Leisure Recreation and the Arts

Both boys and girls were encouraged to race and play actively, with more stress placed on boys' endurance, strength, and speed as preparation for war. Historically, everyone rode and could care for horses. Everyone could swim—children enjoying frolicking in streams and adults bathing. Young boys roamed about in little groups; girls would play with each other closer to home. Boys and girls together played house, taking appropriate gender roles. Children had miniature tools and dolls, making their own little play figures with sticks or clay in addition to the sewn dolls that women made for girls.

A variety of gambling games are popular entertainments. Best loved is the handgame, accompanied with lively songs, a game of skill where two teams oppose one another to guess which hand of which person hides a marked stick. Bingo became popular in the late 20th century; men and women alike participate, with women predominating. Horse racing and rodeos are dominated by men and boys, except for rodeo barrel racing where girls ride. Aside from American games taught in schools, such as football, basketball, and baseball, Blackfoot had their own ballgames including shinny and catch. Women were more likely to play these games.

Social dancing, singing, and storytelling brought men, women, and children together. Powwows, the major secular celebration today, evolved during the 20th century from social dances combined with Independence Day (Fourth of July or Dominion Day) festivities encouraged by government Indian agents during the early reservation period. Powwow music is performed on European-style bass drums by groups of about half-a-dozen men sitting around the instrument, singing in unison and each pounding with a drumstick. Every year new powwow songs are added to the older repertoire. Women's "drums" (drum groups) are occasionally allowed in powwows— increasingly by the turn of the 21st century—against opposition by "traditionalists." Basically, drumming was considered a man's activity; women have always sung for ritual and social performances.

Visual arts include rock petroglyphs and pictographs, so far as is known done by men, painting on tipis and parfleches (large rawhide envelopes), and embroidery. Tipi covers and hide robes were properly painted by men in stylized realism, parfleches by women in geometric designs. Women assist men on tipi covers, which cannot be painted according to one's fancy but must either be icons of medicine bundles bestowed by a vision power, or exhibit a man's war record. Women decorated clothing, including horse ornamentation, embroidering with flattened dyed porcupine quills, native-made or trade-glass beads, shells, elk teeth, and colored threads. Clothing could also be painted and hung with strips of fur, fringes, tinkling dewclaws or metal cones, woven wicker ornaments, or whatever caught the sewer's or wearer's taste. Both men and women made necklaces, bracelets, and hair ornaments. Men and women were equally concerned with carefully groomed personal appearance, both genders devoting time to coiffures, clothing in good condition, and face and body painting (some painting for ritual rather than decorative purpose). Anecdotes about non-Indian portrait painters and photographers frequently tell of Blackfoot men or women stalking away from someone trying to take their picture when the Blackfoot person was wearing work clothes or had not been permitted to dress according to his or her own preference. Before the reservations, men wore tanned hide breechcloths, adding leggings, tunics, and fur robes in cold weather or for dress, and women wore long dresses, two tanned hides tied together at the shoulders or sewn, with or without sleeves. Both genders wore leather moccasins, and women wore wrapped leggings on the lower legs. Women were and are physically modest, averse to revealing their bodies, while men were accustomed to wearing little, facilitating body painting.

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