The Native American Sioux: The Role of Boys and Girls in Sioux Society

Although girls and boys had different roles in Sioux society, their parents were not disappointed if they had a daughter. Parents in this Native American tribe doted on all of their children. Jonathan Carver, an explorer who visited the Sioux on the Great Plains in the mid-eighteenth century, observed that “Nothing can exceed the tenderness shown to them by their offspring.” Sioux children rarely got spanked and their parents allowed them to make decisions. Unlike American families today, which usually have only two parents and their children in one home, in a Sioux family, children lived with their parents as well as aunts, uncles, and other extended family members. In this way, Sioux children received extra attention and advice because they had many adults to look after them.

Like American kids, Sioux boys and girls played with toys. Their toys would prepare them for their roles in the community. Girls played with dolls and small tepees to prepare them for motherhood and domestic tasks. Boys played with bows and arrows, which would be sharpened when they were older so they could practice the skills they needed to become braves. By age eight, boys and girls spent more time with their elders.

Girls learned to plant, harvest, sew, and cook alongside their mothers. Cooking must have been a challenge based on the variety of meat Carver saw the women preparing. He wrote, “All their victuals are either roasted or boiled…their food usually consists of the flesh of the bear, the buffalo, the elk, the deer, the beaver, and the raccoon.” The Sioux did not forget to eat their vegetables, either. They ate corn, which the women harvested as well as the inside barks of a shrub that Carter was not familiar with, but he said it tasted good.  Women were also responsible for cleaning and decorating the family home—the tepee. By the time a girl became a teenager, she looked forward to marrying a Sioux brave and using her new skills as a wife.

Boys spent their preteen years learning to ride horses and shoot moving targets. They also learned to shoot on horseback. These skills were important because men were expected to hunt the food and bring it to the women. Also, Native American tribes rarely got along with each other so boys needed to know the skills of warfare. By the age of fifteen, young men could join the other warriors.

Prior to becoming a warrior, however, boys were initiated into manhood through their “vision quest.” The young man entered a hut called a sweat lodge with his elders. Heated rocks were brought into the hut and cold water was poured over them. The steam that was created purified the boy’s soul. Then he spent four days alone on a hilltop without eating. The quest would prove the boy’s bravery as well as his willpower since he would hear strange noises outside at night. During this time, the boy prayed that he would have dreams that would help him decide what he would do when he grew up. After the four days, an elder brought the boy home and interpreted his dreams. Grown men and occasionally women would participate in more than one vision quest if they felt the need for guidance; however, the first vision quest for a boy was the most important.

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