Information On The Arapaho Indian Culture

Find out about the way of life, history, culture, heritage and current situation regarding the Arapaho Indian Nation.

The Arapaho Indian Nation have lived on the plains of the American West since the 17th Century; prior to that they had roots in Minnesota. The Arapaho refer to themselves as "˜Inuna-Ina' which translates as "˜our people.' Their language is of Algonquin heritage, as is that of their close neighbors the Cheyenne. When they began to drift west, the Arapahos formed and alliance with the Cheyenne. Forsaking their life as corn planters they began to follow the great Buffalo herds.

The newly transplanted Plains Arapaho split into two separate tribes, the northern and southern Arapaho. Both tribes constantly waged war with the Shoshone, Ute, Pawnee and Navajo tribes throughout the 18th and early 19th century. From 1840 onwards, however, a peace settled over the plains tribes. The Northern Arapaho lived along the edges of the mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, while the southern Arapaho moved towards the Arkansas River.

The Arapaho were a nomadic people in the summer when they followed the Buffalo. To accommodate this they lived in tipis. The tipis were made from buffalo skins that were sewn together and wrapped around lodge poles. The tipi was easily maneuverable and could be comfortably erected by two women in an hour. The Arapaho became acknowledged experts at hunting the buffalo, which provided them with virtually every essential of living. In addition to the meat of the buffalo the Arapaho would eat berries and plants. A favorite among the people was to mix buffalo meat with berries and the fat of the buffalo to make pemmican. The Arapaho were also known for the custom of eating their dogs.

For their clothing the Arapaho would utilize the hide of the elk and the deer. From these they would fashion breechcloths, leggings and moccasins for the men and fringed dresses for the women.

The Arapaho would live together in small bands with membership predominantly determined by birth. Members were, however, free to move between bands at will. Once a year all of the bands would congregate together for the Sun Dance festival - an eight day festival that preceded the great summer buffalo hunt. Each band would raise their tipis in a circle, ensuring that their opening flaps were facing to the east. In the center of the camp the Sun Dance Lodge would be constructed. In the middle of this lodge would stand the Sun Dance pole. After a preparatory period the Sun Dance would begin with specific dance patterns and body painting methods. Those chosen as the primary participants would then undergo an excruciating ordeal that involved staring into the Sun while dancing hypnotically before being impaled to the Sun Dance pole by way of tiny stakes punctured into the skin. The Sun Dancer was not to show any signs of pain during the ritual and, if able to do so, would be rewarded with a vision from the Great Spirit.

The Arapaho are a very spiritual people. They believe in an overall creator who they refer to as Be He Teiht. As with many Native American peoples they believe in a close relationship between themselves, the animals of their world and the land on which they live. The Arapaho also have a deep respect and appreciation for the wisdom of their elders.

With the coming of the white man the Arapaho endeavored to coexist in peace. But as the advance of Europeans on the frontier continued at pace, The Arapahos, along with all the other plains tribes, found themselves being pushed further and further west. The buffalo which they so depended upon was being shot by the thousands and left to rot by the newcomers. Treaties made by the United States Government with the Arapaho were soon broken as the need for more land presented itself. The gold rush of 1858 saw the floodgates opened even further.

The treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 placed the Southern Arapaho on a reservation in Oklahoma along with the Southern Cheyenne. The Northern Arapaho were placed on a reservation in the Wind River area of Wyoming along with the Shoshone.

© High Speed Ventures 2011