Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

Women were the primary caregivers for babies and young children—only they can nurse babies and, before the reservation was established, no other nourishment was available for infants. A memoir from the early reservation period mentions the innovation of canned milk brought from the trading post by a European American employee married to a Piegan woman. Fathers and everyone else enjoyed playing with babies and children. Striking or speaking harshly to a child was considered abhorrent and unnatural. Instead, children were encouraged to be quiet and observant of adults, ready to assist elders. Children might be teased; the appropriate response was to smile and remain calm.

Because the kinship system is "generational," extending the terms for brother and sister to what in

English are cousins, a Blackfoot child likely has several "mothers" and "fathers," "elder brothers" and "elder sisters," as well as grandparents. All of these are concerned for their relative's welfare. High mortality, from war, accidents, epidemics, and, after the bison herds disappeared, malnutrition, orphaned many children. If relatives did not take the child into their family, another family would do so. There are cases of an abandoned non-Indian baby taken by a Blackfoot family and raised as their own. During the first century of the reservation period, missionaries took children, often forcibly (backed by reservation police), to raise in boarding schools. Adoption of Indian children by non-Indians who removed them from their people was similarly encouraged, the principle being that a European American upbringing civilized the child.

Elderly Blackfoot expected to be supported by their children; one could call it "assisted living" as the elderly couple or widow remained in their own tipi or cabin, near the home of adult children. Legends describe "old women's tipis" where one or two elderly women lived alone. The hero of the tale is the old woman's grandson or adopted child, or a youth generously seeking to help a neglected elder. In real life, a granddaughter often went to live with the grandparent. Grandparents often cared for young children while the parents went on extended hunts or, after the bison were gone, for off-reservation jobs.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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