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Ladies Lib

Donna Pinay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1974      v04 n01 p22  
At an elderly women's workshop held at the Cultural Centre, the ladies tell of the good life in the old days.

Woman peforming traditional craftwork Traditionally Indian men hunted, fished, or trapped to provide a living for his wife and children. The woman had many and varied tasks to perform in the home. Child rearing, food preparation and the care and manufacture of wearing apparel were perhaps the greatest. A man had standards to live up to just as the woman had. A good successful hunter needed a good successful wife and mother.

Traditionally, among a majority of tribes the woman owned the home and actually more general property than the man. If the women had to cook and make clothes, the men had to hunt and protect the band from danger. If women gathered wood and performed such tasks, the men cared for the women's horses. There was more of a balance of tasks rather than a division. There were societies and ceremonies restricted to men and in many cases there were ceremonies and societies restricted to the women. Wives were not "bought". Gifts were given to the bride's parents as a form of respect and to prove that the man was financially stable enough to support a wife.

Over the years many things have changed. Indian people utilize many of the modern ways of life. We no longer see the man hunting, fishing, or trapping to provide a living for his family and the woman is no longer spending as much time in the home as before. Modern household conveniences such as kitchen appliances, modern foods and ready-to-wear clothing have made many tasks less time-consuming.

There has also been a cultural breakdown among younger generations. At an elderly ladies workshop held at the Cultural Centre in December, 1972 several older Indian women came together to discuss events of the past and to tell stories of how it used to be.

Today almost every woman receives some medical attention or treatment when pregnant. She enters the hospital to give birth and she and her child receive help and medication from qualified and trained personnel.

It is now an exception when a woman does not enter the hospital. long ago the Indian people depended upon the elders and their knowledge and skill of Indian medicines.

One woman, the mother of twelve, said this "I never went to the hospital to give birth to my children. I used the elder's medicine in the way they were instructed. These were God-given herbs."

Another commented upon her mother's skills at childbirth. "My mother was very old. Lots of times when she was asked to nurse a woman delivering a baby, I would be asked to help. There are many children on File Hills that she helped deliver. She was thanked many a time for doing a perfect job."

Care of infants has also changed. A baby is a world of disposable diapers, safety pins, ready-mixed formulas and soaps and lotions. In their days, breastfeeding was a natural way of providing nourishment to infants. "I never used the bottle to nurse my babies," one woman stated.

An Indian diaper was a combination of natural products. Dry wood and cat tails were warmed up and used in moss bags. A woman, commenting on modern ways of child care had this to say, "Today they use too many kinds of diapers and too many kind of soap and long ago the children did not get rashes."

Raising children today presents as many problems as it does rewards. The world is a confusing place and even more so for many Indian children. The women at the workshop spoke of raising their children and


Ladies Lib

Donna Pinay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1974      v04 n01 p23  
judging by their comments, the formula was hard work and respect for others, especially the elders.

"He (my husband) used to tell me that we couldn't look after the young people all the time so they would have to learn as we learned when we were young. My father used to tell me about the beliefs in Indian faith and also he mentioned the elders and he said 'respect them and then you will receive faith from above...this is for the sake of your children.'"

One woman mentioned the role her mother had played. '"She used to tell stories of long ago. She had lots to tell about. These of course, were all Indian legends and we were told to respect the elders and not to make fools of ourselves." Another said this about her parents. "They said don't drink and don't smoke. Don't do anything wrong and look at the elders and respect them. If they have any ceremonies, join in with them.

One of the saddest and yet truest matters brought up was the role liquor has played in many lives. "But today it is the liquor that is ruining the life of the people and even my son and grandchildren don't listen to us."

One woman stated that she had drank but had stopped. "When I see some of the girls drinking, I feel sorry for them. I know liquor Isn't any good. On Saturday that is when everything starts and they don't even consider the next day. I feel a lot better now that I don't drink and I don't need any liquor."

The women had a religious ceremony that consisted of prayer and purification of the home with sweetgrass. "Now every morning I burn sweetgrass and also we all pray together in my family."

Many women felt that this belief in the traditional Indian religion was very important and that the young people should have instruction from elders. "Today the young people, they don't listen. They never have any elders to lecture them." and "I'm hoping that someday we will go back to the Indian beliefs and whatever we were given by the Almighty."

Although the traditional role of the woman may have been in the home, the Indian women received the respect and love that was due. They conducted themselves and performed their duties with a dignity that can still be seen in many of our grandmothers.

Indian couple caring for child Two Indian Women with child preparing for hunt