Kickapoo - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Kickapoo practiced a pattern of subsistence that combined a preferred hunting and gathering adaptation with less favored horticultural activity. Deer and bison were the major sources of meat, but other game animals, such as bear, elk, and small animals, were also utilized. Wild plants and nuts were supplemented by the maize, beans, and pumpkins they planted in the spring. In the wake of European contact, the Kickapoo became involved in the fur trade and later dealt in other goods as well, ultimately becoming known as shrewd traders.

All these activities remain evident to some degree in the economy of the Kickapoo who live in Mexico today. A significant portion of their food still comes from hunting, gathering, and home-grown products, although some commodities are purchased. Cash income is provided primarily through their employment as agricultural laborers in the United States, an activity that allows them to maintain their pattern of seasonal migration. Many of those who maintain a residence in the United States also receive Department of Agriculture food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Still others are eligible for Social Security benefits as a result of their seasonal employment. These government benefits are also available to members of the Oklahoma and Kansas Kickapoo. Among these more acculturated groups, subsistence activities are more varied and there is a greater dependence on wage labor. Unemployment and underemployment remain a problem, especially in Oklahoma where many Kickapoo lack formal education and some do not speak English. Those who own land generally lease it to White farmers rather than working it themselves. On the Kansas reservation, development projects have provided some jobs, but many of the same problems found among the Oklahoma Kickapoo exist there as well.

Industrial Arts. In addition to weapons, aboriginal crafts included many skillfully made wooden objects such as deer calls, cradle boards, and ladles. Baskets and mats were made from rushes. With the introduction of European beads, the Kickapoo began to produce ornately beaded moccasins. These crafts are still commonly practiced among the Mexican Kickapoo.

Trade. Trade among the Kickapoo and neighboring tribes was well established prior to and after European contact. The Kickapoo traded with Europeans as well, but avoided the strong dependency observed among other Indian groups. As the importance of fur trading decreased and the Kickapoo moved south, emphasis shifted to the trading of horses and livestock during the nineteenth century. Their ability to supply these and other trade items was a valuable asset after they settled in Mexico. Some Mexican Kickapoo still carry on a brisk trade in used clothing and other items picked up at flea markets along their migrant route.

Division of Labor. Aboriginally, all Kickapoo followed the traditional division of labor, which placed hunting activities as well as the protection of the village or camp in the charge of men. Men also cleared new fields for planting. Women were primarily responsible for gathering wild plant foods, planting and tending crops, building houses, cooking, and child care. On large hunting campaigns, everyone cooperated, the women processing the meat and later the hides of the animals that the men killed.

The division of labor changed for the Kansas and Oklahoma Kickapoo when they settled. Sedentary agriculture and eventually wage labor took precedence over hunting, and it was men who began to fulfill these tasks. For the Kickapoo in Mexico, the traditional divisions have undergone less change. Hunting remains important, although it has been replaced to some degree by agricultural wage labor. Nonetheless, it has allowed the continuation of the seasonal migratory pattern in which the male contribution to subsistence has been emphasized. Women take primary responsibility for the subsistence crops planted in the village at Nacimiento. During the migrations they work in the fields whenever child care and cooking allow. But it is the role of men, who cooperate in patrilineal crews just as they traditionally did for hunting, that is Paramount. Religious rituals remain primarily the responsibility of men in both Oklahoma and Mexico, although healing practices are conducted by both men and women.

Land Tenure. Prior to European encroachment, the Nomadic movements of the Kickapoo precluded emphasis on land tenure. Tribal groups had traditional hunting territories over which they ranged and their fields were planted near their semipermanent villages. The Kansas Kickapoo now live on communally held federal reservation lands. The reservation lands of the Oklahoma Kickapoo were allotted individually in 1894 and excess lands sold, so that there is no actual Kickapoo settlement. The Mexican Kickapoo village of Nacimiento is classified as an ejido and administered according to the Mexican Codigo Agrario. The original families who settled there still maintain rights to the land, but in general, usufructory rights are respected. The reservation provided for this group in Texas is federally administered.

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