views updated May 08 2018


ETHNONYMS: Arapahoe, Arrapahoe, Hiinono'ei, Nookhooseinenno', Boo'ooceinenno', Bee'eekuunenno', Noowunenno', Nenebiinenno', Noowo3ineheino'


Identification and Location. According to accepted interpretations, the name "Arapaho" is derived from the Pawnee word meaning "trader" or from the Crow term for "tattooed people." The Arapaho recognize themselves as Hiinono'ei, variously translated as "our people," "wrongrooters," or "cloud people." With the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the United States government officially recognized as sovereign nations two separate tribes by the names of Northern Arapaho and Southern Arapaho. Both tribes are federally recognized American Indian nations today.

Arapaho territory once extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the north, south to the Arkansas River, and east to west from the Black Hills to the Rocky Mountains, corresponding to present-day western Nebraska and Kansas, southeastern Wyoming, and eastern Colorado. By 1840, the northern and southern bands of the Arapaho had acquired separate identities as the Northern Arapaho and the Southern Arapaho. The approximate boundary between the two tribes was the South Platte River of Colorado. This area, encompassing modern-day Denver, was a common meeting place for the two tribes and for intertribal trade.

Today the principal communities of the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming are Arapahoe, St. Stephens, and Ethete. The central communities for the Southern Arapaho are Canton and Geary, Oklahoma with tribal administration centralized in Concho.

Demography. Estimates are rough and varied for Arapaho population before the reservation period. By the time an accurate census was taken, disease, deprivation, and warfare had reduced the population significantly. At the beginning of the reservation period there were about sixteen hundred Southern Arapahos in Oklahoma (in 1875) and nine hundred Northern Arapahos in Wyoming (in 1885). During the first decades of the early reservation period, both tribal populations continued to decrease as a consequence of poverty and disease. By the 1920s, both populations began to increase again with some improvements in health care, nutrition, and sanitation. Currently, there are approximately six thousand enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and four thousand members of the Southern Arapaho Tribe.

Linguistic Affiliation. Arapaho is one of five languages of the Algonquian family in the Plains culture area. The others are Cheyenne, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, and Blackfoot. Arapaho diverges markedly, especially in grammar, from these and other languages in the group, suggesting a long separation from the Great Lakes proto-Algonquian (or Algic) stock. Within the Arapaho language there were once at least five dialects, representing what were separate bands or subtribes, including Hitouunenno', or "Beggar Men," now known as the Gros Ventre. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Arapaho proper had separated from the Gros Ventre tribe, which then remained in the northern Plains in what is now Montana. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately five hundred Northern Arapaho senior tribal members speak the "Arapaho proper" dialect.

History and Cultural Relations

Oral history holds that the Arapaho-Gros Ventre people once resided together to the east near the Great Lakes or farther north in Canada. There is no archeological or historical evidence to establish exactly when they entered the Plains. However, the linguistic distance between Arapaho and other Algonquian languages, and oral historical evidence such as stories about the use of dogs for transport, suggests that the Arapahos were on the Plains prior to the introduction of the horse and appearance of Euro-Americans.

By the middle of the eighteenth century it is clear that Arapahos were equestrian. Equestrian transport increased the distance and speed of travel, thereby contributing to expanded trade, greater hunting productivity, accumulation of more material culture, and intensified intertribal warfare. The horse also became the central object of wealth for internal exchange, raiding, and external trade.

Around 1800, the two Arapaho tribes shared a common territory with their allies, the Southern and Northern Cheyenne, while other allied groups, such as the Lakota, were allowed access to shared hunting territories. The Arapaho moved in and out of various mountain ranges, especially the Rocky Mountains, Big Horns, Black Hills, and the Medicine Bow Range. For trade, hunting, and ceremonies, Arapaho bands often traveled into allied tribes' lands, such as those the Lakota and Gros Ventre. War parties raided in neighboring territories of traditional enemies, such as the Eastern Shoshone and Utes to the west, the Crow to the north, the Pawnee to the east, and the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache south across the Arkansas River.

To ensure the safe movement of immigrants through the Plains, the United States government held a treaty council in 1851 with all central Plains tribes at Horse Creek near Fort Laramie in what is now eastern Wyoming. The resulting first Treaty of Fort Laramie recognized specific territories for the various Plains tribes including Arapaho-Cheyenne territory of 122,000 square miles extending north to the North Platte River, south to the Arkansas River, west to the Rocky Mountains, and east to the western parts of Kansas and Nebraska. The treaty also asked the tribes to allow roads and forts to be built, to cease hostilities among themselves, and to wage no depredations against non-Indians.

From that time on, recognized Arapaho chiefs officially maintained peace toward non-Indians, though at times some young men joined Cheyenne and Lakota war parties against Euro-Americans. In 1858 gold was discovered in Colorado, attracting thousands of settlers into Arapaho territory in a few years' time. Game disappeared rapidly and tensions intensified. After several Indian attacks on non-Indians, the territorial governor proclaimed that all peaceful bands must report to and remain at one of the forts, while total war would be waged against those who had not surrendered. In 1861, the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne signed the Treaty of Fort Wise, ceding claims to all their lands demarcated in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and setting aside a reservation in western Colorado. The Northern Arapaho chiefs and other Cheyenne leaders did not sign, accept, or recognize the treaty.

In 1864, a Southern Arapaho band led by Chief Left Hand and a Southern Cheyenne band under Black Kettle complied with the governor's orders, surrendering at Fort Lyon and then camping on Sand Creek near the post. On 29 November, Colonel John Chivington ignored the flag of peace flying above the camp and ordered his Third Colorado Regiment to attack the camp. When what came to be called the Sand Creek Massacre was over, the soldiers had killed and mutilated over two hundred men, women, and children. In retaliation Lakota and Cheyenne warrior bands waged a war of resistance for the next twelve years, but, for the most part, Arapaho bands did not join the fight.

In 1867, the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne signed the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in which they again ceded claims to territory in the 1851 treaty and in return accepted a reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), along with promises of assistance in food, education, and farming equipment. By an 1869 presidential proclamation, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was established in the Canadian River area. In 1878, the Northern Arapaho bands were sent to the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming to await a decision about their own reservation, which was never forthcoming. The Shoshone Reservation was later renamed the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Southern Arapaho leaders agreed to the General Allotment Act of 1887. By 1892 each Southern Arapaho head of household had been assigned 160 acres to improve and farm. The government then purchased the remaining 3.5 million acres of Cheyenne-Arapaho land for less than fifty cents an acre. On one day in 1892, thousands of Euro-Americans raced onto these lands to stake their claims in the famous Oklahoma Land Rush. Most families in both Arapaho tribes soon realized that the promise of successfully farming allotments as the sole source of income was impossible to achieve. Most allotments were non-irrigated, while others had poor soil and frequent pests. Many Northern and Southern Arapaho were forced to sell their allotments to non-Indians in order to pay outstanding bills or simply to feed their families.

From the 1920s until the late 1940s, Northern Arapaho tribal leaders worked aggressively to convince the federal government to disperse income to tribal members from reservation mineral and grazing leases. While major companies were extracting oil in the 1920s and 1930s, few if any profits from leases were shared with tribes. In the late 1940s, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes began receiving occasional per capita payments distributed to tribal members and some financial support for tribal administration and social programs. In 1954, monthly per capita payments were institutionalized on a regular basis. Though the income brought modern housing, technology, and some improvement in the standard of living, the Northern Arapaho Tribe still faces many problems familiar on reservations reflected in a high unemployment rate between about 60 and 70 percent.

Though the Southern Arapaho government was dissolved upon allotment, a group of twelve chiefs continued to retain authority over religious and social life. In 1937, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal government was officially reestablished to administer the few remaining tribal trust and individual trust lands. The Southern Arapaho tribe and the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming have worked to return lost lands to tribal trust status. Currently, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal government administers about ten thousand acres of tribal trust land and seventy thousand acres of lands held in trust for individual Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members. Based on a constitution formed in 1975, tribal government is now administered by a Business Committee of eight elected members, four from each tribe, which in turn elects the chair. The tribal government also administers various social services, educational, legal, and economic development programs.

In 1961, the Northern Arapaho, Southern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Southern Cheyenne won a claims settlement case from the U.S. Court of Claims for the government violation of the original Treaty of Fort Laramie. Altogether each of the four tribes received roughly a quarter share of the total $23.5 million settlement, calculated at about fifty cents per acre for their original territory, the value of the land the courts established for the time of the violation in 1858.


The contemporary Southern Arapaho live in rural areas of west-central Oklahoma near the Canadian and North Canadian rivers. The main communities are Geary and Canton. The Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne share tribal administration and governance over much smaller and more dispersed trust lands.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe holds joint sovereignty with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe over the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Extending over two million acres from the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains east onto the Plains, it is the fourth largest reservation in the United States. The Arapaho residences and communities of St. Stephens, Arapahoe, and Ethete extend along the Little Wind River in the southeast section of the reservation. Tribal administration and governance is centralized in the town of Ethete, while Shoshone tribal offices and federal government agencies are located in Fort Washakie about five miles to the west.


Subsistence. Before the reservation period, Arapaho were nomadic hunters depending predominantly on the great bison (buffalo) herds of the Plains and mountain valleys. In the late spring to early summer when grass began to reemerge on the Plains, the buffalo herds congregated for the calving season. At the same time, Arapahos moved from their dispersed, small winter camps sheltered in the foothills of the mountains out to larger band and tribal camps on the Plains for communal hunts and collective ceremonies. In late summer to fall, the herds converged on the Plains again for the rutting season. Accordingly, Arapaho bands came together for the final collective hunts to acquire the food and hides needed for the approaching winter. Men hunted either individually or in small groups. In addition to buffalo, they hunted elk, deer, moose, antelope, and small game throughout the year. From the spring until the fall, women gathered roots, berries, and other vegetable plants.

By the 1850s, Northern and Southern Arapaho bands began to depend increasingly on trade goods and rations available at settlements and the military posts, such as Fort Laramie and Bent's Fort. In the early reservation period both tribes continued to hunt buffalo, but by the 1880s, with herds nearly extinct, they became completely dependent on agency-issued rations, domestic gardens, seasonal labor, and some farming. The period from the 1880s to the 1920s was the most difficult in history for the survival of both tribes. Since World War II, farming and ranching declined significantly among individual allotment holders, who have become more dependent on a meager wage-labor economy, primarily based in the public sector of tribal administration, federal agencies, and education. Since the 1940s, the Northern Arapaho tribe has earned some income from the Arapaho Ranch operation and fluctuating royalties from oil leases on the reservation.

Industrial Arts. The bow and arrow made respectively from osage wood and a type of dogwood were used for hunting even after acquisition of guns in trade. The tipi was a highly mobile dwelling consisting of scraped buffalo hides sewn together for the cover and supported by lodgepole pine or cedar poles. The poles in turn became legs for the horse-drawn travois upon which belongings were transported. Other structures included the dome-shaped sweat lodge, various types of sunshades, the pole windbreak surrounding a tipi, the large circular lodge structures for ceremonies, toy tipis for children's play, and small huts for dogs. Women scraped, tanned, sewed, and decorated hides for robes, clothes, moccasins, and soft containers. Hides were prepared with a scraper made from an elk horn, a woman's most important tool, then sewn with an awl and animal sinew. Designs were applied with dyed porcupine quills, beads, and paint. Women made the tipi and all domestic goods in it, including tipi liners, pillows, parfleches, rawhide boxes, and utensils. Men produced and decorated the implements for hunting, horse care, ceremonies, and war.

Trade. By the mid-eighteenth century Arapaho peoples engaged in long-distance trade extending from the southwest to the Missouri River villages. Through raids and trade they acquired horses from Mexican settlements and other tribes to the west and southwest. In turn they traded buffalo hides, meat, and horses to Missouri River groups connected to English trade.

Division of Labor. Young unmarried women remained close to the household, where they helped their mothers with domestic work, such as fetching water and gathering firewood, while learning subsistence activities, child care roles, and the rich culture of women's artistic forms. Young unmarried men moved into activities beyond the tipi and outside the camp, such as horse care, hunting, and service to older men. For married adult women, roles included processing meat for cooking and storage; collecting and processing roots, berries, and other vegetable foods; hide preparation and artwork for clothing, containers, tipi covers, and household goods; and tipi construction and other preparations for moving camp. Married men's roles included horse care, hunting, scouting, warrior actions, camp security, and religious functions. The men's division of labor was in part defined by membership in the age grades. Junior grades were servants to senior men. In intermediate grades men were organized for roles as warriors and military police. In the senior grades they moved into positions of military-political leadership, followed in the old men's groups by initiation to sacred knowledge and ceremonial leadership. As husband and wife moved into senior status, they took on increasing roles for economic exchange, including gift giving, redistributive feasts, and ceremonial duties.

Land Tenure. Historically, lands and subsistence sites were not owned by individuals, families, or bands, though tribes recognized their own territories. Among allied tribes, territory was shared and mutually defended. On the reservations, there are tribal and individual trust lands, both of which are subject to tribal administration and protected by federal authority from local and state taxation, private claims, and excessive regulation, all of which contributed to loss of land in the past. There are also fee simple patent lands owned outright by individual tribal members and non-Indians. Some other lands are claimed by various federal agencies. Inheritance of individual trust lands by multiple heirs can fragment the family land base in just a few generations. Use, sale, or leasing of estate lands is subject to the unanimous consent of all heirs; in the absence of such consent, lands can remain out of production, generating no income for many years. Since 1978, the Indian Land Consolidation Act (ILCA) has allowed individuals to trade small fragments of inherited lands for contiguous parcels from tribal trust lands. The act also grants tribes first rights to bid on any non-Indian-owned fee lands put up for sale. As a result of the ILCA, both Arapaho tribes have been able to solve some problems of heirship.


Kin Groups and Descent. Arapaho kinship is bilateral. The extended family remains at the core of Arapaho social life. Between same and opposite sex siblings-in-law relations were very open, even to the point of lewd teasing and joking. Opposite sex adult siblings maintained extreme respect, even to the point of avoidance. A similar respect-avoidance relationship held between son-in-law and mother-in-law and between father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Communication in these respect relationships usually required a third party to mediate. Extreme respect was also accorded to grandparents, especially those with religious authority or possession of medicine.

Kinship Terminology. Arapaho kinship terminology classifies mother's sisters with mother and father's brothers with father. Separate terms equivalent to "aunt" and "uncle" were used for father's sister and mother's brother, respectively. Persons in these relations conversely used the terms "niece" and "nephew" for children of their opposite gender siblings. Both parallel and cross-cousins were merged with brother or sister, according to gender. Age was marked with separate terms to distinguish elder from younger sister and elder from younger brother. All males and females in the grand parental generation were generally called grandfather or grandmother respectively. Conversely, one term was used for grandchild regardless of gender.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage was of two types. One was arranged through the senior relatives of both the prospective spouses. A reciprocal exchange of horses and goods took place between the two families. The second type was elopement, in which case the couple usually moved off together in secret, usually to reside with the husband's relatives. As time proved the marriage to be successful, normal relations and exchanges between the families could follow. Marriage was prohibited with anyone recognized as a relative. Polygyny was permitted but rare, usually taking the form of sororal polygyny. As a man proved to be a good husband, his wife's family could offer to arrange a marriage with her sister, though the man was not obliged to agree. Upon death, the levirate and sororate were also practiced.

Domestic Unit. It was typical for a newly married couple to reside with the wife's family while the husband offered a form of bride service to his parents-in-law. As they had children their tipi could become more independent, perhaps even moving away to another camp or to form their own. They in turn would also take on more and more support of grandparents' tipis in the camp and band. As boys reached about age ten they began to spend more and more time away from the tipi, while girls remained very close to their mothers until marriage. If a man had more than one wife, an individual tipi was constructed for each wife and her children. In each camp, all were obligated to assist and support grandparents.

Inheritance. At a funeral, personal belongings were destroyed or taken by brothers and sisters after the burial. The reservation period brought the problem of inheritance of estate property in land and assets, for which Euro-American probate laws apply.

Socialization. Mothers were primary providers of direct care in infancy and they continued to be responsible for the socialization of daughters in childhood and youth, while fathers were mainly responsible for their sons' development. Formal socialization of children and young people primarily involved storytelling, lecturing, and honor feasts or ceremonies to recognize personal achievements. Physical punishment was rare to nonexistent in prereservation society. In childhood, families sponsored various ceremonies for such events as naming, ear-piercing, first tooth, first walk, and a boy's first hunt.

Arapaho socialization was a lifelong process. The life cycle was divided into four stages, called "the four hills of life," including childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. Specific types of knowledge and modes of learning were appropriate to each stage. In childhood, relatives honored and encouraged the development of human abilities to eat, walk, speak, and learn. From a young age, boys and girls learned to be useful by taking on various chores in the camp. During the third stage, men and women took on roles as economic providers and leaders. In old age, Arapaho men and women were initiated to the most sacred knowledge of tribal mythology, ceremonies, and history.

There were ways for individuals to define their own unique identity, status, and life direction. For men as well as for some women, life direction was gained from knowledge acquired through visions acquired in solitary fasts on hills or mountains for from four to seven days. Young men also defined their rank and status through feats in war and the stories they told. For women, personal statement and achievement through various art forms were comparable to the war deeds of men.

By 1871 Southern Arapahos began sending their children to the agency boarding school. The Northern Arapaho also welcomed and encouraged establishment of a boarding school and mission on the reservation. In 1884, Jesuits founded a Catholic mission and later a boarding school at St. Stephens. In 1910 the Shoshone Episcopal Mission established St. Michael's Mission in what is now the town of Ethete and in 1917 added a boarding school.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Within each tribe there were distinct bands, each with its own headman and name, e.g., Long Legs, Quick-to Anger, Greasy Faces, and Beavers. Each band was composed of a number of camps. Typically, a camp included several tipis, including at least one of the senior generation and several for daughters, their husbands, and children. Most married couples resided in the wife's camp. Thus, there was a strong matrifocal pattern that placed mothers, daughters, and sisters at the enduring core of family and camp life. There was an elaborate age set system. Men in the same age set but from different camps and bands passed together through the same sequence of age grades, including, from youngest to oldest, the Kit-Foxes, Stars, Tomahawks, Spears, Crazies, Dogs, Old Men, and Water-Sprinkling Old Men.

Political Organization. Each band recognized a headman or chief, a position that was generally though not specifically inherited along lines of descent. Among all the bands the headman of one band was regarded as the principal chief. Each of the men's junior age set had specific functions in policing and defending the camp. Senior grades provided military leadership, political relations with non-Arapaho groups, and authority over ceremonies. All decisions facing the tribe were decided in council by the chiefs, leaders of the age set lodges, and the oldest men.

Today the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes govern under a constitution, while the Northern Arapaho have resisted adopting a constitution since it was first proposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the 1930s. Besides the Business Council, Northern Arapahos govern through resolutions passed in General Council, a meeting in which all present and eligible tribal members discuss and decide issues facing the tribe. Both Northern and Southern Arapaho tribes now have elected tribal governments.

Despite increased self-determination for both tribes since the 1970s, all tribal governance is still subject to BIA administrative control and congressional plenary power, especially in matters relating to land and other natural resources. Both tribes continue to strive toward greater local self-government, increased control of tribal resources, and sustainable economic development.

Social Control. In traditional Arapaho society, there were a few formal modes of social control, specific to times of critical subsistence activity and sacred ritual events. During the communal buffalo hunts, for example, the Spear Lodge Men patrolled the camp as military police to keep individual hunters or families from racing out ahead of the group. A violator could be beaten or have his lodge destroyed. For certain crimes, too, specific actions were prescribed. A murderer, for example, had to send a senior relative to speak to the offended family and then make reparations usually in the form of payment of horses. There also were various informal mechanisms of control. If a young man or woman stole, lied, or committed some other offense, a senior relative would lecture him or her. Those who did not conform after informal mechanisms were applied could be shunned from the camp. As a result an offender would camp at a distance from the main camp permanently or until reform was evident to the band. On the reservation, functions of social control have gradually shifted to formal institutions involving police, social agencies, and courts.

Conflict. Internal conflict was rare in the prereservation period but could arise, especially from adultery or murder. When such conflict did occur older family members or elders from outside intervened to negotiate compensation agreeable to all parties involved. This usually consisted of payment of horses from the offender to the offended party. In cases of irreparable conflict within a band, the two groups might separate into two new bands.

There were two main types of intersocietal warfare. One consisted of planned raids in the late summer and early fall against enemy camps. War parties of young men traveled great distances, often on foot, to sneak into enemy camps and escape with as many horses as they could. If fighting ensued, scalps were taken from enemies killed. Arapaho warriors also followed the Plains Indian custom of counting coup by striking their war clubs on living or fallen enemies, as well as accumulating honors from other war feats. The second type of warfare occurred when an Arapaho and enemy band encountered each other in contested areas bordering their territories. Though rare, battles over several days' duration with considerable loss of life could result from these encounters.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. To the Arapaho people all life depends on the Flat-Pipe. More than a sacred object, it was the original being on earth and the means through which Arapahos continue to communicate with all sacred beings and forces. Sitting highest, motionless, and directly above is the Creator and most powerful of all. Other principal beings, each with its own power, include the Four Old Men of the four directions, Sun, Moon, Morning Star, Earth, Thunderbird, and Whirlwind Woman. There are also various lesser beings and forces that roam the earth, such as little people, ghosts, and other spirit forms.

Various new religious traditions emerged to address the severe conditions of early reservation life, as well as to replace the loss of the old ceremonies due to governmental suppression. In 1890, Northern Arapahos became the first Plains people to follow the Ghost Dance. The Paiute prophet Wovoka predicted the destruction of the earth, removal of Euro-American presence, return of all deceased Indians, renewal of the buffalo, and return of the land to its original state. Central to the religious movement were a dance and associated songs that stimulated followers to experience their own visions of the afterlife and world to come. After the massacre at Wounded Knee late in 1890 and the failed renewal of the world as predicted for the spring of 1891, these practices gradually disappeared.

By 1900 the Peyote religion had been accepted among Southern Arapahos and later the Northern Arapaho. The religion's code of sobriety, good family life, charity, and compassion addresses many of the problems of individuals and families on the reservation. Most Southern and Northern Arapahos also have readily selected and adopted aspects of Christianity that are compatible with traditional religion and aid in resolving many of the crises and challenges of reservation life.

Religious Practitioners. Before relocation on the reservation, ultimate authority for the proper performance of all ceremonies rested in seven of the oldest men in a sacred society with a name translated as "Water-Sprinkling Old Men" for the ceremony held daily in the sweat lodge at the center of camp. Because of the harsh conditions of early reservation life, the positions were not passed on. To replace them, the Northern Arapaho formed a group called the Four Old Men, who retain authority over all religious life today. Similarly, the Southern Arapaho formed a group of twelve chiefs for organizing social and religious events. Specific roles that have endured to the present time include the Pipe Keeper, keepers of various other ceremonial objects, the Sun Dance leader, leaders of the tribal drum groups, and various other ceremonial positions passed from one generation to another through apprenticeship. As a counterpart to the seven old men, seven women owned seven sacred bundles for performing the women's ceremonial art form of quillwork. There were also medicine men with specific powers for curing, prophecy, and spiritual guidance. Other religious practitioners have also emerged including the peyote road chiefs, who are responsible for directing the ceremonies of the Native American Church.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies included those for life transitions that took place in the family and camp settings, such as marriage and childhood honor feasts. For childhood transitions families sponsored cradleboard presentation, naming, earpiercing, first tooth, first walk, and, for boys, the first hunt. Another type encompassed highly sacred rites that took place in a specially prepared tipi, sweat lodge, or other small space closed to public view and access. These consisted of all the secret ceremonies of the oldest age groups and for fasting, offerings, sweats, and prayers to the Flat-Pipe, as well as the women's sacred quillworking ritual.

There were also public ceremonies referred to as "all the lodges" (beyoowu'u), which included five men's age grade ceremonies, the women's Buffalo Lodge, and the Offerings Lodge, now commonly called the Sun Dance. Most ceremonies surrounding the Flat-Pipe have survived, but the only public ceremony to survive is the Sun Dance.

Arts. Traditional arts involved quillwork, beadwork, and painting on rawhide, buffalo hides, wood, and artifacts. Paints were made from tallow mixed with earth, clay, berries, charcoal, or plants. Quillwork applied to tanned hides was done only by women, supervised by the seven old women who were owners of sacred bundles containing the appropriate tools and materials. Women made buffalo robes, cradleboard covers, pillows, tipi ornaments, and other goods as gifts to relatives. Beadwork was an introduced medium that adopted designs and styles once reserved for quillwork.

Medicine. There were two basic types of traditional Arapaho medicine. One involved knowledge of plants and other natural substances for curing illnesses. The other was owned by a very few medicine men with great powers to cure, change the weather, predict the future, and perform other various miraculous deeds. Medicine of either type could be acquired directly through visions or purchased and learned from a senior owner. Patients offered gifts of horses or other goods in return for treatment.

Death and Afterlife. In prereservation culture, death was followed by burial within the same day. The ceremony usually involved only the deceased's immediate family. The deceased was buried in a stone-covered grave, wearing his or her best traditional clothes, along with a number of personal belongings. Remaining belongings that were very close to the person were either burned or claimed by close relatives. The tipi, tent, or, later on, house where death occurred was usually abandoned or destroyed. If the deceased was a warrior, his best horse was killed and left at the gravesite. The deceased's spirit was believed to linger for four days, then travel to hiyei'in, "our home," located above and somewhere to the west. For a year following a death, close relatives maintained mourning behavior by appearing unkempt and withdrawing from public life. Women often gashed their legs or midsections, or vowed to sacrifice a portion of a finger for a deceased relative. With the influence of the missions, military service in World War II, and Pan-Indian traditions, Arapaho funerals have become more elaborate and prolonged, involving all extended family and, for prominent people, the entire community. However, mourning behavior has decreased in the modern wage labor economy.

For the original article on the Arapaho, see Volume 1, North America.


Anderson, Jeffrey D. (2001). The Four Hills of Life: Northern Arapaho Knowledge and Life Movement. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Berthrong, Donald J. (1976). The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Dorsey, George and Kroeber, Alfred L. (1903 [reprint 1997]). Traditions of the Arapaho. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Fowler, Loretta (1982). Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1878; Symbols in Crises of Authority. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Hilger, Sister M. Inez (1952). "Arapaho Child Life and Its Cultural Background." Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 148. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1902,1904,1907 [reprint 1983]). The Arapaho (foreword by Fred Eggan). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Mooney, James (1896). "The Ghost-Dance Religion and Sioux Outbreak of 1890." Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1892-93. Part 2, 641-1110. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole (1970). "The Arapahoes, Our People." The Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 105. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.



views updated May 14 2018



The Arapaho (pronounced uh-RAP-uh-ho) called themselves Inuna-ina, or Hinono’eno, which might mean “our people,” “sky people,” or “roaming people.” The name Arapaho may have been derived from the Pawnee word tirapihu, meaning “trader”; the Kiowa name for the tribe, Ahyato; or the Crow name for the tribe, Alappaho.


In the 1700s the Northern Arapaho occupied the plains of southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. The Southern Arapaho occupied the plains of west-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas. In the mid-2000s the Northern Arapaho shared the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming with the Shoshone. The Southern Arapaho lived on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in western Oklahoma.


The Arapaho population was approximately three thousand in pre-reservation days. By 1861 the numbers had fallen to 750 (Northern) and 1,500 (Southern). In the 1990 U.S. Census, 5,585 people identified themselves as Arapaho. More specifically, 1,319 people said they were Northern Arapaho and 14 people said they were Southern Arapaho. In 2000 the census showed 7,181 Arapaho; of those, 4,579 were Northern Arapaho.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

The Arapaho probably originated in the Great Lakes region—perhaps in Minnesota or Canada. One group of Arapaho were called Gros Ventre (pronounced grow VAHNT) by the French. The reason for the name, which means “Big Bellies,” is unknown, but it has stuck. The Gros Ventre settled on the Fort Belknap Reservation in northern Montana in 1878. The Cheyenne and Arapaho shared a similar language and culture, but were separate tribes; later a portion of both tribes moved onto a reservation together. The Shoshone, historically an enemy of the Arapaho, lived alongside them in 2007 on the Wind River Reservation.

The Arapaho were a spiritual, peace-loving people who moved to the Great Plains in the mid-1600s. They gave up their farming lifestyle to roam the plains, hunting buffalo on horseback. When gold seekers and settlers overran the West the Arapaho offered them safe passage, then lost most of their lands—and their livelihood—to them. In the 1800s, after splitting into two groups to search for increasingly elusive herds of buffalo, the Arapaho were permanently divided and moved onto reservations.


From Great Lakes to Great Plains

Around the year 1000 bce most Algonquian speakers lived in the Great Lakes region. The Arapaho migrated in a southwesterly direction to the Great Plains and changed their livelihood from farmers to wandering hunters.

By the 1700s the Arapaho had adopted a typical Great Plains lifestyle, living in hide-covered tepees and following the migrations of the great buffalo herds. Spanish explorers introduced horses to the New World, and the Arapaho acquired their own in the 1730s. They quickly became skilled riders and could now hunt far more efficiently than on foot.

Important Dates

1600s to mid-1700s: The Arapaho migrate from the Great Lakes region onto the Great Plains and adopt a wandering, hunting lifestyle.

1835: The Arapaho divide into two groups: the Northern Arapaho settle near the North Platte River in Wyoming and the Southern Arapaho settle near the Arkansas River in Colorado.

1864: At least 130 Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne—many of them women and children—are killed by U.S. Army troops during the Sand Creek Massacre.

1867: The Southern Arapaho are placed on a reservation in Oklahoma, which they share with the Cheyenne.

1878: The Northern Arapaho move onto the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, which they share with the Shoshone.

Relations with neighbors

The Arapaho established trading relationships with neighboring tribes who relied on farming. They gave surplus meat and hides to the Hidatsa and Mandan peoples in exchange for beans, corn, and squash. At the same time they raided and fought with other tribes, often to accumulate more horses.

In the mid-1800s a major wave of whites streamed into Arapaho territory. Some planned to stay; others were on their way to find gold in California. The vast wagon trains disrupted the migrations of the buffalo herds, sending the buffalo in different directions and making them harder to find. Plains tribes were forced into competition for game and land. The Arapaho traded with whites for guns, ammunition, and knives to fight their enemies. As hunting by non-Natives made game more scarce, the tribe began to depend on whites for food and clothing. Sometimes they acquired these items in payment for escorting wagon trains through the territories of neighboring tribes who were hostile to the invading whites.

Division in the tribe

Around 1835, under increasing pressure from non-Native settlers, the tribe separated. The Northern Arapaho settled at the edge of the Rocky Mountains in present-day Wyoming. The Southern Arapaho settled along the Arkansas River in present-day Colorado. They remained in close contact with one another, a pattern that continues to this day.

Eventually the Arapaho made peace with several of their former enemies, including the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, and Cheyenne (see entries). The Arapaho were one of eleven tribes to sign the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which set aside large tracts of land for the Native Americans. Before long, however, white settlers wanted that property as well. Though the Arapaho were generally more peaceful than their neighbors, they did take part in several battles over domination of the Great Plains.

Sand Creek Massacre

Continuing conflicts between Plains Indians and whites who tried to take their lands reached a climax in November 1864. Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle (died 1868) told the U.S. government he wanted peace, and he asked to be directed to a safe place. They sent him with his people and members of the Arapaho tribe to Sand Creek in Colorado. There the Native Americans lived peacefully for a few weeks. Then early one morning they were ambushed by American troops as they lay sleeping. At least 130 people were brutally killed in the Sand Creek Massacre, and many women and children. In retaliation the Southern Arapaho, led by Little Raven (died 1889), joined the Cheyenne in an all-out war against the whites. It lasted for six months.

After the war

By 1867 the Southern Arapaho population had been greatly reduced by war, disease, and starvation. Tribal leaders reluctantly agreed to accept placement on a reservation. In exchange for their former lands the Southern Arapaho agreed to share land in western Oklahoma with the Southern Cheyenne.

The Northern Arapaho resisted the pressure to settle on a reservation. Urged to share the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with the Sioux (see entries), they insisted on receiving their own lands. In 1878 they finally agreed to accept lands on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. They had to share the reservation with their former enemies, the Shoshone (see entry), and for a time relations were tense. Finally the two groups reached an understanding. They live together but maintain their own identities, culture, and government.

Once on reservations the Arapaho faced a great deal of pressure to abandon their traditional lifestyle and assimilate, or become like white Americans. The Northern Arapaho have been more successful in resisting the pressure, in part because Wyoming remains the center of Arapaho religious life. The Southern Arapaho travel to Wind River Reservation each year for powwows (festivals of singing and dancing), rituals, and dances. The most important ceremony today is the Offerings Lodge. It is held in the summer and allows participants to express their commitment to the Arapaho community.


The Arapaho were an intensely religious people. All aspects of their lives had spiritual significance, and they looked for signs and wonders everywhere. They believed in a Creator who made the world and the Arapaho people. They believed that they would be granted health and happiness if they prayed and offered gifts to the Creator. Their most sacred object was the flat pipe that represented the power of the Creator on Earth.

The main Arapaho religious ceremony was the annual Sun Dance, involving rituals centering on the sacred wheel or a sacred tree with a rawhide doll tied to the top. Although Arapaho who were to join in the Sun Dance fasted and went without sleep for several days in preparation, they did not include self-torture (piercing and tearing the flesh) in their Sun Dance like some other Plains tribes did.

Missionaries tried to convert the Arapaho to Christianity in the late 1800s. Some converted, but others embraced the Ghost Dance religion when it spread among western tribes during the 1880s. Founded by Wovoka, a Paiute, the religion predicted a new age without white men, when plentiful game and dead ancestors would return to the Earth. Today, the Northern Arapaho continue to practice the Sun Dance, and many Southern Arapaho make an annual pilgrimage to the Wind River Reservation to participate.

The Native American Church and the Sweat Lodge ceremony also found followers among the Arapaho. The Native American Church combines Christian and Native beliefs and practices and features an all-night ceremony composed of chanting, prayer, and meditation. The Sweat Lodge ceremony is a purification ritual that involves a sweat bath.


The Arapaho spoke a dialect (variety) of the Algonquian language family, unusual among tribes of the Great Plains, but common among those in the Great Lakes region. Few Native speakers remain among the Arapaho. The loss of their Native language has been a major problem for the Arapaho, and in recent times the Northern Arapaho have established a language program in reservation schools to encourage its use.

Arapaho Words

  • bee’ee’ …“red”
  • bii3ih …“eat”
  • biikousiis …“moon”
  • he3 …“dog”
  • hiisiis …“sun”
  • hinen … “man”
  • hisei … “woman”
  • nec …“water”
  • neniitonoot … “see”
  • niibeiinoo … “sing”
  • nonoo3oot … “leave”
  • nowo’ … “fish”
  • siisiiyei … “snake”
  • wox … “bear”
  • woxhoox … “horse”


Arapaho men acquired power within their bands by capturing horses in raids. If a man had many horses and displayed qualities such as generosity and competence, he might be chosen the leader of his group. However, leaders had limited powers. Important matters had to be discussed at length by every adult man and some older women in the group before decisions were made. The most weight was given to the opinions of leaders and elders.

In the early twenty-first century two separate general councils, made up of members of the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes who are ages 18 and over, hold meetings at the Wind River Reservation. Both tribes are governed by business councils; six members are elected to serve two-year terms, and the council members elect the chairpersons.

A joint tribal business committee operates at the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in Oklahoma. Four members from each tribe are elected to serve four-year terms. The reservation also has a tribal council that includes all members age 18 and older. The tribal council approves the budget, land leases or changes, and laws about membership. They may also propose amendments to the constitution, change district boundaries, and override business committee decisions. To veto committee decisions, at least 75 members must vote against them.


The Arapaho divided labor according to gender, but the work of men and women was considered equally important. Long ago the economy was based on farming. When they moved to the Great Plains the Arapaho depended on buffalo for food, clothing, and shelter. Since horses were necessary to hunt buffalo, a man’s wealth was measured in the number of horses he owned. By the mid-1800s, though, buffalo had become nearly extinct. Weakened by diseases and food shortages, tribe members were often forced to steal livestock from settlers. When the federal government finally authorized the distribution of food to poverty-stricken Arapaho, the agents in charge of providing the food often cheated the Native Americans.

The Arapaho gradually began to support themselves by farming, cattle ranching, and selling or leasing reservation land to whites. Both Northern and Southern Arapaho earn income from oil and gas revenues and from small businesses including smoke shops, casinos, bingo parlors, and convenience stores. The Northern Arapaho also raise cattle and horses and have tourist attractions that bring in additional funds.

However, in Wyoming, where the state is struggling to recover from an economic downturn following the collapse of the oil-shale industry, unemployment has been a problem for the Wind River Reservation. The Northern Arapaho are also working to restore native grasses and trees destroyed in a wildfire in 2000. Since 2002 they have planted 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of grass seed and more than 100,000 saplings. Money from the casino they opened in 2005 offsets some of these economic difficulties.

Daily life


The Arapaho lived in portable tepees that were easy to assemble and take apart and were owned by the women of the tribe. Each family built its own tepee, which consisted of wooden poles set into the ground and arranged in a cone shape, with a cover of fifteen to twenty buffalo hides stretched over the top. After the buffalo became extinct tepees were made of canvas obtained from the U.S. government.

In the winter the tribe usually scattered into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where they were more sheltered from the elements. There they camped in groups of twenty to eighty families. They mounded dirt around the outsides of their tepees for warmth. The inside had a sleeping platform and a fire fueled with buffalo dung. Sometimes they painted the walls with pictures of the man’s successes in war. In the summer, when the whole tribe came together to hunt on the prairies, they arranged all the tepees in a large circle.


Before it almost became extinct in the late 1800s the buffalo was a primary food source. Men also hunted deer, elk, and small game, but they would not eat bear because they considered bears their ancestors.

Arapaho women gathered roots and berries to eat fresh or make into a soup. The most common meal was a stew consisting of meat and wild roots like potatoes and turnips. The Arapaho also enjoyed a tea made with wild herbs.

Clothing and adornment

The Arapaho made most of their clothing from deer or elk hides. Women fashioned the skins into long dresses or into moccasins attached to leggings that extended to the knee. Arapaho men wore shirts, breechcloths (garments with front and back flaps that hung from the waist), leggings, and moccasins. In the winter they added buffalo-skin robes and made snowshoes from strips of rawhide attached to a wooden frame. They decorated much of their clothing with painted or embroidered designs that had religious themes.

The Arapaho adorned themselves with tattoos made by pricking the skin with cactus needles and rubbing charcoal into the wound. A man usually had three small circles across his chest, while a woman had a small circle on her forehead.

Healing practices

The Arapaho believed that people could become ill merely by thinking or speaking about disease and death or by failing to show proper respect to the Creator. When a person became sick, his or her relatives would open the person’s medicine bundle (a pouch with objects held sacred by the owner) and pray. Sometimes they offered gifts of food, property, or even flesh to make their loved ones well again. If that did not work, they would call upon a medicine person called a shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun) for help.

The Arapaho have a special healing ceremony that is performed in extreme cases. It has been held only two times in the twentieth century: during a flu epidemic in 1918 and in 1985 after a rash of suicides of young people on the reservation. Called the paint ceremony, it was described in a magazine article by Ted Delaney:

One by one, people entered the tepee where the elders sat. The ceremony involved steps of cleansing, by prayer, by smoke, then by paint on the face.… When people emerged from the tepee, they left the grounds, silent. Most of the five thousand people of the Wind River Reservation took part.


In the past

Arapaho children regarded all adults as their mothers and fathers, and they learned by watching and imitating adults. Parents often invited respected elders to dine and tell stories of their life experiences and successes.

Toys were miniature versions of adult items and helped teach children their expected adult roles. Girls played with tiny tepees and with dolls. Dolls were not treated as babies because the Arapaho believed that even to mention a baby could cause pregnancy. Boys played war and hunting games.

After the Arapaho moved to reservations their children were sent away to boarding schools. Some boarding schools were located on the reservations, but others were often great distances from home. Children were cut off from their parents and forbidden to use their native language. Children who had never before experienced punishment were often treated harshly.

In recent times

On the Wind River Reservation in the early to mid- twenty-first century, the custom of elders teaching children survives. Children have little contact with people outside the reservation until they graduate from reservation schools. In 2004 the tribe opened Four Winds Charter School, where students can study traditional academic subjects or receive vocational training.

Arapaho children in Oklahoma mainly attend local public schools, colleges, and vocational-technical centers. The tribe also operates a number of Head Start centers and daycares. Students who want to go on to college receive scholarships. In addition to adult education classes, the reservation has language classes and vocational training.


Inspiration for the decorative arts came to the Arapaho in dreams. Highly skilled women artists painted and embroidered their visions onto beautiful containers, medicine bundles, jewelry, and personal belongings.

The Sun Dance Wheel

A Sun Dance was primarily intended as a religious ceremony, and it brought separate Arapaho groups together for a joyous reunion each summer. Its centerpiece was the Sacred Wheel, which was displayed on an altar and included decorations representing the Sun, Earth, sky, water, and wind. The following story explains the creation of the Sacred Wheel and the meaning of its various parts. The disk in the center of the wheel represented the Sun; the band of wood encircling it was painted like a harmless snake and represented the water; the markings on four sides symbolized the Four Old Men who controlled the winds; and the beads and feathers represented the sky and rain. The exact meaning of the constellations mentioned in the story is no longer known.

At one time, water covered all the Earth. No land could be seen in any direction. It was then that a man walked across the water for four days and four nights, thinking. In his arms he carried Flat Pipe, his only companion and good counselor. The man wanted to treat his pipe well and give it a good home. For six days he fasted while he thought how to do this. Finally on the evening of the sixth day he reached a firm conclusion. “To give Flat Pipe a good home there should be land, and creatures of all kinds to inhabit it.”

On the morning of the seventh day he resolved to find land. Calling in all directions, he asked the animals to help. And from the four directions came all manner of animals willing to offer their aid. It took a long time, but finally, with their help, he made the Earth a home for Flat Pipe and placed the Four Old Men in the four directions to control the winds. The Earth was also to be the place of the Sun Dance Lodge, where every year the people would gather to worship together, praying for bounty and health for the tribe.

The man saw a tiny snake and said, “Come and sit near me, Garter Snake. You will be a great comfort to the people in the future and will have an important place in the Sun Dance Lodge. You will be the Sacred Wheel.” Then, looking around to the many helpers that had gathered nearby, he said, “We will need material for a wheel.”

Many offered, but Long Stick, a bush with flexible limbs and dark red bark, was most suitable. He said, “For the good of all, I offer my body for the wheel. I am anxious to do good. Please accept my offer so my name will live through the ages.” All murmured approval, and they made Long Stick into the ring for the Sacred Wheel.

Then the eagle spoke up, saying, “My great strength and power carry me high above the Earth. My holy body and broad wings soar on the winds of the four directions. I offer my feathers as symbols of the Four Old Men. From here on, if anyone should give you eagle feathers to honor and respect, please remember this day and my request. Help them to use my feathers well.”

The man then said, “Eagle, the good and faithful one, has asked that his feathers be used to represent the Four Old Men. We will honor his desire and tie four bunches of eagle feathers to the wheel.”

After he had shaped the Sacred Wheel, the man painted it in the image of Garter Snake and arranged the eagle feathers in positions of the Four Old Men—northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest—and tied them carefully. Then on the wheel the man placed Morning Star, the Pleiades, and Lone Star. Next he placed other groups of stars, such as Chain of Stars, Seven Buffalo Bulls, the Hand, the Lance, and the Old Camp. Finally he painted on the Sacred Wheel the symbols of the Sun, the Moon, and the Milky Way. The man thanked Garter Snake, who was pleased to serve the people in this way.

Monroe, Jean Guard, and Ray A. Williamson. “The Sun Dance Wheel.” They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.



The Arapaho believed that the four stages of life corresponded with the four directions of the winds. These stages were childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age; each had special rituals. Immediately after a baby was born, for example, older relatives prayed for it to be strong and healthy and marked its face with red paint. Between the ages of two and five, Arapaho children had their ears pierced in a special ritual that helped the child learn to deal with future pain and hardship. As they approached puberty, boys and girls were separated from one another to prepare for adult life. Boys entered special societies, while girls spent considerable time with the older women of the tribe, dressing modestly and learning women’s duties.


Arapaho males progressed through eight military societies, beginning as young boys. As boys became young men they entered the Kit Fox Lodge. After they reached a certain level of skill and bravery they progressed into the Star society. Other societies included the Tomahawk, Spear, Crazy, and Dog lodges. “Graduation” to each society brought added prestige and new responsibilities.

The seven tribal elders known as the Water-Pouring Old Men were the most respected members of the tribe. Their duties were to direct ceremonies, take care of the sacred flat pipe, and pray for the well-being of the Arapaho people.

In the days of buffalo-hunting Arapaho women had their own society, the Buffalo Lodge. Members performed ceremonial dances to ensure a successful hunt. They wore costumes and painted their faces white to look like buffalo. They blew on special whistles to attract buffalo.

Hunting rituals

Arapaho men on horseback worked together during a buffalo hunt, chasing down individual animals and cutting them off from the rest of the herd. At first they used bows and arrows made of cedar and sinew; later they used guns. They butchered the buffalo with flint or bone knives and then brought it back to camp, where women smoked or dried the meat and prepared the skins to make clothing, tepee covers, or containers for water and food.


Most Arapaho marriages were arranged by a woman’s male relatives. Women had the right to refuse marriage, but few did so. The wedding day began with an exchange of gifts between the bride’s and groom’s families. Then the bride’s family hosted a feast, and the couple was allowed to sit together for the first time. Following the marriage both the bride and the groom avoided contact with the other’s parents.

Medicine bundles

Each member of the Arapaho tribe possessed a medicine bundle containing sacred objects that represented his or her personal relationship with the Creator. A vision revealed to a person what should go into the medicine bundle. During times of illness or war people used their medicine bundles to make special appeals to the Creator.

Current tribal issues

The Arapaho have been involved in a number of issues concerning land and water rights. In 1989 the tribe successfully protested against a U.S. Forest Service plan to turn a sacred site in Big Horn National Forest into a tourist attraction. In 2004 the Wind River Reservation received a $90,000 grant to restore the declining fish population in the creeks and river. The Southern Arapaho are working to clean up illegal dumping sites and control solid waste.

Other issues facing the Arapaho include regaining their native language and cultural traditions and finding stable sources of income and employment.

Notable people

Black Spot (c. 1824–1881) was a daring warrior and Arapaho chief who learned white ways as a boy. Accidentally left behind when his family moved camp in 1831, a white trapper and trader adopted him and renamed him Friday. He was educated in St. Louis. On a trip west in 1838 Black Spot’s relatives recognized him and brought him back to the Arapaho tribe. Thanks to his familiarity with white culture, Black Spot acted as a negotiator and interpreter during treaty talks and was part of the group that secured the Wind River Reservation for his people.

A number of other famous Arapaho leaders assisted Black Spot in negotiations with white men. Among them were Black Bear, who was murdered by a group of white settlers in 1871; Medicine Man, a revered healer who died about the same time; his successor, Black Coal; and Sharp Nose, who continued efforts that allowed the Northern Arapaho to remain in Wyoming.

Anderson, Jeffrey D. One Hundred Years of Old Man Sage: An Arapaho Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

Bial, Raymond. The Arapaho. New York: Benchmark Books, 2004.

Carter, John G. The Northern Arapaho Flat Pipe and the Ceremony of Covering the Pipe. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2007.

Dorsey, George A. The Arapaho Sun Dance: The Ceremony of the Offerings Lodge. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Dorsey, George A, and Alfred. L. Kroeber. Traditions of the Arapaho. Collected under the Auspices of the Field Colombian Museum and of the American Museum of Natural History. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Greymorning, Stephen. “Arapaho.” Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Mary B. Davis. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

Ryan, Marla Felkins, and Linda Schmittroth, eds. Tribes of Native America—Arapaho. San Diego, CA: Blackbirch Press, 2003.

Simmons, Marc. Friday, the Arapaho Boy: A Story from History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.

Sutter, Virginia. Tell Me, Grandmother: Traditions, Stories, And Cultures Of Arapaho People. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2004.

Delaney, Ted. “Confronting Hopelessness at Wind River Reservation” Utne Reader. (Jan/Feb 1990): 61–3. Excerpted from Northern Lights (October 1988).

Eskin, Leah. “Teens Take Charge. (Suicide Epidemic at Wind River Reservation).” Scholastic Update.)May 26, 1989): 26.

“A Guide to Learning the Arapaho Language Alphabet: Salzmann System.” Wind River Tribal College: ESL/Bilingual Education Program. (accessed on July 26, 2007).

“Arapaho Language and the Arapaho Indian Tribe (Inuna-Ina, Hinonoeino, Arapahoe).” Native American Language Net: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on July 13, 2007).

“The Story of the Origin of the Arapaho People.” The Wyoming Companion. (accessed on July 13, 2007).

Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska

Laurie Edwards

Brian Wescott (Athabaskan/Yup’ik)

Laurie Edwards

Amanda Beresford McCarthy

Laurie Edwards


views updated May 14 2018


ETHNONYMS: Arapahoe, Dog Eaters, Hitänwoiv, Inuñaina, Suretika

The Arapaho are an Algonkian-speaking tribe who at the time of first contact with the Americans lived around the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte rivers in southwestern Wyoming and eastern Colorado. In the mid-nineteenth Century, the tribe split into two groups. The Northern Arapaho now live with the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and the Southern Arapaho, with the Southern Cheyenne as the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribes of Oklahoma on a federal trust area in southwestern Oklahoma. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimated that there were at least forty-four hundred Arapaho living in the United States in 1980. Their language is distantly related to Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and the other Algonkian languages. The Gros Ventre (Atsina) were formerly an Arapaho band and speak a dialect of Arapaho.

The earliest evidence indicates the Arapaho were agriculturalists living near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota around 1600. From there they moved westward, acquiring the horse and becoming typical bison-hunting horse nomads on the Great Plains. They were noted as Warriors and fought with many other tribes as well as with the U.S. Army. After the split into two groups around 1835, the Southern Arapaho agreed to settle with the Cheyenne on an Oklahoma reservation in 1869, and the Northern Arapaho were placed on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming with their old enemies the Eastern Shoshone. The Southern Arapaho are now governed by the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribal Business Committee, which has elected officials from each of the tribes; on the Wind River Reservation, affairs are carried on by a joint business council. The major Arapaho business on this reservation is the Arapaho Ranch Enterprise, a beef-breeding operation that brings in over $3 million annually. Income is also derived from coal mining, forestry, and payments for grazing rights.

After the Arapaho moved to the plains, their economy was based almost entirely on bison hunting and the use of the horse, with men doing the hunting and carrying on warfare and the women concerned with domestic chores, gathering vegetable foods, raising children, and building the conical bison-hide-covered tipis characteristic of the society. They originally had five major divisions, although the Gros Ventre broke away from the others around the beginning of the eighteenth century. Each division had a chief, not formally elected but chosen from among the Dog Company, one of the age-grade societies which were characteristic of Arapaho social Organization. These societies no longer survive, but their general structure continues today in modified form and their values still determine social and political behavior to some extent.

While living on the plains, the tribe was nearly fully Nomadic, with communities having populations of two hundred to four hundred people. They had bilateral descent but no descent groups. The communities were exogamous, and postmarital residence was generally uxorilocal. There were strict mother-in-law/son-in-law and father-in-law/daughter-in-law taboos, as well as great respect between brothers and sisters. Polygyny was frequent, very often sororal. There were no strict rules of inheritance. Religion was largely bound up with the ceremonials of the age-grade societies, with the Sun Dance and the peyote worship also being important.


Elkin, Henry (1940). "The Northern Arapaho of Wyoming." In Acculturation in Seven American Tribes, edited by Ralph Linton, 207-258. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co.

Fowler, Loretta D. (1982). Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1983). The Arapaho. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Originally published, 1902-1907.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole (1970). The Arapahoes, Our People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.


views updated May 17 2018


ARAPAHO. An American Indian ethnic group, whose members are found principally on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming and on allotments on the former Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in Oklahoma, Arapahos are descendents of Algonquian-speaking peoples who migrated from the Great Lakes onto the Great Plains in the distant past. By the eighteenth century, distinct northern and southern divisions occupied lands on the Plains, where, drawn by bison herds and horses acquired from Comanches, they embraced Plains Indian cultural traditions. These divisions should be understood as flexible residence groups rather than unified political or economic entities. The band remained the most important unit of organization, and Arapaho governance operated through a series of age-grade societies (societies organized by age) that provided stable leadership while facilitating inter-band cooperation.

By the middle nineteenth century, Arapahos found themselves in competition with waves of settlers, miners,

and military personnel for control of their lands and resources. Arapahos responded by endorsing the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, but while this agreement supposedly guaranteed peaceful relations with settlers, the 1864 massacre at Sand Creek convinced Southern Arapahos to surrender traditional lands to join Southern Cheyennes on a reservation in western Oklahoma. With a few exceptions, Northern Arapahos generally avoided engaging the United States Army, expecting to enjoy secure title to a reservation of their own in return. Instead, they settled on the Shoshone Reservation in 1878 (Wind River Indian Reservation after 1937), a "temporary" measure that eventually became permanent.

On reservations, Arapahos struggled to maintain their political, social, and religious institutions in the face of deepening poverty and aggressive government civilization programs. On the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation, implementation of Dawes Act allotment policies in 1891 replaced the tribal land base with individual homesteads. Land sales followed as did increased reliance on wage work and on quite minimal revenues from oil leases. Since 1935, a joint constitutional committee established under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act has governed affairs of the combined Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe.

Northern Arapahos also faced allotment and efforts by ranchers and farmers to gain control over valuable resources. Non-Indian farmers obtained title to irrigated lands within reservation boundaries, and water rights re-main a bone of contention between Indians and the State of Wyoming. But the Wind River Reservation remains substantially intact, and Northern Arapaho age-grade societies' ceremonial organizations continue to operate. Though they rejected the Indian Reorganization Act, Arapahos govern themselves through a six-member business committee that meets with an Eastern Shoshone counterpart on matters of mutual interest. Since 1947, the two tribes have divided oil revenues, the Arapahos dedicating most of their share to per capita payments, with some funding community development projects. But unemployment remains high, with tribal economic development projects like the Arapaho Ranch unable to produce many jobs.

Nevertheless, Arapahos remain politically vital and active ceremonially. Their annual sun dance, held on the Wind River Reservation, affirms a sense of shared identity and is a focal point for ethnic identity and tribal self-determination.


Berthrong, Donald. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875–1907. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.

Fowler, Loretta. Arapahoe Politics, 1851–1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Stamm, Henry E., IV. People of the Wind River: The Eastern Shoshones, 1825–1900. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole. The Arapahoes, Our People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Brian C.Hosmer

See alsoTribes: Great Plains .


views updated May 14 2018

A·rap·a·ho / əˈrapəˌhō/ • n. 1. (pl. same or -hos) a member of a North American Indian people living chiefly on the Great Plains, esp. in Wyoming.2. the Algonquian language of this people.• adj. of or relating to this people or their language.


views updated May 14 2018

Arapaho Algonquian-speaking tribe of Native North Americans. Their original home was in the Red River valley; they moved across the Missouri River and split into two groups. After the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (1847), one group joined the Southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma, while the northern band joined the Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation. A Plains tribe, they joined with the Cheyenne in raiding migrating white settlers. Today, they number c.3000.