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What is the Missouri Tribe?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2018
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The Missouri or Missouria are a Native American nation that settled near the confluence of the Great and Missouri rivers. Although the state of Missouri and the Missouri River were named for the Missouri tribe, today most members are based in Red Rock, Oklahoma, and form part of the federally recognized Otoe-Missouria. Tribal membership is awarded to those who can document that they are at least one quarter Otoe-Missouria.

It is believed that the Missouri tribe once formed part of a larger Great Lakes tribe with the Iowa and Winnebago nations before dividing in the 16th century. The Missouri tribe is also related to the Ho-Chunk and other Siouan nations. By 1796 the Missouri, ravaged by war with neighboring tribes and smallpox, had only approximately 80 members remaining. To survive, the remaining survivors settled with the Otoe people in Nebraska. The Otoe-Missouria were later forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in the 1880s in Red Rock, the location of the tribes headquarters.

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The Missouri tribe initially survived by hunting and cultivating crops like pumpkins, beans, squash and corn. Bison was a common prey. Their villages consisted of earth and bark lodges and tipis, and the tribal council included each of the seven to ten clan chiefs. A tribal member would have to marry outside his or her clan, the most powerful of which was the Bear Clan. The traditional language was a Souian tongue called Chiwere or Otoe that is spoken by just a handful of members, although the tribe offers a language revival program.

Tribal culture was further eroded in the mid-19th century when the Missouri tribe divided into two factions. One faction, known as the Quaker Band, was influenced by local Quaker missionaries and advocated for assimilation with European settlers. The Coyote Band, however, fought to preserve tribal independence and tradition. The bands initially settled on different reservations but just as the Coyote Band rejoined the Quaker Band in the 1890s, the reservation was broken into allotments despite tribal opposition. The tribe was compensated for lost territory in 1960s.

In 1984, the Otoe-Missouria tribe ratified its constitution and gained federal recognition. A seven-member council governs the tribe and administers housing, health and education services. The tribe issues its own vehicle tags and owns and operates many businesses on the reservation including gas stations, smokeshops and casinos as part of a diverse portfolio.

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