Plains Indian Party -10yr- Indian Costumes
Sheri in Red Deer, Alberta Canada
Our Indian Summer My daughters theme for her 10th year was birthed from her grade four curriculum. They had to learn about Plains Indians in preparation for aboriginal day. She was entranced and announced she wanted an Indian theme for her birthday in the summer I have to admit I was intrigued with the idea. What childhood is complete without the fantasy of cowboys and Indians? I began to see the possibility. I am glad she gave me lots of time to think about it, because this is not a party you can throw together at the last moment. At least not the way I wanted to do it.
Together my daughter and I began a quest to know and experience the culture of the prairie Indian life of long ago. There are many kinds of native cultures, since we lived on the prairies, we thought this was the most appropriate choice for us. This was a hands on learning experience that would make any home schooling parent blush with pride! We borrowed books from the library on the subject. We went to the museum. We learned the basic art of making bows and arrows, and learned how to make our own dried beef and tested numerous bannock recipes till we found the one we liked. (I will include the recipe at the end of this account) We attended a pow wow and even tried to learn some Cree. It was more fun to try than anything.
We used our basic understanding of Cree to make our invitations on a leather looking scroll Tansi (hi in Cree) In seven moons Rachel will celebrate her 10th circle of life on August 15th. Rachel is a good brave and is preparing even now for the Pow Wow she is planning for all her friends. Come dressed in your moccasins, feathers and native dress. There will be prizes fro the best costumes, dancing, and there will be native food and games and more. If the Chief in your tribe would allow, have them drum a message to Chief Par-tee Pla'nahr. Ki'hitwa'm ka'wa'pa mitin (I will see you again!) For our local Fair my daughter entered our planned menu for the party as a picnic basket and my daughter won a first place ribbon with honours - further reinforcing our learning experience. (not to mention confirm our menu for the party) Our Indian Summer Picnic menu was written on birch bark The basket was a thickly woven one and we had our homemade beef jerky in it, fresh baked whole wheat bannock, made a smoked salmon spread, chilli butter corn baked in the husk and fresh blackberries and raspberries.
I found a lady who rented tee pee's for birthday parties and hired her. I wanted very much to hire a native dancer, or story teller, or someone to teach Cree, but I probably spent enough renting the tee pee for the day. She came to set up the tee pee 1/2 hour before the party was to start in our yard. My daughter made two eagle feathers (by black marking seagull feathers on the tip) and tied them to a piece of leather thong and had it placed on the highest pole according to native custom. The tee pee door should face the East. Also tee pee etiquette said that the place of honour in a tee pee is the seat farthest from the door. That was the spot reserved for the birthday girl of course. I had thought to try and obtain furs from second hand stores selling discarded fur coats or fluffy fake fur rugs even to simulate buffalo hides in the tee pee, but I used a Hudson Bay blanket instead. Where I come from the natives would trade pelts for numerous things, one common trade was for Hudson Bay blankets with their tell tale yellow and green bands on them. That worked best for doing beadwork on anyway. If I had fluffy fake fur in there the beads would become lost along with sharp needles I am sure.
We learned it is considered good luck or a good omen to have an eagle fly overhead. So I tied an eagle kite to the nearby tree to flutter around in the wind. It is the kind of kite sold to discourage pigeons and seagulls from gathering so it was quite realistic. It was beautiful as it dove and dipped in the sky above us. Before the party, my daughter and I sewed some simple "medicine" bags together using real chamois cloth for some inexpensive and supple leather. We threaded in a long leather string for slinging over the shoulder and gave one draw string pouch to each child as soon as they came. Their first instruction for our native guests was to enter the tee pee and begin to decorate their special medicine bag to taste. I had a basket ready in the tee pee with needles, thread and beads and feathers for them to use. I provided a place for them to put down their needles so they would not lose one and find it later by sitting on one. We used a potato for this, but a strong magnet would be a good choice too.
While the girls were working on their crafts and catching up with each other talking, I took them aside one by one if they did not have "war paint" on. One girl said they should not wear paint because they are not going to war. This is where my research came into play and I was able to tell her that Indians also decorated themselves to just look good. I painted up the girls to look different from each other. They could not see themselves of course so they were reliant on others telling them how they looked. I also had some elastic bands on hand for the girls who did not come dressed and braided their hair and stuck a large feather in their hair.
After the girls spent some time working on their bags I had them clean up the beads, thread and needles and brought in two mysterious small woven baskets with lids on them. In one basket were stone arrow heads that I wrote a name on one side. These had names like deer, wolf, wind, In the other box was smooth flat stones. On them I had descriptor words like running, raining, sitting, The girls in our sacred ceremony were to reach in one basket and randomly pick an arrow head and put it face down in front of them. Then they picked out a smooth stone in the same manner. All together, they turned over the two items to reveal their new Indian name. My daughter's name now became "Painted Deer" The girls called each other by the new names for the rest of the party. The "Totems" of the rock and arrowhead went into their newly decorated medicine pouches. To conclude our sacred naming ceremony the girls celebrated by dancing around the fire.
For the fire, I put some large smooth river rocks in a circle in the middle of the yard. I did not want a real fire. One reason is I am not permitted to have an open fire on my property, the other reason being I have a young son who was a concern. For the flames I used red, yellow and orange tissue I tucked among sticks. For a more realistic effect a person could spray paint the inside of the rocks, ground and underside of sticks with a matt black spray paint to show for soot. I almost bought a Halloween cauldron that blew air upon orange and yellow silk flames. All I would have had to do was bury it a bit in the ground and hide the extension cord, but then I would have a hole in my yard to patch after. We settled on the paper flames I had a tape of native music from a Pow Wow playing in the background the children twirled and spun at a rapid pace around the fire. I was really wishing I did hire a teacher because they were nothing like the pow wow dancing we saw earlier in the summer. But, the dances were definitely their own. I offered prizes for the best dancer and best costume that came to the party.
For my daughters costume, I went to my usual haunt in the second hand stores and found an oversized shirt and dress that had material that was light weight and had the look of tanned suede. My daughters birthday is in the middle of August and I was not wanting her to overheat. For the shirt I removed the collar and buttons. Trimmed the edges to either have fringes or to be ragged as uncut leather would be. The front button holes were tucked in and I threaded a leather lace instead through holes we punched on each side. The dress was reduced to a simple skirt that we fringed on the bottom. The look was fabulous! For the feather we took a white feather purchased at a craft store and used a black highlighter to darken the ends to be like an eagle feather. Gluing that to a hair barrette with some beaded work over that. With some moccasins we found at a second hand store her costume was complete, inexpensive, and not that hard to do.
I also could not resist dressing up my 2 yr old son. I made a simple elastic waisted skirt for him to look like two pieces of ragged leather. They came from my daughters sleeves I removed and was enough coverage to hide his diapers. I put one crooked black feather on a leather thong on his head which suited his wild personality just fine! I let him run around like that the whole party. He looked so adorable! I got a lot of comments on how cute he looked as he ran around with the girls looking and acting very much the part of an Indian LOL. After the dancing we had our picnic lunch out on the lawn. By then it was getting too hot and stuffy in the tee pee with that many kids. The children devoured the food after offering up blessings to the Great Creator. After eating we had a cake with the plastic painted pony and native from the movie Spirit on it. Presents were opened after that I introduced a number of Native games There are actually a large number of games that natives played, These were a big hit with the kids.
One game was where I had long sticks I painted with red and yellow bands. It is a kind of floor hockey. Instead of using a small leather ball for them to hit around, I used a beach ball size rubber ball. This adaptation to the game made it easy for any athletic level to enjoy. Another game is an arrow shooting game. One arrow needs to be painted red or marked differently than the rest in some way. That arrow is the first that is shot. Then the idea is for the other natives to take turns shooting their arrows and the one who shoots closest to the red arrow wins. They get to shoot the red arrow out for the next game as well.
Another game the kids enjoyed was a hiding game. In this game they have two pieces of sticks about the size and thickness of a piece of chalk. One is the real bone the other is the fake out. They need to be painted up differently. (In the real game these would be real pieces of bone or antler) Sitting in a circle they begin a rhythmic series of claps where they may or may not be transferring the bone or not to their neighbour. The idea is to try to trick the finder of the bone into thinking it is not where it is. So he/she needs to watch very carefully. Each kids took turns being the one to guess where the bone went. We also had some spontaneous breakouts of Indian leg wrestling. For those not familiar, two people lie on their backs touching hip to hip but their heads at opposite ends. They raise the inside leg three times and then using only their legs try to flip the other person over. They are not violent at all and the kids had a great time.
As the children were waiting for parents to pick them up I had made some very authentic and not so authentic Indian pictograph's on a piece of foam board on an easle I made from willow. I wanted a large array of words for them to choose from and put the meaning in english below for reference. Indians used pictures to tell a story or communicate especially to mark an important event. On a piece of leather like chamois, cut to look like hide, and stretched on a willow hoop with fake sinew, kids were invited to write about the historic pow wow. They wrote in a circular pattern starting from the middle of the "hide" and took turns. It was fun for them to figure out how to put the pictures together to tell the story. P Parents came to pick up the kids the children were given some of the props we used and kept their own medicine bag and totems from the day. We sent left over bannok as well. The tee pee was not rented over night and was picked up an hour after the party was done. We still wanted to give my daughter the experience of sleeping in one so we planned a small vacation to a lodge that had actual tepee's to stay in much larger than the one we rented. We went swimming in the cold clear mountain streams, picked wild flowers and ate over the campfire and slept in our tee pee.
Thankfully it had enough conveniences to make it tolerably for myself, like a cot above ground and a floor, but other than that we got to know what it is like to sleep in a tee pee. My daughter and son wore their costumes most of the time there, so the pictures I took of them in front of the tee pee and on the forest pathways are so precious. It was a wonderful experience and a summer full of memories for us all. \\Traditional Bannock/Frybread - Sheri's recipe In a large bowl combine: 1 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 2 tbsp Baking Powder 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp sugar Make a hollow in the middle of the dry ingredients then add 3 tbsp vegetable oil Until the mixture looks crumbly like cornmeal. Then slowly add 1/2 cup warm water 1/4 cup milk Mix well until dough is formed. Do not handle too much. Knead until soft and only slightly sticky. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Before baking (350F for 20-25 min) Either: Roll dough onto lightly greased cookie sheet and pierce surface of dough with a fork in several places. Or you can cut out with cookie cutters. Another option is to roll into fist sized balls before you let the dough sit to pat out to the size of a large pancake for frybread. Or to cook over an open fire- roll unto a green or moistened stick .