Everyone has heard the legendary stories about Native American females such as Pocahontas, the Indian princess who encountered John Smith, and Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark across the Louisiana Territory, but little is given about their daily lives. The American Indian Culture Research Center Web site and The Wind River Rendezvous magazine have given us an inside look at the roles women played in Plains Indian tribes.
The Plains Indians lived in an area that stretched as far north as Canada down to Texas covering what is now known as the Great Plains of North America. The Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Pawnee, Sioux and Shoshone were just some of the tribes that lived on the plains.
Like many cultures, the women’s main responsibilities were to bear and raise children and provide clothing, shelter and food for their families. Native American women had control over their own lives, more than white women at the time, and were recognized as a respected and vital member of the tribe.
It was the men’s role to protect their families, hunt and participate in warfare. The women supported them by helping them prepare and provide them with clothing, food, weapons and prayer.
After a hunt was complete, it was the women’s job to prepare the meat by skinning and cutting the animal, often a buffalo, as quickly as possible. They also preserved the hide which was tanned or turned into rawhide for clothing, furniture, tipi covers, bedding and more. No part of the buffalo went to waste, so the women also turned bones and horns into household items including cooking utensils.
If need be, women would follow their men into battle. Some were skilled fighters while others provided aid or medical attention to warriors. The women would also do what they had to, to protect their families.
As a woman becomes older, she is seen as a source of wisdom for the tribe. Some may practice medicine while most attend to their grandchild. Grandmothers teach young girls to sew, cook, tan hides and decorate in addition to educating them about the tribe’s traditions. Elder women also continue to pray for the well being of their family and the prosperity of the tribe.