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.
Many linguists consider Gros Ventre an Arapaho
dialect-- 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.
Thanks for your interest in indigenous American languages!
Names: It is uncertain where the word 'Arapaho' came from. It may have come from the Pawnee word for "trader," iriiraraapuhu,
or it may have been a corruption of a Crow word for "tattoo." The Arapaho Indians called themselves Inuna-Ina (Hinonoeino) in their own language,
which means 'our people,' but the tribe self-identifies as Arapaho now. Other historical names for the Arapahos have
included Gens de Vache,
Dog Eaters, Hitanwo'iv, Saretika, Ita-Iddi, and Kanenavish,
and alternate spellings of these various names include Arapahoe, Arrapaho, Arrapahoe,
Inunaina, Inu Ina-na, Hinono'eino, Hinanaeina, Hinonoei'tiit, Hetanevoeo, Hetanevo'eo'o, and Suretika.
People: There are two major Arapaho tribes:
the Northern Arapaho, who are concentrated in Wyoming,
and the Southern Arapaho, who are united with their
longtime allies the Cheyenne into the Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation in Oklahoma.
The Northern Arapahos number about 6000, and the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes have 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.
Other Arapaho subgroups that have since merged into the Northern and Southern Arapahos include the
Besawunenaa, and the
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 crossing 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.