Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Nakawé / The People

Article: Women's Stages of Personal Development

One significant rite of passage for a Saulteaux female was her first menstrual cycle. This event marked her growth into a new stage in her life; from a child to a woman. The following transcribed interview with Dolly Neapetung, best describes what happened to a girl during this event.

"When a girl had her first menses, it was a significant time in her life, a beginning of many things and changes in her life. It meant a whole transformation from being a child to a young adult, with more responsibilities and a new learning process. She would learn that there were certain things that she was prohibited from doing and certain behaviours that she had to follow. Being a young lady meant that she was going to start preparing for motherhood.

The girl moved to a place that was situated away from other people, but not too far away. She was not allowed to communicate with anyone except her Grandmother, her Mother and her older Sister. They would take her food and water and talk to her about her role in life and other important matters that she had to learn. It was usually the Grandmother who [was] more vocal and informed the young woman about boys and how to behave. The Grandmother taught the young woman what to do and how to behave, because their attitude and behaviour influenced how other people perceived them. During this time of seclusion the young woman had time to absorb all the information that has been instilled in her by her Grandmother and Mother.

After she moved back, there were a number of things that she could not do for a year because she was going through a cleansing period. She used different utensils and cup; she marked these so that the rest of the family could identify them as hers. By using a different cup and utensils, she was respecting the men in her family. The lady Elders say that if a lady that is having her menses does not follow this rule, the men and boys could get sick, lose their voice, unable them to have visions which would benefit them in a hunt or even their powers of healing. After one year, the practice of using a different cup and utensils was still observed during that time of the month. This custom was practised by all the women and some still practice it today.

In addition, the young lady could not attend feast during this time of purification. She was told that even if she was not having her monthly cycle, she was still going through a cleansing stage and attending a feast or ceremony was not permissible. After the year was over, feasts and ceremonies were attended again, but not while having her period.

She could not pick up an infant during this time. According to lady Elders, a young girl who recently had her first menses could not pick up an infant for a year. The Elders said the baby would not develop strong bones and would hinder the baby's ability to walk early.

Women washed their clothing in different tubs, the men's and children's clothing were washed together. Children were told not to go under women's clothing if they were hanging on a clothesline. Children were also told never to crawl under beds.

There are more teachings that young women need to know, but sometimes it is better to talk to a person one on one. Many of these practices are not followed by the young women today, they have not been passed down to younger generations. Girls do not have respect for feasts and ceremonies, for Mother Earth and for other people. This lack of respect is attributed to today's society, European influence, television, alcohol and drugs. The young people live a different lifestyle now than when I was growing up. It might seem that we lived in a way that was strict and left no room for fun, but we were happy and did not get into trouble."