Gender Roles in Economics

Following the model of the legendary First Marriages, women created and maintained the camp, which required working hides as well as all food preparation, making furnishings, containers, bedding, clothing, and making and setting up tipis. Men made their weapons and gear, and provided slaughtered big game; both men and women cooperated in butchering it. As the legend implies, women were fully capable of fulfilling all needs; men were considered dependent although useful. Historically, endemic wars related directly and indirectly to U.S. and British imperialism kept Blackfoot men on constant defensive alert; to what degree this distorted previous economic and social patterns cannot be discovered.

Western scholars gave much attention to the so-called berdache, a man who dressed and worked as a woman. The term, originally designating a North African boy prostitute, is distasteful to First Nations people and should not be used for American Indians. Observers of late-19th-century Blackfoot do not describe men living as women. There was one religious practitioner whose power came from the moon, gendered female in Blackfoot cosmology, and who therefore wore a woman's dress when performing his ritual for young men seeking good fortune through him. This "medicine man" otherwise dressed and behaved as a man.

Trade was open to both men and women, with each person trading their own products. Thus men usually traded furs and women their manufactures. European and European American traders liked to select one leading man to bargain for his party, often naming him "captain" and presenting him with an officer's coat. Blackfoot recognized band leaders ("chiefs" in English), who hosted visitors to a camp if they did not have relatives in the band, but a band leader did not control economic enterprises. Because processed bison robes and bags of pemmican were the joint product of a household, the husband in a household traded these goods on behalf of the household. Women traded what they individually produced: ethnographer Clark Wissler remarked, "Even today [1910]. . .a man seldom speaks when his wife bargains away her own hand-work, bedding, and house furnishings" (Wissler, 1911, p. 27). Wissler noted:

In pre-reservation days a woman was judged by the number and quality of skins she had dressed, the baskets she had woven, or the pottery moulded; and her renown for such accomplishments might travel far. When by chance you met a woman who had distinguished herself, it was proper to address her in a manner to reveal your knowledge of her reputation, as: "Grandmother, we are happy to look upon one whose hands were always busy curing fine skins." (Wissler, 1938/1971, p. 290)

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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