Native American Dolls: The evolution of a teaching tool

Imbued with history, crafted with tradition, and adorned with tribal custom, Native American dolls were once lovingly created by mothers and grandmothers as gifts for their young daughters and granddaughters.

Although the term "doll" may imply a toy or a mere plaything, these handcrafted keepsakes actually had a very important purpose: to teach young girls about their heritage and future responsibilities as women - from taking care of daily chores to caring for children - as well as the roles men play in the tribe as hunters and warriors.

Realistic dress
These dolls also tell a story about the place and time that created them. Lakota dolls typically featured the gifts of the Plains and echoed the dress worn by the free roaming Indian tribes - soft bodies made of buckskin, buffalo wool stuffing, buffalo hide dresses and leggings complete with abstracted symbols, and quill or beadwork decoration.

Distorted faces
The faces of these dolls were often distorted or skewed. This avoided creating a realistic likeness that the child could relate to as a specific person, as it may have the power to offend that person's spirit.

Modern dolls
Native American dolls are rarely used to introduce children into their roles in current society, but they do still retain the ability to teach. Today, these dolls are carefully crafted by many artists as a way to honor the past, remember the native culture, and tell of historic tales and ancient tribal customs.