Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma
The prehistoric homelands of the Pawnee were traced to the Central Plains for several centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans, centered in what is now northern and central Nebraska. Historically one of the largest and most prominent Plains tribes, they numbered 10,000 or more during early contact with Europeans. Pawnee life was characterized by alternating patterns of cultivation and High Plains bison hunting. They lived in permanent villages of dome-shaped earth lodges that often housed two or more families.
During the 1800s, the Pawnee people were subjected to an incessant interplay of destructive forces that radically changed their lives, largely the result of an expansionist U.S. encroachment by white immigrants. In 1833, the Pawnee ceded their lands south of the Platte River, and in 1857, they accepted a small reservation on the Loup Fork of the Platte River together with monetary and other economic provisions.
A series of epidemics and constant attacks by Sioux war parties took a steady toll on the Pawnee population. Finally in 1874, the tribe began to remove to Indian Territory where the Pawnee settled on former Cherokee land between the forks of the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers, south of the Osage Reservation. In 1878, as a result of the Allotment Act, individual families were encouraged to move to individual farms and agency officials relentlessly attacked many Pawnee social customs. The Pawnee people experienced poor health, coupled with inadequate sanitation and health care and as a result, the population reached a record low of 629 individuals in 1901 and did not begin to recover until the 1930s.
Beginning in 1906, the Pawnee no longer had a tribal government and they remained unorganized politically during the first three decades of the 20th century. Chiefs continued to act for the tribe in dealing with U.S. government officials and after reorganization in 1937, Pawnee leaders began a long effort to regain Pawnee lands. Ownership was returned to the tribe in 1968 and in 1980 a tribal roundhouse, modeled on the traditional Pawnee earth lodge, was built to serve as a social center for dances and other events.
Today, the Pawnee Nation is making strides in teaching their language to younger generations, preserving tribal knowledge with a library, and celebrating history and heritage with dances, ceremonies and the Pawnee Homecoming Powwow, an annual, four-day event held in early July.