Native American Culture
The Native Americans have rich culture littered with struggle, strife and triumph as well as storied tales. Most aspects of our modern life were extracted from the ancient Indian cultures that were practiced centuries ago. Today, most common emblems that are taken for granted emerged from Native Americans. For instance, the totem pole, moccasins, teepee and peace pipe are some of the symbols that formed the integral piece of the bigger frame that wove together the tapestry of Native American life (Klein, 1995). Plants and livestock were the basics of Indian life. Obviously, there is something fascinating about this culture from their detailed art, the clothes they wore and their connection with the earth. An overview of Native American culture would be incomplete without a critical review of women’s role in society. This paper examines the roles Native American women and cultural practices.
Most of Native American stories are rooted from tradition, spirituality and are closely linked with Mother Nature. Native American women tribes across North America had several roles. The roles carried out by these women were very essential to each Indian tribe. To begin with, women are very important to any given community; mostly because they bear children and enhance generational continuity (Klein, 1995). However, for Native American tribes, women carried out other significant responsibilities apart from the common call of bearing children. For instance, women formed the larger circles of builders, crafts women, farmers and warriors. Generally, a woman’s strength was paramount for the survival of every tribe. In various ancient societies, women build houses for their families as well as collecting materials (Klein, 1995). They sustained their roofs and designed modern houses for their tribes. Clearly, this was an astonishing medal achieved by women of ancient time.
Men acknowledged the fact that women were the out spring of life, and the least they could do was to equip their lives with a feeling of strength and constituency. Women went an extra mile to help men hunt wild animals such as buffaloes. After harvesting an animal, same women would skin, cut then smoke its meat. Additionally, on top of the daily household chores such as cooking, they also made clothes and shoes, gathered firewood. In Native American culture, women did not only make homes (Kuiper, 2011). They carried out essential duties and were very important in other different fields as well. These women also designed tools and weapons that were used to maintain safety for society’s survival.
Men alone did not practice the branch of medicine; women were also experts in medicine. In fact, most Native American communities reckoned that the healing power was more dominant in women and could better alleviate ailing souls using their acquaintance and intonation with the spirits (Kuiper, 2011). Women had a role of collecting herbs to manufacture healing medicines for those who fell sick within their tribes. Moreover, these women were talented in craftsmanship and made beautiful pottery, blankets and baskets. They also made jewelry, which signified mutual respect between genders within their tribes. Just like the modern woman, they also cared for their husbands and children. The Native American men would have had rough time without the help of women.
It should however be noted there was a slight difference in the roles of Native Americans depending on their tribes. Regardless of this, they were highly regarded than their European counterparts. The tribes of Native Americans across North America had various roles for Native American women. For instance, the place of a woman in the Native American ancient culture was completely different from European cultures, more so among Iroquois tribe. Among the robust Indian race was Iroquois who controlled lands from North America seaboard (Brown, 2010). The agricultural fields belonged to the women. Women from this community also ran homes and owned daily life necessities such as kitchen utensils, skins and farming tools among other things. Some of the few things owned by men from Iroquois community were their clothing, weapons and personal effects such as pipes that were occasionally used during ceremonies. Iroquois women had various responsibilities, with the primary role being bringing forth children to maintain the future of their tribe.
Iroquois children were from their mother’s kinship and were instructed by the women’s relatives. Every single house they lived in was occupied by a single clan and was ruled by a clan mother, who was a respectable woman (Brown, 2010). As much as tribal council was dominated by male speakers, honorable women addressed the crowd once in a while. Moreover, women had the power to decide which men were eloquent speakers. Women used this platform to choose men who represented their views. Should the selected women fail to comply with women’s demand, they were denied food. This action automatically forced men to comply with the women’s demands. Conversely, if women approved of a specific chosen action, they spread that idea to the entire village to ensure that the action was implemented. The modern Iroquois woman still sustains her own council, and selects men to fill the ancient tribal positions (Brown, 2010). However, the modern tribes have separate and modernized form of elected tribal government, whereby women have less to say, unless they are personally elected. Iroquois women had superior positions than the popular fiction.
Another role of women is reflected through Navajo community. Navajo community was matrilineal, to mean that their personality originated from the woman’s clan. Navajo women were so significant that whenever a person introduced herself or himself, they would first name their maternal clan preceded by paternal clan (Pauw & McCurdy, 1975). Navajo religious principles denoted the various roles carried out by women through their lifespan. Besides creating the matrilineal system, the first clan of Navajo alongside their guidelines was created by Navajo women. Women from this community were further the primary drivers of economic and social control within their culture and occupied strong position in Navajo lifestyle. Additionally, these women were potters, weavers and crafts. Women from Navajo community further possessed domestic animals and fields, which were later inherited by their daughters who were educated on how to control them (Pauw & McCurdy, 1975).
Navajo women are known for their Kinaalda rituals. Kinaalda is an important and sacred ritual conducted by women, in which a thirteen-year-old girl turns into a woman. This ritual was normally accompanied with music and dances and lasted for four consecutive days. The girl involved was prohibited from certain diets and could not do any personal roles such as dressing up or combing her hair (Pauw & McCurdy, 1975). During such ceremonies, girls wore unique jewelry, costumes among other ornaments, which were mostly painted by mixing of white clay as designed by elder women in community. These ornaments and costumes were meant draw the line from childhood to womanhood.
Conversely, another cultured Native American tribes comprised of Cherokees. Prior to the white man’s arrival, women relished primary roles within their family, leadership as well as economy. Originally, Cherokee community resided along the western rivers of North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. The white man was astonished by concessions and roles of Indian women upon their arrival in 1700s (Fowler, 2003). Just like most tribes around them, Cherokee community had matrilineal kinship. In these kinship systems, a person was only related to people from the mother’s clan. Relatives were traced through women, and the only relations recognized were uncles, aunties, cousins and grandmother from the woman’s clan. The prevalent male figure in a child’s life was the mother’s brother and not the child’s paternal father. White men who inter-married with Cherokee women were surprised to realize that their child had no relations with them, but instead women were the ones related with the children.
Additionally, Cherokee households were controlled by women. Cherokee community lived in extended families whereby mother, grandchildren and grandmother lived together as a single family (Fowler, 2003). With such a big number of family members, different buildings were a perquisite. These structures were constructed by women and passed on to their daughters. The husband therefore lived in his wife’s household and if a misunderstanding arose between them, the husband was sent parking back to his mother’s house while the children were left with the wife in her home. Cherokee families had tiny gardens near their homes, which was partly cultivated. Men assisted in clearing the fields while women handled the rest of agricultural activities. These women incorporated tools such sharp sticks and hoes in their cultivation (Fowler, 2003). Older women were spared from hard labor such as farming and instead were reassigned to sit on the field platform and chase away crowns, which raided the fields.
While men were always away hunting animals, women stayed at home and made baskets, clothing and pottery as well as lit fire in winter houses, cared for children among other household chores. Women were very essential in both family duties as well as in boosting the society’s economy, resulting to their demand in leadership as well. Cherokee women arrived at decisions after thorough discussions after a long period. Decisions were made at council meetings and women were very active in such forums. Women had the power to advocate for peace or urge their men to avenge earlier enemy attack (Fowler, 2003). In some cases, Cherokee women also participated in battles beside their men and were respected for their bravery. Sadly, in 1800s, Cherokees women were deprived of their ancient privileges and were dominated by the modern Americans. White Americans did not approve women to participate in wars, elections, address the public, control children or even work outside the home. Cherokees imitated the white man and soon Cherokee women lost their major roles in society, power and prestige.
As can be observed from Native American culture, the only role carried out by men from these communities was fishing, hunting and fighting the enemy. However, women from other communities also took part in these roles. In their description, most Europeans regarded the Native women as slaves to their men due to their different gender roles when contrasted to European women (Fowler, 2003). The roles of these women displayed their cultural accentuation on autonomy, equality as well as reciprocity. Most studies acknowledge that American Native woman in their encounter with Europeans had increased autonomy and sovereignty compared to the European woman.
It is however challenging to generalize indigenous societies because the first people of North America had over a hundred different cultures, each with their own social structures, belief systems, political and cultural practices. Most of these cultures had specific characteristics that promoted gender equality (Kuiper, 2011). The nuclear family and clan united individuals in a structured reciprocal liability and honor. Lineage was centralized in establishing authority and position, endorsement bound clans and the conviction of reciprocity expanded to sections and gender duties of authority. Extensively, in most of these communities, men were hunters, warfare and interacted with outsiders; they were exposed to perceptible public duties.
Contrast to this, women controlled the inner operations of society. They owned the family housing as well as the household goods, they cultivated, collected foodstuff and bore children. In fact, the Native American women are renowned for their beautiful and amazing crafts that are currently the world’s popular arts. These women are also famous for their hand weaving coupled with quilted colorful bead necklaces, blankets, as well as their panted handmade pottery (Pauw & McCurdy, 1975). They also carried out roles that were very essential for the survival of members of their communities such as fetching water from rivers and streams. Additionally, women further held prominent social, economic and political powers.
As stated, in most North American communities, clan membership was traced through women’s lineage. For instance, six nations from Iroquois confederation practiced matrilineal descent. Clan women appointed men to serve as their chiefs and deposed chiefs who failed to represent their views. Women’s role as life givers was significant in their social and political authority. According to Native American creation stories, women were acknowledged as the wellspring of life (Brown, 2010). Some scholars opine that after interaction, the authority of women drastically declined due to cultural assimilation. Euro-American men persisted on interacting with Indian men through trade negotiations, and European ministers demanded that Indians abide by the Christian modes of patriarchy and gendered labor division, which enabled men to be farmers and women housekeepers.
Conversely, other scholars argue that most indigenous women sustained authority within their communities. The identity of clans and matrilineal succession were preserved as vital parts of most cultures even after interacted with the white man (Fowler, 2003). Women also progressed to use their maternal authority to influence political decisions within and outside their communities. For instance, as the modern U.S pressured Cherokee community to relinquish their eastern fields and migrate towards the western part, Cherokee women group petitioned their council to resist the move. In their communication, they strongly reminded their families that they natured their leaders on that piece of land. Remarkably, a Cherokee woman wrote a note in 1787 to Benjamin Franklin advocate for peace between the modern U.S and Cherokee community. She advised Benjamin that political leaders should consider the voice of women and regard them as their mother. Instead of being regarded as fragile souls with restricted stamina with mental strength and vulnerable to mistakes as well as emotional disorders like the European women, Native American women were admired for their worth in their respective communities.
Brown, J. (2010). Economic Organization and the Position of Women among the Iroquois. Ethnohistory, 5(9), 151-151.
Fowler, C. (2003). Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry:Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry. American Anthropologist, 2(3), 167-168.
Klein, L. (1995). Women and power in native North America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Kuiper, K. (2011). Native American culture (2nd ed., Vol. 8, pp. 73-90). New York, N.Y.: Britannica Educational Pub./Rosen Educational Services.
Pauw, L., & McCurdy, M. (1975). Founding mothers: Women in America in the Revolutionary era (2nd ed., Vol. 6, pp. 115-160). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.