Northern Paiute - Orientation

Identification. The people designated here as "Northern Paiute" call themselves nimi "people." They are sometimes also referred to as "Paviotso" or merely "Paiute"—their name has long been a source of confusion. "Paviotso," derived from Western Shoshone pabiocco, who used the term to apply only to the Nevada Northern Paiute, is too narrow. It also has a slightly derogatory ring among those who use it. "Paiute," of uncertain origin, is too broad, as it also covers groups that speak two other languages—Southern Paiute, and Owens Valley Paiute. "Northern Paiute," which has been in the Literature for roughly seventy-five years, is the clearest alternative. But the Indian people when speaking English often use only "Paiute," or they modify it with the name of a reservation or community.

Location. The Northern Paiute held lands from just south of Mono Lake in California, southeastern Oregon, and immediately adjacent Idaho. Linguistic relatives adjoined the people of the South and East: the Owens Valley Paiute along the narrow southern border and the Northern and Western Shoshone along the long eastern one. The western border was shared with groups speaking Hokan and Penutian languages. The region as a whole is diverse environmentally, but largely classified as desert steppe. Rainfall is scant, and water resources are dependent on winter snowpack in the ranges.

Demography. Population figures for people identified as Northern Paiute are largely inaccurate, owing to the uncertain number of persons living off-reservation and the growing number of members of other tribes on reservations. The 1980 census suggests that there are roughly five thousand persons on traditionally Northern Paiute reserved lands, and roughly another thirty-five hundred people residing off-reservation. The population at the time of contact (1830s) has been estimated at sixty-five hundred.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Northern Paiute language belongs to the widespread Uto-Aztecan family. It is more closely related to other languages in the Great Basin that together form the Numic branch of the family, and most closely to Owens Valley Paiute, the other language member of the Western Numic subbranch. The Owens Valley Paiute are close enough culturally to be included in this sketch, although linguistically they are part of a single language with the Monache (the language referred to as Mono). The Bannock of Idaho also speak Northern Paiute. Native language fluency over much of the region is now diminished, although some communities have attempted language salvage programs.

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