Native Languages of the Kickapoo

Published on July 14, 2014 by Amy

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The Kickapoo
The Kickapoo

Language: Kickapoo is an Algonquian language closely related to Mesquakie-Sauk (some linguists even consider it a dialect of Mesquakie-Sauk). Kickapoo and Mesquakie-Sauk are both polysynthetic languages with complex verb morphology and fairly free word order. Unlike Mesquakie-Sauk, however, Kickapoo is a tone language–the high or low pitch of a vowel can change a Kickapoo word’s meaning. Kickapoo is spoken in three distinct language areas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and northern Mexico, by a combined 800 people. The language is most vigorous in Mexico, where some children are still learning it at home; in America Kickapoo is endangered, though revitalization efforts are ongoing. In the past, Kickapoo Indians also used a unique linguistic code called “whistle speech” to convey simple utterances, but today that is a lost art.

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People: The Kickapoo tribe was originally an offshoot of the Shawnee tribe (“Kickapoo” is thought to be a corruption of a Shawnee word for “wanderers,”) but their language and customs had more in common with the neighboring Fox and Sauk. Fiercely resistant to European cultures, the Kickapoo Indians never assimilated, preferring to continue relocating further south from their original Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois homeland. Today, 3000 Kickapoo people live in three groups in the US–the Kickapoo tribes of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas–and one community in Coahuila, Mexico.

History: Native American tribes are frequently defined by their historical reaction to European colonists. The Cherokee tried to fit into the new civilization; the Apache fought them tooth and nail. The Kickapoo tribe primarily withdrew. Wanting neither to fight the powerful invaders nor surrender to them, most Kickapoos left their native lands and moved southward to get away from white Americans, a process they repeated several times until the Kickapoos were living in Texas and Mexico–a far cry from their native Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. Some of the Kickapoo Indians in Mexico did eventually return to the United States, but their ancestors may have had a point–Kickapoo culture is most traditional and the Kickapoo language most alive in the Mexican Kickapoo tribe, furthest from the reach of the United States government and its programs.

Source: native-languages Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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