Family Duties of the Plains Indians

Updated November 21, 2016

Plain Indians are the native peoples of the Great Plains of North America, some of which included Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Crow, Comanche, Pawnee and Arpaho Indians. They were a nomadic people who placed a heavy emphasis on family. Living in large groups that included all generations, each member of the family had certain roles and responsibilities that were essential to the survival and stability of the entire tribe.


In some ways, women had more power in the family than men. Men had to win over the mother of the bride and her family who would then accept the man into the mother's household, which she owned. Women maintained equal power in decision-making and had the option to refuse a suitor, though most did not. While women sometimes became skilled artisans and medicine women, no job was placed higher than that of a mother. Women raised children and presided over all domestic affairs, including assisting other women in childbirth, taking care of the tepee, helping to butcher animals and gathering berries and other plants.


Men were in charge of providing for their families, which included hunting and protecting their families from outside forces. Men had to prove that they could provide for their families by supplying the family of his prospective wife with horses, food and other household goods to win their approval. Plains Indians often practised polygamy because of the high mortality rate of children and of the men, who were likely to be killed in battle. The more wives a man took, the more children he was likely to have and, thus, the longevity of the tribe was ensured.


Children were responsible for becoming useful members of the tribe. Children learnt by mimicking their parents through games as well as by listening to the oral stories of relatives that were told to them by the elders of the tribe. Girls took care of dolls to prepare them for taking care of children and learnt to cook and sew and gather food among other domestic tasks. Boys played with bows and arrows in an effort to learn how to hunt, and they also wrestled to learn how to fight. Essentially, children were free to grow up as they wanted with some children switching roles.


Grandparents typically named the newborn child and built its cradle. As parents generally had a deep affection for the children, grandparents often administered discipline while also helping to raise the children when the parents were busy with daily tasks. Grandparents acted as the teachers of the tribe's children by passing down oral traditions, stories and legends. Grandmothers taught girls to tan hides, sew and cook, while also handing down the tribe's morals, values, and traditions. Grandfathers subsequently taught the boys how to hunt and fight, as well as how to make tools and weapons.

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About the Author

Joshua Wade has been a freelance writer since 2006. Wade's poetry and short fiction have appeared in "The Frequent and Vigorous Quarterly" and "The Litter Box Magazine." He has also written for various online publications. Wade attended West Virginia University where he studied English and creative writing.