The Pawnee (also Paneassa, Pari, Pariki) are a Native American tribe that historically lived along the Platte, Loup and Republican Rivers in present-day Nebraska and in Northern Kansas. They refer to themselves as "Chaticks-si-Chaticks", meaning "Men of men".
In the 18th century, they were allied with the French and played an important role in halting Spanish expansion onto the Great Plains by defeating the Villasur expedition decisively in battle in 1720.
They were an agricultural people who grew maize, beans, pumpkins and squash. They ate it with meat greased with animal fat. With the coming of the horse culture to the Great Plains they did begin to take on some of the cultural attributes of their cousins, but the buffalo culture remained secondary to the maize culture.
The Pawnee Confederacy was divided into the following four bands:
The Chaui are generally recognized as being the leading band although each band was autonomous and, as was typical of many Indian tribes, each band saw to its own, although with outside pressures from the Spanish, French and Americans, as well as neighboring tribes saw the Pawnee drawing closer together.
The Pawnee lodges tended to be oval in shape; the frame was constructed of 10-15 posts set some ten feet apart which outlined the floor of the lodge. Lodge size varied based on the number of poles placed in the center of the structure. Most lodges had 4, 8 or 12 center poles. A common feature in Pawnee Lodge's were four painted poles which represented the four semi-cardinal directions and the four major star gods (not to be confused with the Creator.) The framework was then covered with willow branches, earth and sod which inhibited erosion. A hole was left in the center which served as a combined chimney and skylight. The lodge itself was semi subterranean and the floor was approximately three feet below ground level. A buffalo-skin door on a hinge could be closed at night and wedged shut.
There could be as many as 30-50 people living in each lodge. A village could consist of as many as 300-500 people and 10-15 households. Each lodge was divided in two (north and south), and each section had a head who oversaw the daily business; each section was further subdivided into three families. The membership of the lodge was actually quite flexible. The tribe went on buffalo hunts in summer and winter. Upon their return, the inhabitants of the lodges would often move into another lodge, although they generally remained within the village.
Within the lodge the abovementioned sections were designated for the three classes of women.
Amongst the collection of lodges, the political designations for men were essentially between:
Women tended to be responsible for decisions about resource allocation, trade, and inter-lodge social negotiations. Men were responsible for decisions which pertained to hunting, war, and spiritual/health issues.
Women tended to remain within a single lodge, while men would typically move between lodges taking multiple sexual partners in serially-monogamous relationships.
Pawnee equated the stars with the gods and planted their crops according to the position of the stars. Like many tribal units they sacrificed maize and other crops.
When the morning star was due to rise, the girl was placed on the scaffold, and at the moment the star appeared above the horizon, the girl's chest was cut open, after which her body was shot with arrows.
In her The Lost Universe (1965), Gene Weltfish makes note of a young Lakota captive who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. She was thought to be the last human sacrifice performed by the Pawnee; Weltfish attributes this peculiarity to their Aztec kin to the south. However, this posited connection to Aztec sacrifice has been disputed
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado visited the neighboring Wichita in 1541 where he encountered a Pawnee chief from Harahey, north of Kansas or Nebraska. Nothing much is mentioned of the Pawnee until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when successive incursions of Spanish, French and English settlers attempted to enlarge their possessions. The tribes however tended to make alliances as and when it suited them. An interesting point to note being that different Pawnee subtribes could make treaties with warring European powers without disrupting the underlying unity; the Pawnee were masters at unity within diversity.
Historian Marcel Trudel has documented close to 2,000 Pawnee (in French, Panis) slaves who lived in Canada until the abolition of slavery at the end of the 18th century, making up close to half of the known slaves in French Canada.
A tribal delegation visited President Jefferson and in 1806 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Major G. C. Sibley, Major S. H. Long, amongst others began visiting the Pawnee villages. The Pawnee ceded territory to the American government in treaties in 1818, 1825, 1833, 1848, 1857, and 1892; in 1857, they settled on a reservation along the Loup River in present-day Nance County, Nebraska. Continual raids from Lakota from the north and west and encroachment from American settlers to the south and east lead to the abandonment of their Nebraska reservation. In 1875 they moved to Indian Territory, (Oklahoma), a large territory that had served as a 'dumping ground' for tribes displaced from the east and elsewhere. Many Pawnee men joined the United States Cavalry as scouts rather than face the ignominy of reservation life and the inevitable loss of their freedom and culture. In the 20th century, Christianity supplanted the older religion.
In 1780 the Pawnee are thought to have numbered around 10,000, but by the 19th century, epidemics of smallpox and cholera wiped out most of the Pawnee, reducing the population to approximately 600 by the year 1900; as of 2005, there are approximately 5,500 Pawnee.
The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 established the Pawnee Business Council, the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council, and a tribal constitution, bylaws, and charter. An out-of-court settlement in 1964 awarded the Pawnee Nation $7,316,096.55 for land ceded and undervalued in the previous century.
Bills such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 have gone some way to address the mistakes of the past and help the Pawnee Nation regain some of their pride and culture. Today the Pawnee are still celebrating their culture and meet twice a year for the inter-tribal gathering with their kinsmen the Wichita Indians and the four-day Pawnee Homecoming for Pawnee veterans in July. Many Pawnee return to their traditional lands to visit relatives and to take part in powwows.
In Arthur Penn's 1970 film, "Little Big Man", the Pawnee play the antagonists to the Dustin Hoffman's character, Little Big Man, as it was they who not only killed his family in the beginning of the film but also side with (serving as scouts) George Custer's 7th calvary; who later in the film, murder his Indian family on the Washita River.
In novel Centennial and the later television miniseries of the same name, the Pawnee are depicted as the enemies of the Arapaho. In one memorable scene, the Arapaho lead a raid on the village of Chief Rude Water to rescue an Arapaho girl kidnapped for the Morning Star ritual.
The Lost Universe by Gene Weltfish