Read an Excerpt
More Than Moccasins
A Kid's Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life
By Laurie Carlson
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 1994 Laurie Carlson
All rights reserved.
Long ago, Indian families had everyday lives much like we do today. Homes had to be built and kept tidy. Treasures and tools had to be stored away carefully. Food had to be cooked, and clothing wore out and had to be replaced. People found different ways to do these things, depending upon what the weather and land was like where they lived.
Whether they lived in traveling camps or large villages, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all lived nearby; an Indian child was never lonely.
The Indians on the Plains hunted the huge herds of buffalo that roamed the grasslands. They used the meat, hides, and bones to make almost everything they needed. The buffalo didn't stay in one place but roamed around looking for grass to eat. The people had to follow them, so the Indians built portable houses that could be moved quickly and easily.
The Dakota people called their beautiful portable homes tepees. They made them from buffalo skins held up by poles. It took between 10 and 40 hides for one tepee, depending upon how wealthy the family was. New tepees were made in the spring to replace old ones that had worn out.
The outside of a tepee was decorated with paint. The top could be held open with poles to let smoke from the fire escape or it could be closed to keep out the rain. In the summer, the bottom could be rolled up to let a cool breeze pass through.
Each spring, all the members of a tribe gathered at one great camp. A council tepee was built in the center and the different bands or family groups put their tepees in a circle around it. Each band had a certain section of the circle so that people could find each other easily. A person would always know where to find an old friend because his or her tepee would be in the same place each spring. After all, they didn't have street signs or house numbers, and these great camps had hundreds of tepees and thousands of people!
When women gathered together to work on a new tepee, they enjoyed a special feast. It took about a day for them to make a new one. When it was time to move the tepees, the women did the work, too. In contests, two Indian women could put up a tepee in less than three minutes! When it was time to move, the tepee was rolled up and tied to a "travois," along with the other things to be moved. The travois was made out of two poles that were fastened to the sides of a horse, a person, or a dog and pulled along the ground.
You can make a toy tepee, or an entire encampment!
Bowl or plate
Markers, crayons, or paint
The camp was set up around the council tepee.
* Draw a large circle of paper by tracing around the rim of a bowl or plate. Cut the circle out and then cut it in half.
Decorate half the circle with interesting, pretty designs. Roll it into a cone shape and tape or glue the ends together. Cut a slit and fold back the door flaps. Make some clay people to live inside. (Use Play Clay, page 69.)
New tepees were white, but darkened gradually at the top from smoke. Use brown crayon to darken the top part.
Make several to create a whole spring camp!
What kind of furniture was inside a tepee? Only simple, lightweight things that could be carried from camp to camp. Tree boughs were piled and covered with hides for beds.
Use a bowl to trace a large circle.
Roll into a cone and tape. Fold back the door flaps.
Cut the circle in half.
Decorate and build an entire village.
Backrests were made by weaving willow branches together. Furs were piled on top so that they were comfortable for people relaxing in their special places in the rear of the tepee and behind the fire.
* You can make a tiny backrest for your tepee by cutting paper in the shape shown. Decorate it with markers and fold it. Use the toothpicks for the supports. Poke the narrow ends of the toothpicks into the top of the backrest. Glue 2 of the toothpicks securely to the back of the backrest. Spread the third toothpick back for support, like a tripod.
Many tribes lived in villages that stayed in one place. They didn't travel as much as the Plains tribes. People in the Great Lakes area, the East, and California built houses and lived near lakes or rivers. Many of them planted gardens and sold the vegetables to explorers and fur traders. Wigwam-type houses were built by Indians in many areas across the country. They used young trees that could be cut to make poles that bent easily into the framework. The poles were covered with whatever was available — peeled bark, woven grass mats, mud, twigs, and branches.
Indians built the frame of the wigwam by burying the ends of the saplings in the ground, bending them, and then lashing them together with strips of bark or hide. The covering was tied on in bundles. A hole was left in the roof near the center so that smoke from the fire in the center pit could escape.
Cut 1-inch strips.
Tape 2 strips together.
Tape 3 strips to the loop to make a frame.
Tape it into a loop.
Cover with a coffee filter.
Sheet of paper, 8½ by 11 inches
Brown paper bag
Watercolor paints or crayons
* Cut the paper into 1-inch strips. Tape 2 of the strips together to make a long piece. Tape it into a loop to use as the base. Tape 3 strips to make a frame. Use paint or crayons to make the coffee filter brown, green, or tan to match whatever you want to cover it with. Glue it over the framework. Cut a door opening, and fold it back. Glue on leaves, grass clippings, or cut paper strips to cover the coffee filter with a natural-looking roof.
You can also cover your wigwam with torn strips of brown paper bag, dipped in glue. Let it dry hard.
Glue grass or straw to the coffee filter.
You can also dip torn strips of paper in paste and layer them.
The desert dwellers in the Southwest created beautiful and practical homes from mud. They formed walls out of building blocks made from a mixture of clay, water, and straw and covered with smooth layers of mud. This kind of house was perfect for the hot, dry climate in the Southwest.
Early explorers called the mud bricks "adobe" (uh-dough-bee), a Spanish word. These adobe buildings were sometimes like big apartment buildings. The Indians built them on top of a flat hill so that they could watch for enemies. When they built the first level, they used logs as beams for the ceiling. They covered the logs with layers of grass and twigs and a thick layer of adobe mud. When it was dry, the next level was built right on top of the first. Each level had several rooms. A large family would live on one level, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living in the many rooms. A different family lived on the level above or below. There was a platform around each level — a deck — where ladders were set.
To keep enemies from getting in, the first-floor rooms had no doors. Those who lived there climbed ladders and went inside through a hole in the roof. When enemies were coming, the people pulled all the ladders inside.
You can make a single pueblo house from a shoe box or join someone else to make a large village from many boxes.
Cardboard boxes in various sizes
Moss or green sponges
Cornmeal, salt, or sand
Black construction paper
Twigs or popsicle sticks
Tan tempera or latex house paint
Craft glue (or a hot glue gun, for grown-up use)
* Arrange the boxes with the larger ones on the bottom. Glue them together in position. It is easier if you have a large, flat cardboard base to attach them to so that you can pick up and move the village easily. You can add desert plants by gluing pieces of moss or green sponges to the base.
Use pointed scissors to cut roof openings here and there. Since, the pueblo people built the first story without doorways, they had to climb ladders and go inside through doorways in the roof. When an enemy approached, they could pull up the ladders to keep the enemy from getting inside.
Paint all the boxes the same shade of light tan. Before the paint dries, sprinkle cornmeal, salt, or fine sand on it for an adobe effect.
Cut rectangles from black paper and glue on for windows and doors.
Make ladders from twigs or popsicle sticks.
Use "Play Clay" (see page 69) to make the outdoor cooking ovens called "hornos." They were shaped like beehives and made from clay and mud. Women baked bread in these every day. Make a few small cooking and water pots, too.
People have been weaving baskets in North America for more than 8,000 years. Most Indian tribes made some kind of basket.
Basket making was always done by women. They made sure to gather the finest supplies and prepare them carefully before starting a basket. They used whatever plants they could gather — roots, grass, cedar or oak splints, corn husks, bark strips, fern stems, cattail stems, and horsehair.
They made baskets to carry and store food in. Some baskets were woven so tightly that they could hold water! Baskets were used to cook food in, too. A rock was heated in the fire, lifted with sticks, and then dropped into a basket of soup or mush to cook it. Baskets were also used as baby cradles, hats, and traps for fish or birds.
Papago women in the Southwest made baskets with black lines striped around them. They often borrowed food from each other for their family's meal. They could refill a basket to the same black line when returning it. The women were very generous with each other, but food was hard to get in the harsh desert.
Fold in half 3 times. Make 16 strips.
Staple 9 strips to 1 strip.
Weave the remaining 6 strips over and under.
Knife and spoon
* Cut a large double sheet of newspaper down the middle fold, and then cut it in half crosswise. Fold the sheet lengthwise 3 times. Staple once in the center to hold its shape, or use a bit of glue to keep it from unfolding.
Make 16 folded strips, each about 1½ by 12 inches. Staple 9 strips next to each other along 1 strip. Weave other strips over and under these, stapling around the outer edges. Trim the ends with the scissors so that they are even.
The Indians in the New England area, like the Mohegans, used long flat pieces split from hardwood tree logs. They used potatoes and paint to stamp designs on their finished baskets. You can decorate your woven mat the same way. Cut a raw potato in half. Use a spoon or knife to carve out a design, then press the potato into bright tempera paint and stamp your design all over the woven mat. The Indians would have used berry paints for theirs.
Print designs with potato shapes and paint.
* Instead of tagboard, you can use newspaper. Cut full sheets of newspaper apart at the center fold. Fold each piece lengthwise 3 times and put a bit of glue along the crease to hold its shape. Lay down 4 strips, all in the same direction. Weave 4 more strips over and under them, pushing all the strips close together in the center. Staple them together at the corners. Fold and crease all the strips to turn upwards. This will give the basket its shape. When you get to the end of a strip, staple another one over it. For the last row at the top, bend and staple strips along the edge.
Interesting effects can be created using 2 colors of tagboard or using the colored comics sections from the newspaper.
Lay 4 strips side by side.
14 strips of tagboard, 20 by 1 inches
Weave 4 more strips over and under. Staple the corners.
Fold the strips up. Weave the rest of the strips over and under.
Fold and staple the ends when finished. Paint it.
Women in the Southwest and California tribes wove large, cone-shaped baskets that they used to carry firewood and wild foods. The baskets hung on their back from a band that went around their forehead or over their shoulders called a "tumpline." They wove their burden baskets with care and decorated them with deerskin fringes, shells, and beads. They prized their baskets because they were not only beautiful but they made their hard work easier.
Wrap the band across your forehead or shoulders for a tumpline.
Brown paper bag, lunch-to medium-sized
Beads, uncooked macaroni, or cutout paper shells
Markers or crayons
* Fold the top of the bag down about 1 or 2 inches. Punch a hole in each side. Tie on a length of yarn that can ride easily across your forehead or shoulders. You can try it against your forehead, but it might be easier for you across your shoulders. Decorate it with markers or crayons. Punch holes along the sides and bottom of the bag, punching along the creases to make 2 holes at a time. Thread lengths of yarn through the holes. Tie on beads, macaroni, or cutout paper shells. Wear the basket on your back with the tumpline across your shoulders or forehead.
Almost every Indian tribe made pottery. Pots were made from clay that was shaped by hand and hardened by baking in a fire. Each Indian group made a different type of pot. Pots break easily, but the pieces, called "potsherds," can last a long time. Archeologists have dated the oldest pots in North America at almost 4,000 years old.
Women usually were the pot makers. They would dig clay from the same place each year. The clay was dried and crushed into very small pieces. Pebbles and twigs were picked out. The clay was as smooth as flour. When she was ready to make pots, the potter added water to the clay dust until it was like dough. Small amounts of limestone, ground shells, sand, or plant fibers were kneaded into the soft clay. This kept the clay from cracking as the pot was dried and baked in a fire.
Cover a bowl with aluminum foil.
Press clay over the bowl. Trim the edge with a knife.
Roll a clay rope.
Wrap it in a coil.
Continue coiling to make a pot.
Smooth with fingertips and a bit of water.
(Co to an art or ceramic supply store, or dig some of your own!)
Cereal bowl or a clean margarine tub
Small bowl of water
* You'll need access to a kiln if you want to fire the pot. Ceramics shops will do the firing for you very inexpensively.
Cherokee, Papago, Yuma, Mandan, and Anasazi potters used baskets or old pots to shape the wet clay to create new pots. Use a cereal bowl or margarine tub to form your pot.
Turn the bowl upside down and cover it with aluminum foil pressed tightly in place.
Press the clay flat to make a large pancake. Lay it over the outside of the bowl. Press the clay against the bowl, forming it into the shape of the bowl. Use a knife to trim the edge evenly. Let the clay dry on the bowl until it is firm. Gently remove it from the bowl and foil and set it to dry on newspaper. Set it on its base so that air circulates inside the pot.
Some Indian potters made their pots by rolling clay into long coils. Roll a lump of clay between your palms to make a "rope" as thick as your finger. Wrap the clay rope around and around to make a bowl shape. Keep rolling new pieces of rope as you need it. Use your fingers to press the coils smooth. Wet your fingertips with a bit of water to smooth the clay if it begins to dry.
Let the pot dry completely, and then fire it in a kiln. A ceramics shop can do this for you. Indian potters didn't always fire their pots, but if they weren't fired they broke easily and wouldn't hold water without leaking. To fire pots, they dug a pit in the ground, piled the pots in it, and covered it with earth. A fire was built over it. Pots weren't removed until the fire burned out and everything cooled.
Indians decorated their pots in many different ways. The potters of each tribe used the same kind of designs and paints, but each person tried to make hers a bit different.
Indians gathered plants and cooked them to make paints. They also dug colored clays and mixed them with water.
The paint was put on the pot with sticks, tufts of fur, feathers, or yucca stem brushes. To make a brush from a yucca stem, the potter would gently chew on one end until it was soft and feathery.
Pots could also be decorated while the clay was still soft. Potters in the Eastern and ancient Southwest tribes pressed or poked designs on the pot before the clay dried. They used shells, sticks, or fingernails on the soft clay.
* You can use toothpicks, hair pins, screws, bolts, buttons, or whatever else is handy, to press interesting designs on your pot before it dries hard.
If you don't have clay to make pots you can shape them from homemade salt dough and let them air dry. Paint them with tempera or watercolors. Here's a simple recipe for salt dough:
4 cups flour
1½ cups water
1 cup salt
Food coloring (optional)
* Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Add more water or flour to make a dough that holds its shape but doesn't stick to your hands. Mold it into small pots. Let it dry a few days, and then paint as you like. You can use food coloring to tint the water before you make the dough to give your pots some color.
You can also make papier-mâché bowls by dipping torn strips of newspaper in a flour-and-water paste. Layer the wet strips over a plastic bowl or margarine tub that has been coated with a petroleum jelly (like Vaseline). When dry, pop it off the plastic bowl. Trim the rim evenly with scissors. Paint with tempera paints.
Another way you can enjoy creating pottery designs without clay, is by using disposable paper bowls. Buy them in the picnic section of the grocery store. Draw designs on them with colorful markers. Don't color inside the bowls if you plan to eat from them.
Scratch designs in the soft clay.
Cover a bowl with petroleum jelly. Layer it with torn paper strips dipped in paste.
Sample designs to paint.
Dry, trim edges, and paint.
Excerpted from More Than Moccasins by Laurie Carlson. Copyright © 1994 Laurie Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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