|Chapter 4 Native American Profile: The Pawnee|
Born of a dream, the Morning Star ritual was practiced among the Pawnee until the 1820s. A warrior dreamed that he was granted permission to kidnap and sacrifice a young girl from another tribe. The kidnapped youth, usually about 13, was cared for until sunrise on the day of the ceremony when she was shot through the heart with an arrow. Her life was given in thanks to the Morning Star for creating the Pawnee tribe.
Sometime in the 1820s, Chief Petalesharo put an end to this ritual. Chief Petalesharo was a great leader, warrior, and humanitarian. His name, appropriately, means "Man Chief." During a ceremony, Chief Petalesharo freed the kidnapped girl, gave her the resources she needed, and allowed her to return to her people. The U.S. government recognized him for his devotion to human rights. Chief Petalesharo became an advocate for human rights and spoke at conferences all over the Northeast.
The Pawnee lived a hunter-gatherer life style in the Great Plains. They spent part of the year farming near river valleys and part of the year hunting buffalo. For centuries, they maintained a sedentary life in the large villages they constructed.
In the seventeenth century, the Pawnee gained access to the horses that the Europeans had introduced to the plains. Having horses enabled them to hunt farther away from the village. They broadened their hunting grounds but clung to their agricultural roots.
In the early 1800s, the U.S. government sent an explorer named Zebulon Pike on a mission to gain control of land bought in the Louisiana Purchase. Pike convinced the Pawnee to form a partnership with the United States. The Pawnee agreed and entered a partnership with the United States that ultimately cost them their freedom and, in many cases, their lives.
The years that followed brought devastation in many forms to the Pawnee. As more and more white people began to move west, the Pawnee saw their land taken over by the fortune-seeking immigrants. Smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and measles outbreaks killed many of their number, forcing the Pawnee to rely heavily on aid from the U.S. government. Those who escaped illness were placed on reservations where raids from rival tribes, drought, and plagues continued to afflict them.
The U.S. government shuffled the Pawnee, each time taking away more rights and more land. In 1968, the government finally began to give the Pawnee back pieces of their former land.
The name Pawnee most likely came from the Sioux word pa-rik-i, meaning "horn." The term probably referred to the unique hairstyle of the Pawnee warriors. They traditionally called themselves both Ckirihki Kuruuriki and Chahiksichahiks, meaning "looks like wolves" and "men of men."
The language of the Pawnee was a Caddoan dialect related to the languages of the Sioux and Iroquois. The Pawnee were practiced in the Great Plains sign language, with which they communicated with other tribes.
The Pawnee worshiped Tirawa, the god of the open sky. They believed that the omnipotent Tirawa created the universe for companionship. They thought Tirawa created four stars to mark the four cardinal directions. The Pawnee looked to the stars of the Great Plains for navigation. Their religion reveals perhaps the most advanced cosmology of any Native American tribe.
Ceremonial dances are among the best-known customs of the Pawnee. The Buffalo Dance was performed before a large hunt to pacify the spirit of the buffalo and bring success to the hunters. The dance recreates an entire buffalo hunt-killing the buffalo and dragging, skinning, and butchering it. The dances of the Pawnee are all performed in honor of tribal gods and traditions.
In 1936, the Pawnee Tribal Business Council and a Chief's Council were established and included a governing tribal constitution. In 1964, the Pawnee were awarded over $7 million in compensation for the land they lost. They are still fighting to regain their independence from state and federal control.
The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 offered support in the way of grants for the Pawnee. Another advocacy group, The Native Americans Rights Fund, has forced the repatriation of some Pawnee remains. Despite the odds, the Pawnee culture and people are beginning to flourish once again.