The Wichita-Pawnee Visitation is perhaps the longest running tradition carried on by two Tribes in the lower 48 states. It has been going on continuously for well over a century and there is some scientific evidence as well as oral tradition that the visitation is several centuries old.
Linguistically, the Wichita and Pawnee are from one language family; accordingly, they were in the past, one people. It is estimated that a separation occurred about 800 to 1200 years ago and consequently, the languages developed differently from that point. The two Tribes, it seems, became unknown to one another. Sometime after that, contact was re-established. According to oral tradition, the relationship was renewed.
The Visitation Today
As it is conducted today, the visitation consists of a traditional encampment with the Wichitas being the hosts in odd numbered years, and the Pawnees being the hosts in even numbered years. The encampment usually lasts about ten days.We were supposed to go to Pawnee in 2020 but since it was cancelled, we went to Pawnee in 2021. Now the Pawnees will be visiting in even-numbered years and we will go to Pawnee in odd-numbered years.
The visitation is initiated in the spring of each year when the leaders of each Tribe confer and decide when the visit will begin. Historically, the date set is around the middle of July.
From the Wichita perspective, on the day the visitation is to begin (which is usually a Wednesday), the Wichitas will meet at a place selected by the Wichita Tobacco Man for a tobacco making ceremony and a communal meal. Once the men conclude the ceremony and the meal is eaten, the group leaves for Pawnee, OK. Upon arrival in Pawnee, no one proceeds to the site of the visitation until the Wichita leaders deliver the tobacco to the Pawnee Tobacco Man, and it is accepted by him. At that time, the Wichita leaders return to the group and lead them to the campground. Everyone then proceeds to set up their camps. That evening, the Pawnees will provide a meal. When all of the food has been placed on the tables near the center of the arena, the Pawnee leader will come to the Wichita camp and invite the visitors over to the arena. Once everyone is gathered for the meal, the Pawnee leader will get up and give a talk about the visitation, welcome the visitors and then give a prayer or select one of the Pawnee men to give the prayer. Then the wife or female relative of the Pawnee leader will select the women who will serve the meal. The Wichita men will line up first, then the Wichita women, followed by the Pawnee men and lastly the Pawnee women.
After the meal, the Wichita leader or a designee gets up and thanks the Pawnees and offers some remarks about the visitation, and everyone is dismissed. Thus begins a cycle that includes breakfasts, lunches, and evening meals provided by various members of the host Tribe. Usually, a handgame is held every evening, except for the first evening and the evening prior to the Giveaway Day.
Along about the third day of the visitation, the Pawnee leader will set the day for the tobacco ceremony, which is conducted by the men of both Tribes. On the day of the ceremony the Pawnee leader will come to the Wichita camp to invite the Wichita men to come to the special place which has been selected to hold the ceremony. At the ceremony each man is given the opportunity to express themselves; the tobacco which was delivered by the Wichita will be ritually opened and smoked by all the men present in a pipe ceremony. Upon the opening of the tobacco the Pawnee men present will make monetary donations and the date for the giveaway will be set. After everyone has smoked, the man handling the pipe will go outside the circle and offer a prayer. Then a meal is shared, Wichita thank yous are given and the ceremony is concluded.
Giveaway Day begins with a noon meal. When all the food has been placed on the tables in the arena, the Pawnee leader will come to the Wichita camp to invite them to the meal. The set-up is different from the other meal in that separate tables are set for the Wichita and Pawnee respectively. The Wichita women serve the Wichitas and the Pawnee women serve the Pawnees. Once everyone is gathered at the danceground the Pawnee leader gets up and addresses the gathering, first speaking to the Wichita people and then to his own people. At the conclusion of his speech he will select someone to pray for the meal and the activities that follow. Sometimes he will turn the meal over to the Wichitas and the Wichita leader will dispense wiht these duties. When the meal is finished, the Wichita leader speaks to the gathering, expressing his thoughts about the visitation and giving his thanks for the meal and for everything the Pawnees have done for his people. After his talkeveryone is dismissed so that things can be made ready for the giveaway.
The giveaway customarily begins with a series of round dance songs then a wardance song is sung for the Pawnee leader and then for his helpers.Other Pawnees may request songs or else they just get up and giveaway during any of the wardance songs. When the Pawnees are done, the drum is turned over to the Wichitas. The first song sung by the Wichitas is called the Thank You song. Then songs are sung for the Wichita leader, his helpers and any other Wichita that requests one.
After each song , the Wichita who requested the song announces his or her pledge for the next year when the Pawnees come to visit the Wichitas.
Once the pledges are completed the drum is turned back to the Pawnees who conclude the program with a prayer song. Ther are no activities scheduled for the evening.
The next morning the Wichitas break camp, making a special effort to leave the camp area in the same condition as when they arrived.When everyone is packed up and ready to go, they will get in their vehicles and line up near the dance arena. Then the men of the two Tribes will line up in the arena facing each other and say their thank yous and good-byes. At the conclusion of the talks a prayer song is sung. Then all the Wichita women and children can go among the Pawnees present to say their thank yous and good-byes. Thus, the visitation is concluded until next year when the Pawnees come to visit the Wichitas.