The Child & Native America!

horseheader1.jpeGood Morning!

Hope you are all having a fabulous April.  Did anyone get caught with some good ole April Fools jokes this year?  I’m afraid that I’m away from home and so missed the usual fun of April Fools this year.  And how are y’all doing on your taxes?  This is also Tax month.  Anyone planning to go to Washington DC this April 15th to join the protest against the IRS and the Federal Reserve?  That 16th Amendment, which was radified — or so it’s said — in 1913, after heavy lobbying by Rockefeller, seems to be more and more a burden on the average American citizen (thee and me).  There are some who are determined to shine the light of day on the IRS, which I think is very brave considering that the IRS has been known to treat objectors ofttimes with a bit of a rough hand.  So if you’re going to the rally, I wish you well.

bluebonnets3.jpg All right, so I thought we might spend the day talking about Native America and the child.  How was the child valued in Native America, how were they disciplined?  What would it have been like to grow up in Native America?

baby2.jpgIt is said that a culture that doesn’t value the child and the parents who raise that child, is a culture that will not exist for long.  And it’s probably true.  Children are our future and without a system of raising the child, so that he retains his natural dignity and curosity, is a culture that is most likely on its way out.  In Native America, before the advent of the Amero-European culture spreading around it, the child was adored.  From the moment a woman knew she was pregnant, she would eat certain foods, take long walks, sing, think happy thoughts and do little things that would encourage good growth of the child within her.  A child was born into the family, and that included the extended family — grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.  In fact, in Native America, the child often called his aunts “mother” and his uncles, “father.” 

baby1.jpgA child was also welcomed by every member of the tribe.  The work-a-day world of Native America included the fact that every household — be that a tepee or a longhouse or other form of home — would have food (usually soup) cooking all day long.  A child, any child, was always welcome in any home.  He was always welcome to come in and eat, sit and talk, and literally be at home anywhere within the tribe.  Children were never hit or struck in Native America.  Sometimes, in the Iroquois Confederation, if a child continued to be naughty, someone might throw water on him, but most usually the form of discipline for the child was in the form of an elder who would tell the child a story, one that had a moral do to with whatever the child was doing that was naughty.

 ninefillyIn fact the Blackfeet had an interesting way of disciplining their children so that a child’s natural dignity was never destroyed, and yet he was brought into the tribe and its moral codes in a very natural way.  It went like this:  let’s say that a child was being naughty.  He’d picked up a stick with the intention of hitting his brother or something of that sort.  Some elder of the tribe might have seen him with the stick and the dialogue might have gone like this:

The elder:  “Aa, I see that you a good stick there.”

The child, looking around for the elder, cringes because his intention is to hit his brother.

The elder:  “Aa, what a good child you are.  I see that you have that stick there to help your father mend his arrows.  Your father is lucky to have such a good child as you.l”

Now the child knows he intended nothing of the sort, but to save face, the child nods his head in agreement, and goes off to help his father mend his arrows, forgetting all about wanting to hit his brother.

In Native America, a person who would hit a child in discipline was considered crazy and if it happened once too often, that person was often ostracized by the tribe.  Is it any wonder then, when met with those from a civilization that considered physical discipline important, that the Native American thought that person more than a little crazy?

adam-beach.jpgOkay, I admit it, I keep cheating with this picture, but I really do like it!  What would it have been like to have been a little boy, growing up in Native America?  Well, according to those white men who grew up in Native America, there was nothing to compare with it.  What freedom!  The freedom to come and go whenever you wanted!  The freedom to explore anything you wanted!  Being coached and groomed by your elders, being told stories when you were acting in a way that wasn’t considered best.  Learning to track, to follow trails, to learn the movements of the animals, to be able to go out and stay outside and learn.  To watch the stars on a soft, summer night, to make friends with another boy who would remain your friend for life.  Indeed, those men who grew up in Native America usually stayed, or if they did have to leave, would often return as soon as they were able.   And those men, like George Catlin, who went amongst the natives to paint them, never really ever returned to civilization, except for occasional visits.

lastwarrior.jpgSometimes, when I go to the reservations, I remember the things that I’ve read about the freedom of the Native Americans and I think that if I had a choice, what a pleasure it would have been to grow up in the old days of the Native American.  

So what do you think of child rearing?  Do you have any special tips that have made raising your children easier?  Come on in and let’s talk about our most natural instinct: that of being a parent.  Let’s share.  And don’t forget, THE LAST WARRIOR, my latest effort, has just been released to bookstores everywhere.  Please do pick up a copy.

Website | + posts

KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to for all contest rules.

30 thoughts on “The Child & Native America!”

  1. Hi Kay,I always learn so much from your posts. I love the idea of children being treated with dignity. My hubby and I too tried to keep that in mind with our own son and daughter, who thankfully, rarely gave us trouble LOL. What was it like for a little NA girl? Were they homebodies or could they revel in nature too?


  2. Hi Kay,
    Well, I loved learning about NA children. Wouldn’t that be something if we adopted those principles today?
    We disciplined our kids with love, but I always believed it was far more important to parent the child, rather than be their friend. I often made unpopular choices for them (in their eyes, not mine) but you know, they both turned out great. Brother and sister like each other and are really great adults now.

  3. Karen, Good Morning to you! I also love the picture you keep cheating with, don’t think anyone will complain! Inlightening and wonderful post as always, I have found being a parent a very loving ang trying realationship. I wish kids were born with individual books on what will work best for them lol. I have 2 girls and i have always tried to teach them self respect. I’ve always felt if i treat them with respect and not punish them in a disrepectful manner than they will value themselves more. I find that kids today it’s hard to get threw to them when there so many kids being able to do as they may. I want to be able to let them grow and discover things on their own but have problems with this at times when so many kids are using drugs and there’s no boundaries at home. I wish i could’ve raised my kids in a enviroment i could trust where other’s are wanting the same kind of life but i think it’s easier for some parents to let them have their way to get them out of their hair than take the time to value them as a person that they are our future and if we don’t help them get it now what will they bring to society? My husband unfortuantly is one of those that it’s easy to brush it under the rug than to deal with a situation so i’m the bad guy, but for disiplin I tell them exactly why they are being punished so there will no misunderstandings about it and i will take away something that is not a necessity in life but a privilage as in the Ipod, or the cell phone or game boy and sometimes 30 min. early for bed. Time out has never been affective for me even when they were younger but thanks to technology i now have ammunition the cell phone being taken is upmost affective! Thank you again so much for the lovely message you wrote in Linda’s book for her birthday it was very special to her and for getting it back so quickly . You are a very special lady! love Ya. Lori

  4. This post and my thinking about different forms of discipline reminded me of a story our pastor told in church. If you’ll bear with me (I promise it’s not sermon length). But many Native traditions have a very spiritual side.

    When John the Baptist’s father learned his elderly wife was expecting he questioned God. God struck him dumb. Zechariah was unable to speak until John was born.

    Mary learned she was expecting a baby, Jesus, and she questioned God. God blessed her and comforted her.

    Why the difference?

    Because God knows our hearts. He knows the roots of our actions and that is why similar actions get a different response.

    This is why disciplining a child is so easily debated. One parent can do something, spank or scold, from a loving and nurturing place and it’s good and contructive. Another can hit with the same force, yell with the same volume, but it does harm.

    One parent could discipline a child with stories and nurture dignity and honor, another might act in almost the same way and be negligent.

    Ultimately the disciplining of a child, if it comes from a place of love and respect for the child, can take many forms.

    I suspect that this is just one of a thousand ways the European and Native cultures didn’t understand each other and didn’t try to respect their differences.

  5. On a lighter note 🙂

    My mother-in-law, mother of seven children, all sons, is fond of saying, “All the great child rearing books are written by people with one kid. By the time you’ve had two, you know not everything works with every child and by the time you’ve got seven you haven’t got any idea what to do with any of them.”

  6. Kay, what an interesting subject. Child-rearing has been hotly debated for years. There are as many different methods as there are parents. Some nurture the child and others destroy the child’s spirit. I really think the problem of child-rearing is that parents don’t have any time to devote to their children. They’re too busy with their lives. In reality many chidren today are rearing themselves and don’t have any guidelines or anything to go by. It’s a sad state of affairs. Another problem I see is that children don’t often have the close bond with grandparents.

    I love the NA way of raising children. They teach the child by listening to his spirit and taking time to show what’s expected of him in a gentle caring way. It’s wonderful to see well-behaved children!

    I wish kids came with some kind of learning manual, darn it! I could’ve done a much better job of raising mine if I’d known what to do. I made a lot of mistakes. But, my three kids turned out to be outstanding adults so maybe I did something right.

    Thanks for an intriguing topic and sharing more of the NA culture with us! 🙂

  7. Hi Tanya!

    It’s interesting that you should ask. There were definitely divisions of labor, and most little girls were interested in learning about child rearing and food preparation. However, in most Native American tribes, they were matriarical (sorry that’s probably misspelled) and so women had a lot of freedom in most tribes. There were some noteworthy exceptions to the rule and there was one warrior woman amongst the Blackfeet who went to war and became a warrior, just like any other man.

    She also took a wife, interestingly enough, and since she was considered a man, there was nothing said about it. Women had the same freedom as a man, but again the divisions of labor were generally, but not always, very distinct. : )

  8. Hi Charlene,

    Yes, I really agree with whoever it was that said that there are as many ways of raising a child as there are parents. You are such a kindhearted person, Charlene, that I’m sure whatever you choose to do was the very best. : )

  9. Hi Lori!

    Thanks so much for your sweet, sweet words. It was a pleasure to get that book back to you as quickly as I could.

    Like you, for punishment, I would take away a privilege — usually it took the form of grounding — when my kids were young, there were no cell phones. What an age we live in.

    Also, I, too, think it would have been great to raise a child in an environment, where almost every other adult was looking out for the welfare of that child. Of course, once the white man did come, with his whiskey, things quickly changed in Native America. It’s interesting that it seems that the “choice of weapon” is ofttimes not a straight out full-frontal war, but a more insidious weapon — that of drugs. Interesting.

    Thanks for all your insights.

  10. Hi Mary!

    What an enlighening post. Your comment on your mother made me smile. I think she was right — I only have the two children, but I soon learned that what worked for one didn’t necessarily work for the other.

    What an insightful minister. : )

  11. Hi Linda!

    Your post also made me smile. Like you, I have looked back on what happened when my children were young and how much better it would have been had they come with a manual.

    Like you, I think it’s wise to nurture their spirit and most of all I think children should be showered with love, so that they know from one day to the next that they are truly wanted and loved.

    All else, I think will sort itself out. : )

    Thanks for the post.

  12. Hi, Kay, I don’t believe in hitting children either. When I reprimand my grandchildren for something, I always explain why I am doing it. for example: “Don’t run around the pool. It’s slippery, when it’s wet, and you can slip and hurt yourself.” I tell them then of people who have been hurt doing just that. Usually they listen. If they don’t I make them sit on the edge for 5 minutes. I also play on their sense of honor and let them know it hurts me, when they do something they shouldn’t. I never lie to them. If it is going to hurt, let them know it will. And last but not least, you have to lead by expample. If you don’t want them to do something, don’t do it yourself.
    Take care
    Love and hugs

  13. It takes a village to raise a child 🙂 I think the Indians has it right. People are too isolated today and under so much stress and pressure (sometimes brought on by themselves). I too don’t think you should hit a child although I have to admit to losing my patience a time or two with my oldest. I also don’t think they should be totally spoiled rotten and then grow up to feel so entitled and find out the real world is not centered on them. Moderation I guess is the key.

  14. Hi Kay, you post was wonderful and informative. Researching my Native American novel, APACHE WARRIOR, I too learned how tolerant of the children the Apaches were. They loved children and, as you mentioned, the whole tribe usually came in on the growing up, and disciplining of that child. They were appalled at many of the white man’s customs and whipping their children was one of them.

    Love, Carol Ann

  15. Thanks for the information on the Native American way of caring for their children.

    Thanks also for the photograph of Adam Beach, who
    is a most welcome addition to the Law and Order

    Pat Cochran

  16. Thank you for the lovely post today, Kay! And Mary, I loved your MiL’s quote–excellent! And what a woman! I’ve only got three, and most days it’s plenty to keep me up to my ears in everything! And Charlene, I agree that it’s more important to be the parent than their friend–they’ll have plenty of friends, but only the two of you. At least that’s what I’ll be reminding myself for years to come… 🙂

  17. Karen,
    Thanks for reminding me of your postings. Enjoyed what you had to say about Native American child rearing. I have two of my own and they’re already reared for the most part. I think they turned out fine. But I did need the help of a nanny. As full time physicians my husband and I were sometimes on call at the same time and needed someone to live-in until the kids were older. During a frustrating child rearing moment she once said, “All you can do is ask them. You just ask them and keep asking them. You can’t really tell them what to do. You can only ask.” I took that to heart and it seems to have worked.

    By the way, my favorite Indian hunk is Eric Schweig from Last of the Mohicans. I wanted to slip in a picture of him to compete with yours but couldn’t figure out how to do it.

    Barbara Bergin
    author of ENDINGS

  18. Very interesting information on the Native Americans. I live in Arizona so I am aware of alot of the traditions of the Navajo and as a schoolteacher, I taught several. They were very quiet and shy, but the girls were beautiful sewers in my Home Economics classes.
    I’ve read several of your books and I really enjoyed them.

  19. Hi Heide!

    So nice to see you here on the forums! Heide, just for those who don’t know, if an extremely talented author, and she is also a reviewer.

    It’s interesting this thing on physical punishment — I tend to think more in the Native American viewpoint, but it’s just interesting. It used to be said “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Not sure that’s true, but I certainly don’t condemn he who believes it — just that if it’s to be done, nothing should be said around the child and the child should be told what is to come — and it should never, ever be done in anger.

    Thanks so much for your insights, Heide!

  20. Hi Jeanne!

    Yeah, I have to echo your sentiments. Moderation. I think that’s really a very wise thing. And congrats on winning the book. Wow! Winning a contest! May this be the start of much good luck!

  21. Hi Carol Ann!

    Yes, I’m sure you’ve read about this, as well. Am so glad that you new book — and your 1st book is doing so well! : )

    Hope you feel like a princess and that there will be many more to follow. : )

  22. Hi Pat!

    Is he really on Law & Order. I don’t have TV and so of course don’t watch it. But I’m glad to see how well he’s doing.

    Yes, he is so very handsome. : )

  23. Hi Fedora!

    Sounds like you have your hands full. I bet you’re a great parent! Personally I think that parents should be given a break by the IRS. I don’t think that parents should have to pay income tax. Of course I don’t think artists should have to pay income tax, either. : )

    Thanks for your comments!

  24. HI Barbara!

    Yes, I can imagine that being on call would require a live-in nanny. Most of us can’t afford it and I know I wouldn’t have been able to, but am so glad that you were.

    I adore Eric Schweig, as well. Right now because I’m writing about the Iroquois, I’m playing The Last of the Mohicans alot, and so I’m getting quite a view of Eric. Love those breechcloths. : )

  25. Hi Joye!

    Wonderful name, by the way. Thank you so much for your compliment, as well. Yes, I bet the girls were very good with sewing. One of my best friends sews as though she were born with a needle in her hand. : )

    Thanks so much for your post!

  26. My husband…a farmer…oh, let’s call him a rancher, that’s more fun…likes to say he thinks polygamy ought to be allowed for ranchers. Because it takes TWO wifes holding down a job to support a ranch these days.

Comments are closed.