Gender Related Social Groups

Consonant with their strong respect for individual autonomy, Blackfoot did not construct formal unilineal kinship units. Related women and cowives formed task groups for women's work, as men formed war parties and the core of hunting parties. Men composed ad hoc police forces, commanded by band leaders, keeping order in multiband camps and hunts. As mentioned, at the multiband summer rendezvous where the Sun Dance was performed, a women's sodality, the Ma'toki or Women's Buffalo Society, carried out both secluded and public rituals to reinforce the community's intimate relationship with bison herds. Men auxiliaries assisted the Ma'toki. The so-called men's societies were actually for couples, with each man bringing his wife or, if not then married, a sister. Only the societies for adolescent boys omitted enrolling women. For the adult "men's societies," women helped with food and sang for the men dancing. Because the men in these societies were up front dancing and leading rituals, non-Indian observers overlooked women's importance, as they overlooked the critical role of women in mediating the opening and rewrapping of medicine bundles.

There was little enforced gender segregation, since it was the individual's choice in residence, work, recreation, and worship that was respected. Normally, women attended births, but male healers as well as the father, if he wished, were admitted. Both men and women participated in handgame teams (a favorite gambling game). Women played shinny (field hockey); apparently there were no men's ball games aboriginally, at least not described, but men did gamble on a game involving throwing lances at a rolling hoop and, historically, men raced horses. On the reservations, schools taught baseball to boys.

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