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An Arrikara warrior 0027v.jpg
An Arikara warrior, ca. 1840–1843, by Karl Bodmer
Total population
792 (2010 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
  North Dakota
English, Arikara
Christianity, Native American Church
Related ethnic groups
Caddo, Kitsai, Pawnee and Wichita
Pre-contact distribution of Arikara
Arikara man, wearing a bearskin, 1908
Mandan and Arikara delegation.

Arikara (English pronunciation: /əˈrɪkərə/), also known as Sahnish,[2] Arikaree or Ree, are a tribe of Native Americans in North Dakota. Today they are enrolled with the Mandan and the Hidatsa as the federally recognized tribe known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation.


The Arikara's name is believed to mean "horns," in reference to the ancient custom of wearing two upright bones in their hair. The name also could mean "elk people" or "corn eaters."[3]


The Arikara language is a member of the Caddoan language family. Arikara is close to the Pawnee language, but they are not mutually intelligible.[citation needed] As of 2007, the total number of remaining native speakers was reported as ten,[4] one of whom, Maude Starr, died on 20 January 2010.[5] She was a certified language teacher who participated in Arikara language education programs.[6]


Linguistic divergence between Arikara and Pawnee suggests a separation from the Skidi Pawnee in about the 15th century.[citation needed] The Arzberger Site near present-day Pierre, South Dakota, designated as a National Historic Landmark, is an archeological site from this period, containing the remains of a fortified village with more than 44 lodges. The Arikara lived as a semi-nomadic people on the Great Plains. During the sedentary seasons, the Arikara lived primarily in villages of earth lodges. While traveling or during the seasonal bison hunts, they erected portable tipis as temporary shelter. They were primarily an agricultural society, whose women cultivated varieties of corn (or maize). The crop was such an important staple of their society that it was referred to as "Mother Corn."[2]

Traditionally an Arikara family owned 30–40 dogs. The people used them for hunting and as sentries, but most importantly for transportation in the centuries before the Plains tribes adopted the use of horses in the 1600s. Many of the Plains tribes had used the travois, a lightweight transportation device pulled by dogs. It consisted of two long poles attached by a harness at the dog's shoulders, with the butt ends dragging behind the animal; midway, a ladder-like frame, or a hoop made of plaited thongs, was stretched between the poles; it held loads that might exceed 60 pounds. Women also used dogs to pull travois to haul firewood or infants. The travois were used to carry meat harvested during the seasonal hunts; a single dog could pull a quarter of a bison.[7]

In the late 18th century, the tribe suffered a high rate of fatalities from smallpox epidemics, which reduced their population from an estimated 30,000 to 6,000, disrupting their social structure.[8]

Due to their reduced numbers, the Arikara started to live closer to the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes in the same area for mutual protection. They migrated gradually from present-day Nebraska and South Dakota into North Dakota in response to pressure from other tribes, especially the Sioux, and European-American settlers. The remainder of the group was encountered in 1804 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[9]

During the Black Hills War, in 1876 some Arikara served as scouts for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the Little Bighorn Campaign. The three tribes are settled on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2010 Census CPH-T-6. American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. ^ a b "History: The Sahnish (Arikara)." Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. (Retrieved Sep 29, 2011) Archived November 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Carl Waldman (September 2006). Encyclopedia of Native American tribes. Infobase Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8160-6274-4. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  4. ^ SIL Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  5. ^ "Fluent Arikara speaker dies – KTIV NewsChannel 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports". Archived from the original on January 30, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ "MHA Nation – Three Affiliated Tribes". Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  7. ^ Fiedel, Stuart J. (2005). "Man's best friend – mammoth's worst enemy? A speculative essay on the role of dogs in Paleoindian colonization and megafaunal extinction," World Archaeology, 37:1, 15—16
  8. ^ "Lewis and Clark . Native Americans. Arikara Indians". Archived from the original on January 15, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  9. ^ SIL Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)

Further reading[edit]


  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The Languages of Native North America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.

External links[edit]