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Original Tribal Names of Native North American People

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Tribes Thursday, March 03, 2011 9:21 PM


Original Tribal Names of Native North American People Please note that this chart is not complete--we have included only the names of North American nations (not of every band or village within a nation), and only those nations whose original names are known. With the exception of Cree and Cherokee, American Indian languages do not have their own writing systems, so the names must be written using English characters. I have not even tried to include every spelling variation this causes (for example, some Anishinaabe people spell the word Anishinabe, or Anishnaabe, or use the plural Anishinaabeg, or spell that Anishinabeg or Anishinabek or...)


Original Tribal Name In The People's Own Language Tribal Names Today, And Their Origins

A'aninin ("white clay people") Gros Ventre (French word for "big belly," unclear why the French called them this.)

Abenaki ("dawn people," or easterners), also Alnombak ("the people") Abenaki

Absaroke ("children of the big-beaked bird") Crow (English, from their tribal name)

Alabama ("cleared thicket") Alabama

Anishinaabe ("original people") Today the Anishinaabe have two tribes: Ojibway/Ojibwe/Chippewa (Algonquian Indian for "puckered," referring to their moccasin style) and Algonquin (probably a French corruption of either the Maliseet word elehgumoqik, "our allies," or the Mi'kmaq place name Algoomaking, "fish-spearing place.")

Aniyunwiya ("principal people") Cherokee/Tsalagi (from a Muskogee Indian word for "speakers of another language.")

Asakiwaki ("yellow earth people") Sauk, from tribal name.

Attikamekw ("whitefish people") Attikamekw, also Tête-de-Boule (French word for "ball head," unclear why the French called them this.)

Baxoje/Pahoja ("gray snow") Ioway (from a word in their language meaning "sleepy," unclear how this came to be a tribal name.)

Beothuk (possibly "kinfolk") Unfortunately the Beothuk are extinct today. They were more commonly known as Red Indians (English, after their extensive use of red ochre dye.)

Bode'wadmi ("firekeepers," traditional religious role) Potawatomi, from tribal name.

Chahta (the name of a legendary tribal chief) Choctaw, from tribal name.

Chikasha (the name of a legendary tribal chief) Chickasaw, from tribal name.

Dakelh ("water travelers") Carrier (English translation of the Sekani name for them, referring to the tribe's mourning ritual.)

Dakota ("the allies.") Band names include Sisseton ("marsh dwellers,")

Wahpeton ("forest dwellers,") and Yankton ("living far away.")	Dakota Sioux ("Sioux" comes from an Ojibwe word meaning "little snakes.")

Degexit'an ("people of this land") Ingalik (from an Inuktitut word for "Indian people.")

Dena'ina ("the people") Tanaina, from tribal name.

Dene ("the people") Chipewyan (from a Cree word for "pointed shirt," after a traditional clothing style.)

Dene Tha ("true people") Slavey (English, from the Cree name for them, which meant "servile ones.")

Dine'e ("the people") Navajo (from a Tewa word for "planted fields.")

Dunne-Za ("real people") Beaver (English translation of a clan name, Tsatinne)

Gaigwu ("principal people") Kiowa, from tribal name.

Gayogohono ("swamp people") Cayuga, also Iroquois (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.")

Gwich'in ("the people") Gwich'in or Kutchin.

Havasupai ("people of the blue-green water") Havasupai

Hinonoeino ("our people") Arapaho (probably from a Pawnee Indian word for "traders.")

Ho-Chunk ("big voice") Ho-Chunk or Winnebago (from an Algonquian word for "smelly water.")

Hopi ("peaceful person," "civilized person") Hopi

Hualapai ("people of the pine trees") Hualapai

Kalispel ("camas people") Kalispel or Pend d'Oreilles (French for "ear pendants," which the people wore.)

Kanza ("wind people") Kaw/Kansa, from tribal name.

Kawchottine ("big hare people") Hare (English, from tribal name.)

Illiniwek ("the best people"). A band name still in use today is Peoria ("backpack people.") Illini or Illinois Indians (English and French corruptions of tribal name.) Innu ("the people") Innu, also Montagnais (French word for "mountain people") and Naskapi (band name, means "bad dressers" in the Innu language.)

Inuit ("the people") Inuit, also Eskimo (from a Cree name for the Inuit meaning either "raw meat eaters" or "snowshoe lacers.")

Iyiniwok/Ininiwok ("the people") or Nehiyawok ("Cree speakers") Cree (from the French word for the tribe, Kristeneaux, of uncertain origin.)

Kadohadacho ("true chiefs") or Hasinai ("our own people") Caddo, from tribal name.

Kanienkehaka ("people of the flint") Mohawk (from an Algonquian word meaning "man-eaters,") also Iroquois (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.")

Kanonsionni ("people of the longhouse"), more recently Haudenosaunee.

Iroquois Confederacy (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.") Karok ("upriver") Karok

Kiwigapawa ("wanderer," in Shawnee; the Kickapoos split off from the Shawnee tribe.) Kickapoo, from tribal name.

Lakota ("the allies") or Teton ("prairie dwellers.") Lakota Sioux ("Sioux" comes from an Ojibwe word meaning "little snakes.")

Lenape ("the people"), Lenni Lenape ("true people") Delaware (after the English name for the Delaware River, named after a British nobleman.)

L'nu'k ("the people"), Mi'kmaq ("my friends") Mi'kmaq

Maklak ("the people") Klamath (from unknown origins)

Mamaceqtaw ("the people") Menominee (from an Ojibwe word meaning "wild rice people.")

Meskwaki ("red earth people") Fox Indian (possibly an English translation of a clan name).

Mikasuki ("boar clan") Miccosukee, from tribal name, also Seminole (from a Spanish word meaning "wild.")

Minisink ("rocky land") Munsee, from tribal name.

Mohingan ("wolf"--this was probably originally a clan name and became a tribal name later) Mohegan, sometimes mistakenly called Mohican by non-Indians.

Muheconneok ("Running Waters," name of a river in their homeland) Mohican, or Stockbridge Indians (the name of a town they settled in temporarily).

Muskogee (meaning not known, may originally have been a Muskogee chief's name) Creek (after the English name for a river in their homeland), also Seminole (from a Spanish word meaning "wild.")

Myaamia ("allies") Miami or Maumee, from tribal name.

Nakoda ("allies") Assiniboine (from an Algonquian Indian word meaning "cooks with stones," or Stoney (English word with the same idea).

Nanigansek ("Small Point," a geographical location in their homeland) Narragansett, from tribal name.

Nantego ("tidewater people") Nanticoke, from tribal name.

Ndee ("the people") Apache (from a Zuni word for "enemy.")

Niukonska ("middle water") Osage (from Wazhazhe, a band name.)

Numakiki ("people") Mandan (from a Sioux word for "riverbank people.")

Numinu ("the people") Comanche (from a Ute word meaning "they fight with us.")

Nuutsiu or Nunt’zi ("the people") Ute (probably a corruption of their tribal name; it does not mean "mountain" as is popularly believed)

Nuxbaaga ("original people") Hidatsa (from the name of a village), also Gros Ventre (French for "big belly," unclear why they called them this) and Minitari (from a Mandan word for "across the water.")

Odawa ("traders") Ottawa, from tribal name (the Canadian city is named after this tribe.)

Olekwo'l (the people) Yurok (from a Karok word for "downriver.")

Onandowaga ("people of the mountain") Seneca (possibly corrupted version of an Onandowaga village name, Osininka). Also Iroquois (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.")

Onundaga'ono ("people of the hills") Onondaga, from tribal name. Also Iroquois (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.")

Onyota'aka ("people of the standing stone") Oneida, from tribal name. Also Iroquois (from an Algonquian word meaning "real snakes.")

Panawahpskek ("Rocks Spread Out," geographical location in their homeland) Penobscot, from tribal name.

Peskotomuhkati ("pollock-spearers") Passamaquoddy, from tribal name.

Powhatan ("falling water," the name of their principal village) Powhatan, though many tribes of the old confederacy have returned to using their own names (Pamunkey, Mattaponi, etc.)

Qwulhhwaipum ("prairie people") Klickitat (from a Chinook word for "beyond the mountains.")

Sahnish ("original people") Arikara (from a word in their own language meaning "horns," referring to a tribal hairstyle.)

Schitsu'umsh ("the people found here") Coeur d'Alene (French for "awl heart," unclear exactly why they called them this.)

Shawanwa ("southerner") Shawnee, from tribal name.

Shuyelpee (name of a village) Colville, after the English name for a river in their territory.

Siksika ("black foot," referring to their moccasin style.) Band names still in use today include Pikuni ("short robes") and Kainai ("many chiefs.") Blackfoot/Blackfeet (English translations of the tribal name.) The English also called the Kainai band the Bloods because of their red face paint.

Skarooren ("hemp gathererers") Tuscarora, from tribal name.

Tetawken ("we people") Cayuse (from a French word for "rocky.")

Thlingchadine ("dog flank people," from a traditional legend) Dogrib (English translation of tribal name)

Titcakhanotene (from a place name in their territory) Tahltan (from the Tlingit name from their tribe, probably also a place name in the Tlingit language)

Titska Watich ("civilized people") Tonkawa (from the Waco name for the tribe, meaning "they keep together.")

Tse'khene ("people of the rocks") Sekani, from tribal name.

Tsitsistas ("the people") Cheyenne (from a Sioux Indian word for the tribe, probably meaning "relatives of the Cree.")

Ugakhpa ("downstream people") Quapaw, from tribal name.

Umon'hon ("against the current") Omaha, from tribal name.

Wampanoag ("eastern people"), also Massachusett (range of hills) and Pokanoket (name of their principal village) Wampanoag

Wendat ("islanders") Wendat/Wyandot or Huron (from a French word for "wild boar.") Wiyot (name of a river in their homeland) Wiyot

Wolastoqiyik ("Beautiful River," name of the river running through their homeland) Maliseet (from a Mi'kmaq Indian word meaning "talks imperfectly.")

Yavapai ("people of the sun") Yavapai

Special cases:


  • Lumbee is a modern tribal name, but it comes from a Carolina Algonquian word meaning "dark water" (the traditional name of a river in their territory). The Lumbee people descend from a coalition of Carolina Indian tribes, each of whom originally had its own tribal name (Cheraw, Catawba, Croatan, etc.)

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