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The Plains Indian Museum in Cody, Wyoming

Tribe-finder Maps of the U.S.

Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian in Banff, Alberta, Canada; lots of good information and pictures



Plains Indians: Alive and Dancing


It seems like most accounts of Native Americans tell the same story again and again: the Indians lived for thousands of years in perfect harmony with nature. Then the Europeans came, used up the natural resources, drove the Indians off the land and all but wiped them out with disease and violence, leaving a few survivors on Indian reservations.

Much of that story is true, but Indians haven't been passive victims, and they're not just relics of the past. They've taken active roles in interacting with newcomers to North America, adding their cultures to the American mix. Most important, Native Americans and their cultures are very much alive!

The Plains Indians, including tribes such as the Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Dakota, Comanche, and Choctaw, lived for many centuries by hunting buffalo, also called bison, from the vast herds that grazed on the Great Plains. They sometimes killed buffalo by driving them into a corral and spearing them or shooting them with arrows. The preferred method, though, was to drive an entire herd off a cliff, so the buffalo fell to their deaths below. A hunt such as this could provide enough food for the whole winter. Many considered buffalo tongue a delicacy. Yummy! Some tribes made sausage by stuffing meat and herbs into intestines. Hides were tanned and used to make clothing and build tepees.

"Indian" vs. "Native American"

The word "Indian" was used by Europeans to refer to the native people they encountered in the Americas. Basically, the early European explorers of the New World thought they were in India! The natives had no such word themselves; instead, they had many different tribal names. Even the tribal names like the ones listed in this dispatch aren't necessarily what native people once called themselves. Some are the names one tribe called another, or were invented by Europeans. Some are the names of languages that groups of natives shared.

A lot of people use the term "Native American" to identify the native inhabitants of the Americas and to distinguish them from people who live in India.

The Sioux and the rest of the tribes of the Great Plains ultimately lost most of their land to the U.S. But many did survive, and they carried on their lives and traditions. One example is a powwow. At a powwow, many members of one or more tribes come together for dance contests, music, arts and crafts, and fun.

The Trekkers are visiting the Plains Indian Museum in Cody, Wyoming, where there was a big powwow in June 2000. One of the important traditions shared among Plains Indian tribes, a tradition that continues today, is the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge ceremony is like a big bath. It is a small dome made of willow branches covered with blankets and hides. One person in the ceremony brings heated rocks into the sweat lodge, placing them in a center pit, so the lodge becomes very, very hot. As the leader of the ceremony throws water and herbs on the rocks, participants pray, sing, and drum. After sweating for a long time, everyone leaves the lodge and cools off by lying on the grass. Many other cultures do this as well, like in the summer when you run through the sprinklers! Do you and your friends have ways to hang out and relax in the summer?

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - The mysterious ways of the secretive Publeos
Neda - A ghost town turns into a whirling dervish dance festival
Nick - Getting in touch with the Native American past through the heart of a woman