Paintings of American Indians, also referred to as First Nations or Native Americans, are important cultural contributions which chronicle American history. Paintings of Native American life whether on the Great Plains, in the Sonoran Southwest, or anywhere else across the American lands, portray a wide array of tribes and people engaged in activities of daily living. Such paintings often work to bring the observer into a place of connection with the subjects of the artwork. Many depictions of daily living focus on family life. Portrayals of American Indian children are poignant pictures of what life was like for Native American families. Artists who paint American Indian subjects often focus on the American frontier period during which primarily European settlers moved across the American landscape and interacted with the indigenous peoples who had inhabited the lands for hundreds or thousands of years before.
Paintings featuring American Indian children can be powerful pieces of art reminding viewers of aspects of daily living for Native American communities. Plains Indians, or the Native American populations that inhabited the interior plains regions of modern-day United States and Canada regions, are favorite subjects of contemporary paintings. These tribes which included horse riding buffalo hunting peoples such as the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Plains Cree, and Tonkawa to name a few, were known for their nomadic tendencies. Other plains tribes such as the Iowa, Kaw, Omaha, and Wichita for example, were known for their more permanent settlements—but who also hunted buffalo. The lives of Plains Indian children varied greatly depending on the tribe, but generally speaking, Plains Indian children lived good lives. They would prepare to contribute to the tribe in various ways. Some of these activities are the subject of contemporary Indian children paintings.
Native American children engaged in many different activities. Many would be either to play, to learn, or to help with the community. For example, many Plains Indian children would play a game called ‘Shinny’ which was like field hockey. The children would use a stick to hit a ball through a goal. Often, young girls would have leather dolls to play with. This would, of course, prepare them for moving into a role as a mother one day. At age fourteen in some tribes, the boys would leave to discover his guardian spirit as a rite of passage. Considering the broad diversity of the First Nations people, such experiences for children of such communities were quite varied.
Many paintings depicting Indian children as subjects share similar themes. Life for Native Americans was intricately and intimately connected to nature. The symbiosis of man with nature is a common theme; therefore in Native American artistic renditions. Paintings that include children help to allow the viewer to consider the lifespan of members of the community portrayed. From infancy through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, to middle age, and old age, every generation elicits certain feelings and considerations in paintings. Indian children paintings allow us to reflect on how we are connected to subjects that may be entirely different in terms of era or ethnicity, but who are really not so different.