The efforts of women were vital to life
Early fur trade journals often fail to mention Native women, except as side notes or as they pertain to the men that they dealt with. However, given the general division of labor in aboriginal society, it is clear that women made crucial contributions to their families' comfort and to the overall economy.
Wild rice and maple sugar were both largely the products of female labor and were highly valued as both subsistence items and trade goods. Rolls of birchbark and other plant materials were also important trade items and necessary items to the conduct of life. These were also the product of the efforts of women. Women were also vital to hunting as they processed buffalo and beaver hides for sale to traders, made pemmican and dried meat, and other by-products. During fishing season they turned the catch into fish pemmican, sturgeon oil, and smoked the fish to ensure that there would be ample stores prior to summer hunting season. Any surplus quantities created by the efforts of women were in constant demand by traders. Yet despite this, the efforts of women were often assigned a lower social value than big game brought in by men.
In practical terms, however, the wide range of subsistence resources that women produced were vital in compensating for the effects of environmental fluctuations. “Women's foods” — rice, maple sugar, salt, roots and berries, and the small game that they snared — were essential to a balanced and productive seasonal round, and often were the only things keeping the people from starving to death. In some cases, women might reject a husband entirely — living alone and supporting themselves. In such cases they would necessarily undertake all activities, such as trapping, canoe-making, even hunting.
A time for Dibaajimowin (storytelling)
When living in a wiigiwaam or tipi the mother’s place was usually to the immediate left or right of the entrance, with the daughters next her. The father would usually be on the opposite side of the door from the mother. The elders of the family (grandpa/grandma) would be positioned at the rear of the lodge where it would be most warm. The sons would be located near the father.
The bedding consisted of blankets and hides tanned with the hair on them. Some people might have pillows and thin feather beds made of hide or cloth and filled with feathers if they were able to make them. If not, cedar boughs were spread on the ground and covered with rush mats, the bedding being placed on these mats at night. During the day bedding was rolled up and used as seats or placed along the walls of the lodge.
During the summer little time was spent inside of the wiigiwaam/tipi. But during the winter, evenings were a time for socialization. With the fire burning brightly, food would be cooked and talking would be intensely animated. A favorite pastime was the making of artistic pieces of birch-bark, or the making of fishing nets that could be used in the springtime. The young men often spent their time reclined with a drum conveniently near them for spontaneous songs when the mood hit them.
The winter was also the time for story-telling (dibaajimowin) and the time for stories about Nanabozho. Elder women were often the best storytellers, acting out the stories and walking around the fire while telling them.
Adapted from Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.
Hillary (Davis) Kempenich: Turtle MOuntain Ojibwe
Award winning artist Hillary Kempenich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is an established studio artist and advocate for the arts, education, social justice, and Native issues. She has immersed herself working with youth as an Artist in the Classroom in the Grand Forks Public Schools, as well as volunteering throughout her community. Raised on the Turtle Mountain reservation, Hillary continues to advocate for better educational and cultural standards for our Native Indigenous people, and for all people, through her artwork in urban communities.
Hillary is fluent in many mediums with a collaborative style influenced by her independent spirit as a creative woman and her deep connection to her heritage of Ojibwe, Cree, Assiniboine and French Canadian ancestral roots. She comes from a family of strong artist abilities, of which are strong influences within her work. While holding on to the ties to the Turtle Mountains, She works on developing her trades & exploring new mediums with her own personal style.
She has been part of the 2011 IPPY Outstanding Books of the Year, Storytelling Time: Native North American Art, with a growing list of group and solo shows as well as receiving recognition throughout the Midwest. The year of 2015 proved to be successful for her career, marked by awards from the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native Arts Gathering and the First Peoples Fund. Recently, she received the First Peoples Fund 2016 Artist in Business Grant and Fellowship Award. Her work continues to be featured in galleries throughout the Midwest.
Find out more at http://www.hillarykempenich.com
To All My Women Friends of Age...
Most of us are going through it...We are at that age where we see the wrinkles, grey hair and extra pounds...We see the pretty 25 year olds and sigh...But we were once 25 too, just like they will one day be our age. What they bring to the table with their youth and zest for life, we come to the table with our wisdom, experience and good hearts. For all we've been through earning each grey hair...be it raising kids, paying bills, illness and whatever else life brought us over our 30's, 40+ years...We are survivors...we are warriors.....we are Women...Like a classic car...or fine wine...while our exterior may not be what it once was...it is traded for our spirit...our courage...and our survival to enter this chapter of our lives with grace and pride for all we've been through and accomplished.
Never feel bad about aging. It is a privilege denied to many.
JT Shining One Side, Mikinak Wadju Anishinaabekwe