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The Kainai Nation - Social Life

Kainai boys, 1894

Like other Blackfoot Peoples, the centre of Blood society was the clan, a social unit made up of several smaller family units. Each clan functioned like—or was—a large extended family that lived and camped together. A clan’s name would be based upon the group’s characteristics. Clan leadership was determined by a number of factors. Individuals who possessed the proper mix of personality, sound judgment, generosity, and speaking skills would often become leaders, though leadership would also be based upon a person’s skills in a particular area of life. Thus, certain leaders would step forward during the hunt, or in times of war, although other leaders could also emerge in different areas of Blood social life. Clan leadership was also not something that could be inherited; the child of clan leader was not necessarily destined to become a clan leader.

Clan Elders often guided clan life with their knowledge and experience, and wise clan leadership relied on the Elders for advice. Blood law and social order was governed by specialized groups of people known as the inaki. These groups would not only ensure that laws were obeyed, but would also help guide those who had transgressed towards more responsible modes of action.

Male and female activities in Kainai society tended to follow traditional gender roles. Kainai men were often engaged in activities outside of the camp, such as following the buffalo on hunts, or patrolling traditional Kainai territories and protecting them from incursions by hostile tribes. Women gathered berries and other plants for food and medicine, and were responsible for setting up and taking down tipis and campsites. Food and hide preparation were also part of a Kainai woman’s world. The making of pemmican in the fall would ensure survival in the winter, and preparation of buffalo hides would provide material for tent covers and clothing.

Children born into a Kainai clan benefited from the care and attention of everyone in the clan. For example, newborn children were cared for by all of the women, and Elders or other respected adults were approached when the time came to give the child a name. The name given to the child usually echoed the noble qualities and achievements of the child’s namesake. Through play, stories, and constant care and instruction, the Kainai children’s natural skills and abilities were free to blossom naturally throughout their childhood. As children grew into adulthood, adult responsibilities gradually replaced carefree play, thus paving the way for when they would take their place as fully integrated members of Kainai society.

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