Native Languages of the Americas:
Arapaho (Arapahoe, Inuna-Ina)
Language: Arapaho (also spelled Arapahoe or Arrapahoe) is an
Algonquian language spoken by 1000 people, most of them in
Wyoming. It is a polysynthetic language with long, complex verbs and fairly free word order.
Gros Ventre is considered an Arapaho
dialect by most linguists--though the two tribes maintain distinct identities, the languages are primarily
mutually comprehensible. Most Arapaho and Gros Ventre speakers are elderly, but the Arapaho tribe is working to
revitalize the language by teaching it to younger Arapahos.
People: It is uncertain where the word 'Arapaho' came from--they called themselves Inuna-Ina
(Hinonoeino), 'our people'--but this tribe self-identifies as Arapaho now. There are two major Arapaho tribes:
the Northern Arapaho, who number about 6000 and are concentrated in Wyoming,
and the Southern Arapaho, who are united with their longtime allies the Cheyenne into the
Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation in Oklahoma, with a combined 11,000 members.
The Gros Ventre tribe of Montana
was originally an emigrant group of Arapaho Indians, and their languages and cultures are closely related.
History: Though the Sioux, Shoshone, and
Pawnee knew them as formidable warriors, history
tends to label the Arapaho Indians a "peaceful people" because they did not fight the Americans.
Unfortunately, their strategy of making treaties with the invaders rather than fighting them
did not bring them to any better end. The increasing influx of settlers into areas promised
to the Arapaho by treaty forced them away from their traditional lands, disrupted the buffalo
routes, and ultimately split the Arapaho tribe in half, a split that still exists today.
The Southern Arapaho joined the Cheyenne, where they together became
victims of the most egregious massacre in American history, the Sand Creek massacre of 1864
(in which one Colonel Chivington deliberately attacked a reservation of peaceable Cheyenne and
Arapaho people under US protection and killed more than 150 men, women, and children despite their repeated attempts
to surrender. "Nits," he famously proclaimed, "breed lice.") Meanwhile, the Northern Arapaho fled to
what is now Wyoming and petitioned their old foes the Shoshone for a home there. Finally,
the Arapaho had made a treaty which would be honored: the land granted to them by the Shoshone
remains theirs to this day.