What's in a Name? Ossnobian, Nasseniboine, Assiniboi, Assinipoval, Assinibouane, Assinepoualao, Assiniboe, Assiniboil...ASSINIBOINE

Bob Saindon
Independent Scholar
Wolf Point, MT

Nakoda--Friendly People--that's what they've called themselves for centuries. However, few people across the United States and Canada today know them by any other name than Assiniboine. Since white man's first recorded encounter with these people some 350 years ago, the name has taken on numerous spellings and no doubt as many pronunciations. What we have put together for this article is a partial list of the spellings used prior to the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in Assiniboine country.

It is possible that the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were the first Americans to meet the Assiniboine Indians--even though it is not clear with whom, or even with what band, they met. The journals of the expedition simply state that they had met with Assiniboines while they spent the winter among the Mandan Indians along the Missouri River in present central North Dakota. Certainly before Lewis and Clark set out in the spring of 1804 they had made themselves familiar with some of the French, English, and Spanish writings that mentioned the Assiniboines.

Whatever the case, Captain Lewis consistently spelled the name A-s-s-i-n-n-i-b-o-i-n. On the other hand, Captain Clark refused to be bothered with standard spellings of any kind, so even if he had been exposed to the various spellings that preceded his own attempts, he was too creative as a speller to adopt any particular spelling already in use. He found the name worthy of no less than nine spellings: Ossiniboin, Ossinebine, Ossinboin, Assinniboin, Assiniboin, Ossinniboin, Ossinneboin, Assinnaboin, Assinaboin. Nor was Clark superstitious enough to find capitalization of proper nouns a sacred rule. But Clark's creativity was nearly equaled by the one attempt in the Journal of Private Joseph Whitehouse who wrote "osnaboin."

Spelling is not necessarily a characteristic of genius so we need not dwell on it further. What is important is that we are able to identify the Assiniboines in early writings, because it is from the early missionaries, fur traders, and explorers that we learn about the aboriginal practices of these people. Although Lewis and Clark do identify three distinct bands of Assiniboines, many later writers confuse readers by referring to Assiniboine bands without identifying them as Assiniboine--as though they are merely other names for the Assiniboine tribe.

Lewis and Clark referred to the Assiniboines as a "nation" of Indians. They identified the bands as "tribes" of that nation. From these explorers we learn that in 1805 "Assinniboin" was the way the name was usually spelled and pronounced by the English. They also reported that the people of this tribe referred to themselves as "Na-co'-ta."

The Journals of Lewis and Clark further inform us: "The name by which this nation is generally known [Assiniboin] was borrowed from Chippeways, who call them Assinniboan, which literally translated, is Stone Sioux, hence the name of Stone Indians, by which they are sometimes called."

John McDonnell of the North West Fur Company, writing in 1795, said the Crees called them "Assiniboit."

Frederick W. Hodge, in his Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, credits William Jones of the Field Museum of Natural History with the following etymology of the name: "Chippewa: u'sin i 'stone,' u'pwaw a 'he cooks by roasting': 'one who cooks by the use of stones.'"

The practice of heating stones until they were "red hot," then dipping them one at a time into the water of a rawhide-lined hole in the ground until the water came to a hard boil was not unique to the early Assiniboines, nor was it a daily practice for them. Instead, it was used by hunters and warriors when on the move. It does not appear that it was a method of cooking used by the women of the villages.

At any rate, for over 350 years the "Friendly People" have been better recognized by their neighbors and acquaintances under the less glamorous and perhaps less descriptive name of "Stone Boilers." For the most part, the Nakoda of today spell it A-s-s-i-n-i-b-o-i-n-e; therefore, that is the spelling preferred by the editor of Nakodabi--The Assiniboine People, even though many of today's historians, anthropologists, and authors prefer to leave off the "e." If my research is accurate neither rendition seems to satisfy the original Chippewa phrase from which the name was derived.

Appendix A

The following is a representative listing of the spellings of the Assiniboine name as written before the year 1800.

1640 -- Assinipour
1658 -- Assinipoualak
1667 -- Assinipoualac
1670 -- Assinipouar
1671 -- Assinipoal
1678 -- Asseniboualak, Assenipoulak, Assinipoel
1680 -- Assenipoulae
1681 -- Assinibouet
1683 -- Asseliboi
1685 -- Assiniboi
1695 -- Assiniboesi
1698 -- Assenepoil, Assenipoualac
1700 -- Assinipoil
1702 -- Assilibouel
1703 -- Assimpoual, Assinipoual
1705 -- Assinipoval
1710 -- Assenipoual, Assenipouel
1716 -- Assinipoile, Assiniboil
1720 -- Assinibouel
1722 -- Assinibouane
1723 -- Asinipovales, Arsenipoiti
1731 -- Assiniboelle
1736 -- Assenipoel, Assinepoel
1738 -- Assiliboille
1741 -- Assenipouval, Assinepoualao
1744 -- Assinibouel
1750 -- Assinpoulac
1756 -- Asiniboel
1765 -- Assineboe
1766 -- Assinaboe
1778 -- Assiniboine
1788 -- Assinibolese
1788 -- Assenipoval
1794 -- Ossnobian
1795 -- Assiniboil, Assiniboit, Nasseniboine
1796 -- Assiniboine, Assiniboin, Asseniboine, Osniboine

Sources for these Spellings

Hodge, Frederick W., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bulletin 30 of the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology. 2 Vols. New York, 1959.

Jackson, Donald, ed. Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with related documents, 1783-1835. 2 Vols. Urbana, 1978.

Nasatir, Abraham P., ed. Before Lewis and Clark: Documents Illustrating the History of the Missouri, 1785-1804. 2 Vols. St. Louis Historical Documents Foundation, 1952.

Quaife, Mile, M. The Journals of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Sergeant John Ordway. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1965.

Smith, Hubert G. The Explorations of the La Verendreyes in the Northern Plains, 1738-43. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Thwaites, Reuben G. Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 8 Vols. New York: Dodd Meade and Company, 1905.

Wood, R.W., and T.D. Theissen. Early Fur Trade on the Northern Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

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