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Native American Grandmothers Of The Past

Updated on January 12, 2016
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis has a strong affinity for Native American traditions, beliefs, and spirituality.

Taos Woman ~

Taos Woman by Edward S. Curtis 1905
Taos Woman by Edward S. Curtis 1905 | Source

Those Who Walked Before Us ~

Native American women, who walked before us, often enter my thoughts. They are prominent in my musings and reflections. I imagine their daily lives and all the work they must have done to keep family and home together to provide comfort and sustenance -- not an easy life, but beautiful in its simplicity. They were the grandmothers of the past.

Chukchansi Matron ~

Chukchansi Matron by Edward S. Curtis 1924
Chukchansi Matron by Edward S. Curtis 1924 | Source

Skilled hands ~

Every thing a woman did had a purpose, an important meaning, the end result of each task held clearly in mind, and completed with skilled hands, prayers, and love.

A woman faithfully passed down everything she did to her daughters and granddaughters. With the mother so busy at her tasks, from morning to night, the training of the young girls became a duty of the honored and respected Grandmother.

With rough, hard hands accustomed to work, and gentle loving hearts, they created the needed items and clothes for their families. They gave their children the love and understanding so needed to thrive on.

They passed on the spirituality of the Ancestors through stories, legends and memories.

Hupa Woman by Edward S. Curtis ~

Hupa woman by Edward S. Curtis 1923
Hupa woman by Edward S. Curtis 1923 | Source

Keepers of the Heritage ~

The Grandmothers not only kept the family history alive but taught their young how to accomplish the every day tasks -- such things as making clothes, beading, setting up their households and how to care for their families.

They did this without the help of books or printed instructions. They learned from the verbal knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Each grandmother taught her daughters and granddaughters how to make everything they needed. Nothing was written down -- it was a hands-on learning technique and the girls practiced by making clothes and beading them for their little dolls, which their mothers made for them. They even went so far as to create little horses, carts and tiny tipis, decorated with their sacred "passed down" designs. The children knew their ancestors through the voices of their grandmothers.

The grandmothers were, and still are, "Keepers of the Heritage".

Hidatsa woman ~

Hidatsa woman by Edward S. Curtis 1908
Hidatsa woman by Edward S. Curtis 1908 | Source

Young brides ~

In some tribes, parents promised girls as young as seven years of age in marriage to a man from another tribe. After the agreement of an acceptable trade made between the father of the girl and the husband-to-be, the girl and all the belongings needed to set up a new home became a member of a new tribe, sometimes never to see her parents again.

She had to have the skills needed to begin life in her own home. Until the girl reached the proper age and went through a puberty ceremony, her new mother-in-law, or another tribal woman, took over the teaching of the girl in everyday matters. Over the years the mother-in-law, or aunties continued to teach the girl all she needed to know. In time the girl who had grown to a grandmother taught her own granddaughters the ways of the people.

Cree Woman by Edward S. Curtis ~

Cree woman carrying moss, by Edward S. Curtis 1927
Cree woman carrying moss, by Edward S. Curtis 1927 | Source

Not an easy life ~

The Native American woman of the past did not have an easy life. We may look back on it and think that it must have been so wonderful to live a simple life like that. To live in and with nature, to be part of the great Mother Earth and to eat healthy, natural foods was a wonderful way to live.

To not worry about what the current fashion is and to make one's own clothes from animal hides with whatever design or colors one liked must have been so nice -- yet it was very hard work that toughened their hands and made for a long day.

If anyone of this day and age felt themselves thrust back in time to the days of the Grandmothers who walked strong and free on this land, serious second thoughts about "living the simple life" would enlighten us. It would take tremendous endurance, strength, courage, and profound spirituality to succeed with the life those women lived.

Just to make a new dress took many days of hard work and toil. She did not simply cut out her pattern and begin sewing on a machine.

Cayuse woman in beaded dress ~

Cayuse woman by Edward S. Curtis c. 1910
Cayuse woman by Edward S. Curtis c. 1910 | Source

Tanning the hide ~

Animals had to be hunted, skinned, and prepared for food, clothing, and other necessary items. The responsibility of hunting the animals belonged to the men. Skinning, carving, preparing the meat for storage, tanning the hides, and producing food and clothing fell to the women.

The hide is what she made clothing, moccasins, bags and pouches out of. The hide had to be scrubbed, cleaned, scraped, dried, scraped again, and stretched. After this process, it might have to be soaked in water, scraped again to make sure no hairs were left on. Then once again the hide was to be stretched and dried again.

This process to prepare and soften the hide was called tanning and took days to complete. After the cleaning, scraping and stretching, the hide had to be beat or rubbed around poles to soften it up for ease of handling, cutting and sewing. Finally, with the hide free of hair, soft and easier to handle, it could then be cut for clothing.

Then the beading was added, which took several more days, possibly weeks. The dress in the photo here was apparently made for a special occasion.

Wichita Matron ~

Wichita Matron by Edward S. Curtis c. 1927
Wichita Matron by Edward S. Curtis c. 1927 | Source

Patterns from memory ~

The pattern a woman used came from her memory, from her Grandmother's teachings. The exact size of hide, whether for moccasins or a garment, she cut with her knife. She just knew how much to cut for the needed item for a particular person.

After carefully cutting the pieces, she then used an awl to punch holes in the hide and sinew to sew the garment together. If you have ever tried making holes in leather or hides with a piece of sharp bone, you know this is not an easy task.

There is also the arduous task of preparing sinew for sewing. This is another job in itself and a woman had to have this to hold the garments together. Sinew was used as thread is used today. The sinew (animal tendons) was stripped from the muscle and bones of the animal, washed and dried. When dried, the sinew could be separated into thinner strands.When ready to be used for sewing, one end of the strand was soaked in water and twisted to a point, like a needle, then allowed to dry. This point easily went through the holes made by an awl.

The awl, was made out of bone or hard wood and sharpened to a point on one end. The awl was kept, along with other valuable tools, in pouches on the woman's belt. The belt and pouches were also made and beaded by hand.

Not a minute wasted ~

Everyday of her life a Native American woman worked hard to provide a home, food and clothing for her family.

Every tool used she hand made or it was passed down from grandmothers before her. Her tools were always with her, for they were important for her life's work.

While at her tasks, so natural to her, she took the time to tell her daughters stories of her grandmothers and to pass on much needed lessons and life instructions.

Not a minute of her time was wasted. She lived by the legend and traditions of those who walked before her and gifted these valuable lessons to the next generation.
~ ~ ~ ~

Grandmothers have a special wisdom to help younger generations learn .

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns


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    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      7 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Moon Daisy, for stopping by and reading. I appreciate your comment.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 

      7 years ago from London

      A lovely hub, thank you.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      7 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Eddy, I am so connecting to your love of Native Americans and their way of life. Some of my fondest memories are ones as you describe, doing daily tasks that made me feel I was in another time long before the technologies that have made our lives easier. I miss the days when I washed clothes by hand and hung them outside to dry, baked everything from scratch, hand sewed quilts and clothes for my babies, etc. I did things that way to save money on electricity, yet I loved it. I sometimes will go a whole day or two not using any modern tools or electricity, just to stay in touch with the simple times of the past.

      It is great that you have handed down your love for nature/animals/wildlife to your children. What a glorious way to live.

      Thanks again. May you always walk in peace and harmony.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      As you know Phyllis I have such a strong connection with native Americans and as I travelled throught this hub I felt it again!! There was no astounding gasp at how they lived their lives.

      When I was 17 years old my eldest son was born;we lived in a caravan with no running water;I had to carry plastic buckets down from the cowshed and then would heat up a four gallon zinc boiler on a gas hob. All washing was done by hand in the sink.

      I had better add here that this was in 1977 and not 1937 !!!

      However the strange part is that I loved every moment of it;I handed down my love for nature/animals/wildlife to my children;I would write stories and they would all do drawings to go along with them.Now my grandkids are doing the same.

      Thank you so much for your comment on my hub earlier and thank you also for sharingthis truly wonderful hub.

      Here's to many more and enjoy your weekend.


    • profile image

      selena colme 

      9 years ago

      so great for a a woman to tell.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      10 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Nell, for your comments. I imagine the grandmothers of the past did not consider their tasks in life as hard as it would be for us if we were transported back to their time. I find it hard to just complete a small beaded bag.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, this was fascinating and so true, I have sat many an evening watching TV, and a cowboy film came on, and i see the indian tribes sitting around their camp fires and the grandmothers doing the cleaning of the animal skins, it does look idylic but it must have been exhausting, great account, thanks nell


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