Native Peoples In Their Own Words...The Kiowa

May 23, 2014

This is the first in a series of programs dedicated to the stories of Oklahoma's tribes, as told by tribal members. 

Warren Queton
Credit Susan Shannon

According to Blue Clark, in his book Indian Tribes Of Oklahoma, the Kiowa origin story tells of the tribe’s emergence out of the ground through a hollow cottonwood log. The supernatural being Saynday called them forth and taught the Kiowa how to hunt and survive.

Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday, in The Way To Rainy Mountain, describes the Kiowa’s former home in the Yellowstone Park area in Wyoming as the “top of the world” with a “skyline in all directions close at hand.” After the Kiowas relocate to Oklahoma, Momaday says Oklahoma has the “hardest weather” there is in the world and that “loneliness is an aspect of the land.”

Momaday softened his critique somewhat adding that being on the Plains and looking at that landscape in the “early morning, with the sun at your back” your imagination comes to life and “this, you think, is where Creation was begun.”

Somewhere in those two points of view lies the reality of the Kiowa Nation.

Warren Queton is a member of the Kiowa Nation. He belongs to the warrior society Black Leggings and the Native American Church. His is also fluent in his Kiowa language which has given him insights into his people, courtesy of the accounts from tribal elders.

“The Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma migrated from the Yellowstone Mountain region. They actually started out as mountain dwellers before they acquired horses from the Spanish,” Queton said.

“Once they got the horse, they started following the buffalo herds on the plains moving towards the Black Hills. On their trek they befriended the Crow Nation of Montana,” Queton said. “They acquired the Sundance, the Sundance religion while they were up there in that region.”

In the late 1700's, the Kiowa began encountering the Sioux in great numbers. The Lakotas, Dakotas, and Nakotas begin to challenge the Kiowa for the territory and resources. It was a time of shifting tribal boundaries and conflict.

“There were so many of those nations that our tribe decided to move south and so they fled from the Black Hills region,” Queton said. “They followed buffalo herds all down the plains, down through Wyoming towards Colorado, Kansas and then eventually Oklahoma and northern Texas. That was their range that they ended up in around 1832, their center was the southern plains region around the Wichita mountains.”

The Kiowas settled in Oklahoma in 1867 with signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty.

“That's where the United States government basically said, ‘You're going to inhabit a reservation in southwest Oklahoma,’” Queton said.

The nomadic way of life, following the buffalo herds, and disputes among tribes was essentially over.

“So our tribe, we had to adapt and we could no longer practice that warrior life style, that acquisition of power through war journeys, what happened to warriors in battle. A lot of tribal prestige and status circulated around that warrior structure,” Queton said.

This transformation meant other changes in the tribe’s practices.

“Until about 1890 our religion during that time was still the Sundance religion,” Queton said.

“Sundance meaning that there was a time during the summer months when the entire tribe came together for a religious purpose and that was to worship the creator through the Sundance religion,” Queton said.

“That was the center of our lifestyle, it revolved around the idea of being a warrior and then you come and you pledge and you sacrifice during the Sundance months. That was when the entire tribe was together,” Queton said.

“It’s kind of tough to talk about the Sundance because the last Kiowa Sundance happened in 1890, over a hundred years ago and we haven't had one since. The government forbade those actions to have a Sundance so the tribe hasn't had one since then and we haven't revived it,” Queton said.

The Kiowas adapted to their new home, many became Christians while others went off to school. But not everything changed completely.

“We still have our tribal warrior structure intact and it begins with what is called the rabbit society Poe–lie-yee or rabbits, that's an organization for young children to begin to learn how to be warriors,” Queton said.

“Then we have two organizations that are no long functioning. They were called Ahl–tdo-yee or mountain sheep and Tsain–tdan, horse headdresses,” Queton said.

“We still have three of the adult warrior societies in existence. One is called the Tohn–kohn-gau, the Black Leggings, the O–ho-mau-gau, the War Dance society, Thine–pay-gau, the Gourd dance society. Those three are still with us and they still have their dances in the spring and summer months and then the Tohn–kohn-gau, they have a big dance in the fall time,” Queton said.

“Those organizations are still alive and people still use them for the acquisition of power, prestige and status amongst the tribe,” Queton said.

“The tribe has evolved into what it is today. We are a contemporary tribe trying to take care of our people through a tribal government but the warrior structure is still alive and that is really meaningful,” Queton said.

Spirituality is another strong presence in Kiowa life.

“We have a saying, meaning ‘You're Kiowa in spirit.’ Everything that a Kiowa does is spiritual. Whether its prayers, songs, dancing, visiting with friends, everything has a spirit,” Queton said.

Queton believes that strong spirit surrounds Kiowa people.

“That's why our songs in the powwow world, those songs on the big drum in powwow arenas, are gourd dance songs, war dance songs,” Queton said.

“They've gone all over the United States and all over the world because people see power in those words that are sung,” Queton said. “They may not understand the words but the spirituality of the song exists and it moves people,” Queton said. “Kiowas are close to the Creator in their mindset and their worldview.”

“When Kiowas dance or sing together at our different ceremonial events, that when true Kiowa spiritualism comes out and they express themselves,” Queton said. “I think that's the best thing about being Kiowa. Even though we may not have a real good form of tribal government right now we still have our Kiowa spirituality and I think that's the best part about being Kgawy–gwu, Kiowa.”

Credit Susan Shannon

Warren Queton has his Bachelor of Arts degree in Native American Studies and Master of Arts in Applied Linguistic Anthropology. He is also a 1st Lieutenant, 345th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of Ada, Oklahoma and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.


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