The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma has a proud history spanning more than 700 years. Early in the 18th century, more than 60,000 members of the Pawnee Tribe inhabited an area roughly between the Rapid or Niobara River and the Arkansas and Kansas Rivers in Nebraska. The Tribe then, as it is now, was composed of four distinct bands: the Chaui “Grand,” the Kitkehahki “Republican,” the Pitahawirata “Tappage,” and the Skidi “Wolf.”
The Pawnees, classified as a “friendly tribe” by the U.S. Government, were men and women of great courage and endurance. Some of the Pawnee warrior battles fought to preserve lives, lands and possessions were considered legendary. The Pawnee are noted as well in history for their tribal religion, rich in symbolism and ceremony. Art associated with everyday life, as well as religious events and ceremony, among the Pawnee includes body ornamentation, including bear claw necklaces and other adornments, beaded garments, eagle feather fans, and headdresses with single eagle feathers; ceremonial implements, including engraved tomahawks, beaded wooden pipes and figural catlinite pipes; objects for daily use, including basket boats, stoneware, and buffalo horn quivers; and architectural forms, including large earth lodges and large hide tents for times of hunting buffalo. The earth lodges were massive and reflected, perhaps, the shape of the night sky, the sky being an important of ceremony, religious practice, and art.
After encroachment by white settlers, the Pawnees ceded their territory to the U.S. Government in the 1800s and were removed first from a restricted area along the Nebraska river, and later from Nebraska to what is now Pawnee County, Oklahoma, near the present-day city of Pawnee, in 1875. The Pawnee Indian Agency and an Indian boarding school named the Pawnee Industrial School were established just east of the present site of the City of Pawnee. Many of the former Industrial School buildings now serve as Tribal offices and as a home for the Pawnee Nation College. The area is on the National Register as a Historic District.
In support of American’s freedoms, the Pawnees have served in all military conflicts to date beginning with the Pawnee Scouts that served during the Indian wars, a dedication that is reflected in the image of the Pawnee flag. A ceremony was held in 2011 to honor the decision of the Bravo/Pawnee Company 486th Civil Affairs BN of the U.S. Army to alter their name to reflect this distinguished Pawnee tradition. One of the many members of the Pawnee military, Brummett Echo-Hawk, memorialized his military experience in art, notably in the text, “Drawing Fire: A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II.” Echo-Hawk’s paintings reflect his Pawnee heritage, the natural world, and the joys of life, containing images of the Oklahoma landscape, pastoral and ceremonial scenes representing Indigenous Americans, cowboys and community gatherings, and commissioned images, like “’Pawnee Bill’s’ Old Town of the ‘30s,” and “Country School Christmas, Pawnee County.”
Other notable Pawnee artists include Acee Blue Eagle, the Muscogee Creek-Pawnee-Wichita artist and educator who created idealized images of Indigenous life and large mural projects commissioned by the WPA.
The courage and service of the Pawnee military is matched by the Pawnee in the realm of jurisprudence. John Echo-Hawk founded the Native American Rights Fund; Larry Echo-Hawk was Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and Walter Echo-Hawk, an attorney and activist, serves as President of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums and was instrumental in the passage of both the National Museum of the American Indian Act (1989) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990).
Today, the number of Tribal enrolled members is over 3,200 and Pawnees can be found in all areas of the United States as well as foreign countries within many walks of life. Pawnees take much pride in their ancestral heritage.
The Pawnee Nation supports many other activities including honor dances, Native American Church meetings, hand games and sporting events. The Pawnee Indian Veterans also host a Memorial Day Dance, a Veterans Day Dance and a Christmas Day Dance. The Pawnee’s noteworthy artistic traditions continue to this day. Bunky Echo-Hawk, for example, paints colorful and provocative images and participates in art performances that allude to both “traditional” and contemporary life.
Walter Echo-Hawk has also spoken widely about his Pawnee autobiography, “The Sea of Grass: A Family Tale from the American Heartland,” in which he discusses the history of his Pawnee family and his map of Pawnee territory: