered women, whereas men were generally "reclassified."

Bola: A hunting weapon consisting of stone weights attached to thongs. When thrown, the bola entangles the feet of small animals and the wings of birds.

Breechclout: A piece of material, usually deerskin, used to cover the loins. It is also called a breechcloth or loincloth.

Bride service: The act of serving a new bride’s parents, as a condition of marriage, for a period of time. Such service mainly consisted of obtaining food and other necessities.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): Founded in 1824 and referred to until the mid—twentieth century as the Office of Indian Affairs or the Indian Service, the BIA is the main bureaucratic arm of the U.S. government devoted to Indian affairs. In 1849 its jurisdiction was transferred from the War Department to the Interior Department. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs reports directly to the Secretary of the Interior.

Clan: A group of families that traces descent through a common ancestor.

Coppers: Decorated, named plates of European copper that were important in later Northwest potlatching. A copper was worth the value of goods distributed at a potlatch and could only be bought at double that price. Coppers also played a role in rival potlatches: When one chief destroyed a copper, his rival was obliged to do the same or admit his social inferiority.

Couptmp44-5: Literally "blow," the term refers to a type of war honors common among early historical Plains cultures in which credit was earned (coup was counted) for acts of bravery and daring such as touching an enemy with a stick or knocking him off his horse.

Coureurs de boistmp44-6I: Independent,unlicensed fur traders and trappers who played an important role in early trade and exploration of later-seventeenth-century New France.

Datura: Also known as Jimsonweed, this tall, poisonous plant is sometimes used for ceremonial or medicinal purposes by certain Indians of California and the Southwest.

Deadfall: A type of trap in which a heavy object is rigged to fall upon prey.

Dentalium: A type of shell common to parts of the Pacific Northwest. With a natural hole that made threading easy, it was widely traded and highly valued for jewelry and exchange.

Enrollment: A category of tribal membership generally constituting formal acceptance by the U.S. or Canadian governments. Because of various laws and policies excluding certain groups of people, a given tribe might recognize as members far more people than a government recognizes as enrolled.

Exogamy: The custom of marrying outside a particular group (such as a clan).

Fiestatmp44-7: A celebration, usually religious in nature, featuring processions and dances.

Fire drill: A device for making fire in which a stick is twirled rapidly on another piece of wood. The resulting friction is sufficient to ignite bark or grass tinder.

First Nation: A term often used to refer to Canadian Indian bands.

Fiscalestmp44-8: One of several officials of Spanish-mandated Pueblo governments, the fiscales were church assistants. Most Pueblo groups adopted these offices after 1620, when the Spanish began requiring them, but retained their own traditional and vastly more meaningful political and religious structures as well.

Games: An important part of most traditional Native American cultures, often having spiritual, ceremonial, and/or social implications. Games were often taken very seriously and were marked by intensive preparation, rigid codes of conduct, and wagering. Some of the most common and popular games were chunkey, the grass game, shinny, lacrosse (a running ball game played with web-pocketed sticks), and the hand game (a guessing game).

General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Act): An act calling for the allotment of tribal land in severalty (a certain amount going to individual family heads), with the surplus to be opened for non-native settlement.

Grid plan of settlement: Houses laid out more or less evenly along ordered streets.

Haciendatmp44-9: A tract of land held by individual title; a plantation. Under the hacienda system, the dominant political, economic, and social system in nineteenth-century Mexico, the landowner maintained complete control over the land and the people on it. The system fostered peonage and the eradication of cultural differences.

Indian Act: The name applied to the body of Canadian federal laws pertaining to Indian affairs. The first Indian Act was passed in 1876. The act is regularly revised and updated.

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA): Legislation in 1934 that prohibited further allotment, which had been disastrous for most Indian groups, in favor of Indian self-government. Its provisions included the voluntary adoption of tribal councils within representative, constitutional governments.

Jerk (as meat): Jerking is the process of sun drying and/or smoking strips of meat.

Katsina: Also known as kachinas, these are supernatural beings that figure prominently in the religion of Pueblo Indians. Katsina dolls and masks are used ceremonially to bestow blessings and teach proper behavior.

Kiva: An underground ceremonial chamber characteristic of Pueblo cultures.

L dialect: A dialect spoken by some bands/tribes in which the letter L was substituted for one letter of a word, commonly R or D. Thus Renape becomes Lenape and Dakota becomes Lakota in the L dialect (Dakota becomes Nakota in the Siouan N dialect).

Labret: A decorative plug worn in the lip.

Mano: The handheld upper millstone for grinding corn and other grains.

Matrilineal: Relating to descent through the maternal line.

Matrilocal: Relating to the residence of a wife’s kin group.

Mesoamerica: Literally "middle America," the region between the continents of North and South America.

Mestisoa: A man or woman of mixed European and American Indian ancestry.

Metatetmp44-10: A stone with a concave surface.Together with a mano, it is used for grinding corn and other grains.

Metistmp44-11: A people of mixed Cree-French or Cree-Scotch descent. By the nineteenth century, the Metis had developed a lifestyle with elements, including language and religion, drawn from both Indian and non-native traditions. The Metis were concentrated along the Red River of the North (Lake Winnipeg to the Minnesota River). Led by Louis Riel, they fought a series of unsuccessful wars in the mid—nineteenth century to defend their land rights.

Mother-in-law taboo: The custom in which a man avoided contact with his mother-in-law out of respect to her.

Ollatmp44-12: A container, usually a pot or a basket, for carrying or holding water.

Palisade: A high fence of pointed sticks enclosing an area for defensive purposes.

Parflechetmp44-13: Common mainly among Plains Indians, these were rawhide storage bags generally used to hold food.

Patrilineal: Relating to descent through the paternal line.

Patrilocal: Relating to the residence of a husband’s kin group.

Pipestone: A type of clay, mainly found in Minnesota, widely used for making pipes. It is also referred to as catlinite after the painter George Catlin.

Polygamy: Having more than one wife or husband at a time.

Polygyny: Having more than one wife at a single time.

Powwow: Commonly used to describe a gathering at which native people dance, sing, tell stories, and exchange goods, the term also refers (in a mainly Algonquian context) to a healer or a healing ceremony.

Pueblo: Spanish for "village," the word refers to a style of architecture common among some southwestern Indian groups and characterized by multistory adobe or stone apartment like dwellings connected with ladders. The word also refers to the people and culture associated with that style of architecture.

Quillwork: Decoration, often on clothing, bags, and other items, made from dyed porcupine quills.

Ramadatmp44-14: A covered yard or plaza.

Rancheriatmp44-15: A settlement composed of spatially separated dwellings of nuclear or extended family units. In the California context, a rancheria is a parcel of Indian land and may be as large as a settlement or as small as a small cemetery.

Rasp: An instrument resembling a notched stick, used as a musical instrument among certain Indian groups, especially in the upper Great Plains.

Sachem: The chief of an (Algonquin) tribe or confederacy.

Sagamore: An (Algonquin) chief or leader with somewhat lesser status than a sachem.

Sandpainting: An art form associated mainly with the Navajo and some other southwestern Indian groups, sandpainting, or dry painting—the creation of designs from sand, cornmeal, and pollen—carries with it rich and complex religious and spiritual implications. Sandpaintings were destroyed immediately after their ceremonial use.

Shaman: A traditional healer or holy man or woman.

Status Indians: Status is the term conferred by the Canadian government to those people who meet the official definition of Indian.

Taiga: The subarctic evergreen forest.

Termination: Federal Indian policy of the mid- to late 1950s that sought to end the relationship guaranteed by treaty between the government and Indian tribes.

Tipitmp44-16: A conical hide (usually buffalo) dwelling characteristic of Plains Indians. The tipi design had important cosmological implications.

Toloache: Any of several plants of the genus Datura, especially a narcotic annual herb used ceremonially by some California Indians.

Totem: A natural object or being serving as the emblem of a family or clan by virtue of a presumed shared ancestry with that object or being.

Travoistmp44-17: A transportation device common to Plains nomads. It consisted of two long poles (often lodgepole pines) connected by planks or hide webbing that supported goods and sometimes people. Dogs and, later, horses pulled the travois as the people migrated from place to place.

Tribe: A term, often misused, referring to the organization of a group of Indians. Tribes are generally composed of a number of constituent parts, such as bands or villages, and may share history, culture, and territory.

Tribelet: A single Indian group with a small territory, comprising a main settlement and one or more satellite villages. The tribelet’s name was usually that of the principal town. The entire group often recognized a chief. Tribelets were autonomous but often acted as a unit in matters of land ownership, major ceremonies, and reaction to trespass and war. This form of political organization was most common in aboriginal California.

Tuletmp44-18: A type of reed used as a raw material by some southwestern and Californian Indians.

Tumpline: A strap across the forehead or chest that also supports a burden carried on the back.

Tundra: A treeless, Arctic region in which the ground is continually frozen no less than a few inches from the surface (permafrost). Various mosses and lichens will grow on tundra.

Voyageurstmp44-19: A group or class of Frenchmen who handled canoes and performed other trade-related tasks for the big fur companies in North America, primarily in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Wampum: An Algonquian word, wampum originally referred to strings or belts of shell (especially Quahog). They were used to record significant events as well as to communicate messages of peace or war between Indian groups. Shortly after non-natives arrived, wampum, now made increasingly of glass beads, was used as a medium of exchange and eventually as a form of money.

Wickiuptmp44-20: Dome-shaped, pole-framed dwellings covered with brush, grass, or reeds. Wickiups were often used by Apacheans.

Wigwam: A dwelling similar to a wickiup, although covered with products more reflective of their use among Algonquian people, such as skins, bark, or woven mats.

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