Published on October 23, 2010 by John
The Paiute, or Piute, included many different bands, out over a vast region. Based on varying dialects, they are usually organized into two distinct groups: the Northern Paiute (also called Numu or Paviotso) and the Southern Paiute. The northern branch occupied territory that is now northwestern Nevada, southeastern Oregon,southwestern Idaho, and northeastern California. The southern branch lived in territory now part of western Utah, southern Nevada, northwestern Arizona, and south eastern California. The Owens Valley Paiute, living along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in southeastern California, sometimes are discussed as a third branch.
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The varying dialects of the Northern and Southern belong to the Uto-Aztecan language family, related the SHOSHONE dialect. The name Paiute, pronounced PIE-oot, is thought to mean “true Ute” or “water Ute,” also an ancestral relationship with the UTE.
The Paiute as a whole are considered part of the Great Basin Culture Area (see GREAT BASIN INDIANS).
Nomadic Paiute bands wandered the rugged and arid Great Basin in search of whatever small game and wild plant life they could ﬁnd, sometimes venturing into the highlands surrounding the desert lowlands—roughly the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Sierra Nevada to the west, the Columbia Plateau to the north, and the Colorado Plateau to the south. For the Paiute bands, their activities and whereabouts in the course of a year were dictated by the availability of food. They traveled a great deal, constructing temporary huts of brush and reeds strewn over willow poles, known as wickiups, which were similar to APACHE dwellings.
The ﬁrst plant food available in the springtime was the cattail, growing in marsh ponds. The shoots were eaten raw. Other wild plant foods—roots and greens—soon followed. Spring was also a good time to hunt ducks in ponds on the birds’ migration northward, and, in the highlands to the north of the Great Basin, to ﬁsh the rivers and streams during annual spawning runs.
In summertime, many more wild plant foods ripened, such as berries and rice grass. The Paiute ground the seeds of the latter into meal. In the autumn, the primary food was pine nuts. The Paiute collected them from piñon trees growing on the hills and plateaus rising above the Great Basin. In the late fall, the Paiute returned to the desert lowlands to hunt game through out the winter, especially rabbits. Year-round, they ate whatever else they could forage, such as lizards, grubs,and insects. The Paiute, along with other Great Basin tribes, have been called “Digger Indians” by non-Indians because they dug for many of their foods.
Source: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES by CARL WALDMAN