Southern Paiute (and Chemehuevi) - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Given environmental differences across the whole of Southern Paiute Territory, local groups had access to different natural foods. Animals hunted included several species of small mammals, including hares and rabbits, marmots, ground squirrels, and so on. In the Mojave Desert area, the chuckawalla, tortoise, and kangaroo mouse were more common, and replaced some of these. Some groups had little access to deer or antelope; most could get mountain sheep, but numbers might be very low. Land birds were more common as a food source than waterfowl, and few ate fish. Plant products likewise differed across the region, with those in hot desert climates specializing in agave and mesquite harvesting and those in cooler areas piñon and several types of berries. All collected native seeds. More than half of the subgroups farmed at least a little, a few more intensively. Native crops included maize, beans, squash, sunflowers, and amaranth. Ditch irrigation was used in southwestern Utah and southeastern Nevada, and floodwater farming was used by the Chemehuevi along the Colorado River. Fields were small and usually planted and tended by an extended family.

Contact and the establishment of reservations changed most of these patterns. Some groups were able to do a little farming, but most shifted their attention to wage work for local ranchers or in towns. Today tribal businesses (smoke shops, grocery stores, tourist services) employ modest numbers of people, and tribal governments several more. Others continue to do wage labor in a variety of skilled or semiskilled positions. Except for dogs, there were no domesticated animals prior to European contact. Today a few people keep horses to help with ranch work or for pleasure.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included principally basketry, pottery, and hide working. Numerous types and styles of baskets were woven for utilitarian purposes, principally food gathering and processing. All basket making was done by women in either twining or coiling. Pottery was low-fired and, except among the Chemehuevi, unpainted. Hide working was found in areas with access to large game and was principally used for clothing. Groups in other areas wore clothing of twisted and twined vegetable fibers. Today basket weaving persists principally among the Chemehuevi and San Juan subgroups, and a few women work hides for moccasins and gloves. Individuals in some areas are highly skilled in bead-work, a postcontact development.

Trade. Intragroup trade helped to even out some subsistence imbalances. Salt, found principally in Moapa territory, was distributed in all directions, including to non-Southern Paiutes. Ochers used in body painting were found on the Colorado Plateau and thus moved largely westward. Cultigens came into the region from the south, including from the Hopi, Havasupai, and Walapai, as well as Yuman groups on the lower Colorado River.

Division of Labor. Hunting was principally the activity of men in aboriginal times and plant food collecting that of women. Both sexes participated in horticulture. Wage work in the postcontact period was done about equally by men and women, with men engaged as ranch and hay hands and women as domestics. Today work activities parallel those of non-Indian neighbors at similar socioeconomic and educational levels.

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