By Hal Brindley
Many Indigenous cultures share a long history with the American chestnut tree. The tree provided an important supply of food and, in turn, many Indigenous Peoples managed landscapes to improve habitat for chestnut trees.
Gathering Chestnuts, a watercolor painting by Ernest Smith, a member of the Heron Clan of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, in 1938. Courtesy of the RMSC, Rochester, NY.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day we’ve compiled a list of names for the American chestnut tree in various Native languages. There were once hundreds of Native languages spoken in what is now the United States, but after more than a century of systematic cultural eradication by the US government, there are now only a few dozen actively spoken. (Please visit the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to learn more.) This cultural loss coincided with the loss of the American chestnut tree which was devastated by an introduced blight in the early 1900’s. As a result, many Indigenous languages lost their word for the chestnut tree (ref.). Today, many Indigenous tribes, nations, and their people are involved in reviving their cultural heritage and language, and we hope to support those efforts with this resource. We invite all who are interested to participate in our effort to document these names in an ever-growing list.
About the list
The study of Native American languages is complex. While we hope to create a comprehensive resource, we recognize there may be inaccuracies or omissions. We welcome and encourage input to grow and improve this list (please contact us if you would like to contribute). We acknowledge that some Indigenous tribes and nations choose to share their dictionaries only with members and therefore we have only included words that appear in public resources. Many native languages are oral languages. Some nations, such as the Cherokee and Cree, have developed their own written language systems and, when available, they are included here. To get a sense of where these languages are or were spoken, visit the Native Land Digital website and turn on the switch for Languages.
How to say chestnut tree in Native American languages
Otapi or otʋpi (chestnut tree)
Oti or uti (a chestnut)
Oti hakshup (a chestnut bur)
Hachofakti (a chinquapin; the dwarf chestnut)
Chahtah anumpa (the Choctaw language) is a Muscogean language spoken by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and Jena Band of Choctaw Indians. Sources: Choctaw Dictionary.
Woapeemeen’shee (chestnut tree)
(also written as ohpemenshee or opimënshi)
Woa’peem or opim (chestnut)
The Lënapei lixsëwakàn (Lenape language) is an eastern Algonquian language originally spoken by the Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, and the Lenape Tribe of Delaware. Sources: Lenape Language, Bighorn Lenape: List of trees, plants, fruits, nuts, roots, Ohpemenshee (American Chestnut) Reflection, Lenape names of fruit and nut trees, Lenape Talking Dictionary.
Wôpumus (chestnut tree)
Mohiks uyôtowáwôk (the Mohegan-Pequot language) is an Algonquian language spoken by the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation, Mohegan Tribe, Shinnecock Nation, and Unkechaug Indian Nation. Sources: A Mohegan-Pequot Dictionary, Mohegan Language Dictionary
Oto-v’pē (chestnut tree)
Otowóskē, Oto (chestnut)
The Mvskoke (or Muscogee-Creek) language is a Muskogean language spoken by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the Seminole Tribe and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians who speak a dialect called Mikisukî. Sources: English and Muskokee Dictionary.
Kosawinakwah kîkway (chestnut)
Nêhiyawêwin (the Cree language), if considered a single language, is the most commonly spoken native language in Canada today and is spoken across dozens of self-governed First Peoples nations across southern Canada and in the northern Great Plains of the US. Sources: Online Cree Dictionary, Native Languages of the Americas: Cree
Opomens, opommins (chestnuts)
The Powhatan language was an Algonquian language once spoken by dozens of tribes in what is now Virginia (source) like the Nansemond Indian Nation, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Sources: A Dictionary of Powhatan
Tili (chestnut tree) ᏘᎵ
Unagina (chestnut) ᎤᎾᎩᎾ
Uhnvginv (chinquapin) ᎤᏅᎩᏅ
Tili asuyi gadu (chestnut bread) ᏘᎵ ᎠᏑᏱ ᎦᏚ
Tsalagi Gawonihisdi (the Cherokee language), or Jalagi, is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians , the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee, the United Keetoowah Band, and the Cherokee Nation. Sources: Cherokee Nation Language Department, Cherokee English Dictionary Online Database
Číhtkęr (chestnut tree)
The Tuscarora language is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina and the Tuscarora Nation. Source: The American Chestnut Tree is Coming Back:Who Is It For?, Nęyękwawęta’θkwáhshek Tuscarora Language Program,
Resources for further learning
Please explore these resources to learn more about Indigenous North American languages.
- Original Voices A project to list all the Indigenous languages spoken across Canada.
- Native Land Digital A mapping project that includes Native languages
- Endangered Languages A project supporting global linguistic diversity
- Native Languages An educational page from the National Museum of the American Indian
- Native American Languages A resource for teaching Native histories from U Mass.
- Most Common Native American Languages of the US and Canada by number of speakers today.
- First Voices an online space for Indigenous communities to share and promote language