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Title: Chemehuevi  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Mohave people, Chemehuevi, Indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, Colorado River Indian Reservation, Kawaiisu language
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Chemehuevi lands in California and Arizona
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States
( Arizona,  California)
Colorado River Numic language, English
Native American Church, Sun Dance, traditional tribal religion,[2] Christianity, Ghost Dance
Related ethnic groups
Southern Paiute people

The Chemehuevi are an indigenous people of the Great Basin. They are the southernmost branch of Paiute people.[3] Today, Chemehuevi people are enrolled in the following federally recognized tribes:

Some Chemehuevi are also part of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, which members are mostly Sovovatum or Soboba band members of Cahuilla and Luiseño people.


"Chemehuevi" has multiple interpretations. It is considered to either be a Mojave term meaning "those who play with fish;"[6] or a Quechan word meaning "nose-in-the-air-like-a-roadrunner."[7] The Chemehuevi call themselves Nüwüwü ("The People", singular Nüwü)[8][9] or Tantáwats, meaning "Southern Men."[7]


The language, Chemehuevi, is a Colorado River Numic language, in the Numic language branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. First transcribed by John P. Harrington and Carobeth Laird in the early 20th Century, it was studied in the 1970s by linguist Margaret L. Press.[10] whose field notes and extensive sound recordings remain available.[11] The language is now near extinction;[12] during the filming of Ironbound Films' 2008 American documentary film The Linguists, linguists Greg Anderson and K. David Harrison interviewed and recorded one of the last remaining 3 speakers.

History and traditional culture

McKinley Fisher, a Chemehuevi man employed by the Indian Service at Colorado Agency, Arizona in 1957.

The Chemehuevi were originally a desert tribe among the Numu or Paiute-Shoshone nations. Post-contact, they lived primarily in the eastern Mojave Desert and later the Chemehuevi Valley along the Colorado River in California. They were a nomadic people living in small groups given the sparse resources available in the desert environment. Carobeth Laird indicates their traditional territory spanned the High Desert from the Colorado River on the east to the Tehachapi Mountains on the west and from the Las Vegas area and Death Valley on the north to the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains in the south. Throughout the ages, their traditional ancestral territory has spanned 100 states: Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada. They are most closely identified as among the Great Basin Indians. Among others they are cousins of the Kawaiisu.[13]

The most comprehensive collection of Chemehuevi history, culture and mythology was gathered by Carobeth Laird (1895–1983) and her second husband, George Laird, one of the last Chemehuevi to have been raised in the traditional culture. Carobeth Laird, a linguist and ethnographer, wrote a comprehensive account of the culture and language as George Laird remembered it, and published their collaborative efforts in her 1976 The Chemehuevis, the first and, to date, only ethnography of the Chemehuevi traditional culture.

Describing the Chemehuevi as she knew them, and presenting the texture of traditional life amongst the people, Carobeth Laird writes:

The Chemehuevi character is made up of polarities which are complementary rather than contradictory. They are loquacious yet capable of silence; gregarious yet so close to the earth that single families or even men alone might live and travel for long periods away from other human beings; proud, yet capable of a gentle self-ridicule. They are conservative to a degree, yet insatiably curious and ready to inquire into and even to adopt new ways: to visit all tribes, whether friends or enemies; to speak strange tongues, sing strange songs, and marry strange wives.[14]


Chemehuevi boy by Edward S. Curtis

Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the combined 1770 population of the Chemehuevi, Koso (Western Shoshone), and Kawaiisu as 1,500, and the combined population of the Chemehuevi, Koso (Western Shoshone), and Kawaiisu in 1910 as 500.[15] An Indian agent reported the Chemehuevi population in 1875 to be 350.[16] Kroeber estimated U.S. Census data put the Chemehuevi population in 1910 as 355.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "Chemehuevi Indian Tribal Court." California Courts. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  2. ^ " Northern Paiute - Religion and Expressive Culture ". Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  3. ^ "California Indians and Their Reservations." SDSU Library and Information Access. Retrieved 12 April 2010.
  4. ^ Pritzker 24
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  7. ^ a b Pritzker 23
  8. ^ "History". Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. Archived from the original on 11 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  9. ^ Elzinga, Dirk. "An Online Chemehuevi Dictionary". Archived from the original on 5 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  10. ^ Margaret L. Press, Chemehuevi: A Grammar and Lexicon, University of California Press, 1979
  11. ^ Mary Hanks Molino, Oral History (in Chemehuevi), sound recording at
  12. ^ "Ute-Southern Paiute".  
  13. ^ Laird 1976
  14. ^ Laird, p. 4
  15. ^ Kroeber (1925:883)
  16. ^ Clemmer and Stewart (1986:539)
  17. ^ Leland (1986:612)


  • Clemmer, Richard O., and Omer C. Stewart. 1986. "Treaties, Reservatons, and Claims". In Great Basin, edited by Warren L. d'Azevedo, pp. 525–557. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 11. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Grant, Bruce. 2000. Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian. 3rd ed. Wings Books, New York.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Laird, Carobeth. 1976. The Chemehuevis. Malki Museum Press, Banning, California.
  • Leland, Joy. 1986. "Population". In Great Basin, edited by Warren L. d'Azevedo, pp. 608–619. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 11. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.

External links

  • Colorado River Indian Tribes, official website
  • Chemehuevi Indian Tribe of the Chemehuevi Reservation, official website
  • Chemehuevi Language Archive, 1970s Fieldwork and Analysis by Margaret L. Press

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