Native toUnited States
RegionNorth-central North Dakota
Ethnicity792 Arikara (2010 census)[1]
Native speakers
10 (2007)[2]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3ari
Arikara language distribution
Arikara is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Arikara is a Caddoan language spoken by the Arikara Native Americans who reside primarily at Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Arikara is close to the Pawnee language, but they are not mutually intelligible.

The Arikara were apparently a group met by Lewis and Clark in 1804; their population of 30,000 was reduced to 6,000 by smallpox.[3]


For several hundred years, the Arikara lived as a semi-nomadic people on the Great Plains in present-day United States of America. They are believed to have separated as a people from the Pawnee in about the 15th century. The Arzberger site near present-day Pierre, South Dakota, designated as a National Historic Landmark, is an archeological site from this period, containing the remains of a fortified village with more than 44 lodges.

Arikara man, wearing a bearskin, 1908

During the sedentary seasons, the Arikara lived primarily in villages of earth lodges. While traveling or during the seasonal bison hunts, they erected portable tipis as temporary shelter. They were primarily an agricultural society, whose women cultivated varieties of corn (or maize). The crop was such an important staple of their society that it was referred to as "Mother Corn".

Traditionally an Arikara family owned 30–40 dogs. The people used them for hunting and as sentries, but most importantly for transportation in the centuries before the Plains tribes adopted the use of horses in the 1600s. Many of the Plains tribes had used the travois, a lightweight transportation device pulled by dogs. It consisted of two long poles attached by a harness at the dog's shoulders, with the butt ends dragging behind the animal; midway, a ladder-like frame, or a hoop made of plaited thongs, was stretched between the poles; it held loads that might exceed 60 pounds. Women also used dogs to pull travois to haul firewood or infants. The travois were used to carry meat harvested during the seasonal hunts; a single dog could pull a quarter of a bison.[4]

In the late 18th century, the tribe suffered a high rate of fatalities from smallpox epidemics, which so reduced their population as to disrupt their social structure.[5] Due to their reduced numbers, the Arikara started to live closer to the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes in the same area for mutual protection. They migrated gradually from present-day Nebraska and South Dakota into North Dakota in response to pressure from other tribes, especially the Sioux, and European-American settlers. During the Black Hills War, in 1876 some Arikara served as scouts for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the Little Bighorn Campaign.

The three tribes are settled on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota.



Arikara has the following consonant phonemes:[6] Notably, it is one of the very few languages without [m].

Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
Stop p t c [t͡ʃ] k ʔ
Fricative s ʃ x h
Nasal n
Approximant w r

Arikara distinguishes between the affricate [t͡ʃ] and the consonant cluster /t+ʃ/:

Voiced consonants in Arikara have voiceless allophones. Whenever a sonorant precedes a devoiced vowel, that sonorant devoices as well.


Arikara also has the following vowel phonemes:

   Short   Long 
Front Back Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Current status

Arikara is now spoken in North Dakota by a very few elders. One of the last fluent speakers, Maude Starr, died on January 20, 2010.[8] She was a certified language teacher who participated in Arikara language education programs.[9] Language revitalization efforts are continuing. As of 2014, speakers are centered on White Shield, North Dakota. The language is taught at Fort Berthold Community College, White Shield School, and at the Arikara Cultural Center.[10]

Arikara is extensively documented, with several volumes of interlinear texts of Arikara stories,[11] a learner's introductory text,[12] and linguistic studies.[13] As of 2014, iPhone and iPad Arikara language apps are available.[10]

The language is used in the 2015 film The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a mountain man who interacted with Arikara people and learned the language in the 19th century.[14][15]



  1. ^ "2010 Census CPH-T-6. American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  2. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  3. ^ "Arikara". Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  4. ^ Fiedel, Stuart J. (2005). "Man's best friend – mammoth's worst enemy? A speculative essay on the role of dogs in Paleoindian colonization and megafaunal extinction," World Archaeology, 37:1, 15—16
  5. ^ "Lewis and Clark . Native Americans. Arikara Indians". Archived from the original on January 15, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  6. ^ Parks, Douglas R., Janet Beltra, & Ella P. Waters (1979). Introduction to the Arikara Language. Bismarck, ND: Mary College.
  7. ^ a b c d AISRI Online Arikara Dictionary. Available online at Accessed 12-27-2015
  8. ^ "Tribe mourns loss of fluent Arikara speaker". Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  9. ^ "MHA Nation – Three Affiliated Tribes". Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
  10. ^ a b Rudy, Dan (2014-04-20). "Arikara app aims to revitalize language". Minot Daily News, via Retrieved 2014-04-26.
  11. ^ Parks, Douglas R.; Alfred Morsette (1991). Traditional Narratives of the Arikara Indians: Stories of Alfred Morsette, interlinear linguistic texts. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-3691-2.
  12. ^ Douglas R. Parks (1998). Sáhniš wakuúnuʼ: An introduction to the Arikara language. (Roseglen, N.D): White Shield School District. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
  13. ^ Merlan, Francesca (1975). Noun-verb relationships in Arikara syntax. University of New Mexico.
  14. ^ Morin, Brandi (Jan 7, 2016). "Meet the man who taught Leonardo DiCaprio to speak the Arikara language in The Revenant". Retrieved Apr 14, 2021.
  15. ^ Lee, Stephen (11 January 2016). "Arikara man was adviser on DiCaprio's "The Revenant"". Capital Journal. Retrieved Apr 14, 2021.