Native American Gender Roles The woman was always kept busy in the camp. Responsible for making the family home, caring for that home, preparing food, making their clothing and so many other responsibilities. The woman is often referred to as a “slave” to her husband(Crow Dog, 2001). Whereas the man was often portrayed as sitting in the tepee, while the woman catered his every need. But, in truth, a Native Indian Man and Woman shared responsibilities equally. They shared the responsibilities of life, being partners along the same journey.
The Native American woman worked as hard as her partner in the journey of life. Native Americans established their relationships from being a descendent from a common ancestor, or through a clan system. The Cheyenne Tribe also traced their ancestry through the woman’s linage. Moore (1996, Pg. 154) shows this when he say’s “Such marriages, where the groom comes to live in the bride’s band, are called matrilocal”. The Montagnais-Naskapi a hunting society, stated by Leacock(Pg. 21) had been “matrilocal” until the Europeans stepped in. The household either is of the nuclear type or is extended to include relatives of one or both parents (Dozier, 1971, Pg. 237). Depending on each tribe’s cultural orientations, the status and roles varied between men and women. Matrilneal and Matrilocal societies, women had a lot more power. Property, land, tools and housing belonged to them. Property was usually passed down from Mother to Daughter and the husband joined the woman’s band and family. In the Cherokee and Pueblo tribes, if a woman was unhappy with her spouse, she could simply toss his belongings from their home and that was that.
Women’s roles in the governing of the tribe was usually influential. The Iroquois Indians, the offices were kept within the maternal lineages. A group of matrons or the tribal matriarch nominated each delegate, briefed them and kept them “up to date”, so to speak, monitored them and also removed them from office, if needed. Still roles in place, the actual “business” of the tribe was still very much a man’s affair. “A Nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground” (Crow Dog, 1991).
On the plains, where hunting and battles took the men away from home often, the men would return needing several days of rest and relaxation. Being exhausted from battle and fasting, they needed several days to recover. The women during this time went on with their daily activities prompting the “pale faces” to misinterpreted what they saw as “industrious squaws” and “lazy braves”, which was by far the case. In the South west and Southeast, men and women shared duties equally because the men didn’t go out to battle like the men on the Plains did. Common Tasks
Women had certain tasks that all of the tribes women were responsible for, no matter their location. The obvious, cleaning and maintaining of their home, tending to the children, gathering of plants and berries, pounding corn, cooking, making and repairing of clothing, packing and of course, unpacking. Most crafts like pottery, weaving, bead work and baskets were a woman’s responsibility also. On the Plains where hunting was in place, women often were responsible for the building of the homes, processing of the food, tanning of the hides and furs and most farming or food gathering which could be done.
In the fishing tribes of the Northwest, the men built the house and helped with the fur and hides. But, in the Southwest the men did most of the farming, processing, house building, weaving and cloth making. In the Iroquois tribes women became a higher authority after the revolutionary war, and men’s prestige went down due to losses and defeats on the battlefields, and lack of game to hunt. By the 19th century mothers played a greater role in approving partners for their kids and usually got custody in a “split”.
Unlike earlier times where custody was always unknown if a split happened. In the Southwest tribes women were involved in tribal council meetings and usually got the final vote for whether to go to war or stay in peace. The Cherokee tribes had a woman they called the “Beloved Woman” in which they believed that the Great Spirit spoke through. Though he words were always heard, they weren’t always followed. She was still on the Council of Chiefs and had a lot of influence. She also used her status over prisoners and when she died, someone was chosen to replace her.
Having just as much influence as the last “Beloved Woman”. The Cheyenne held women in high authority and best regards. They played a huge role in determining warfare and often fought alongside the men warriors in battle. When the warriors would return home, men and women, the women would often celebrate by dancing and flashing scalps of the fallen enemy. Roles in the Native American culture were very standard. Both men and women had their daily responsibilities and generally if one needed help, the women was the one who took on the added responsibilities.
Though, all tribes had gender specific duties, some tribes gave what was generally considered a man’s role, to a woman and in some tribes, men were doing what others saw as a women’s role. But both men and women had tasks that were held in high authority and looked upon with best of regards. Today, we seem to want to break away from what is considered a gender role, giving equal roles to both men and women. We try to not place roles on a man because we feel it is a man’s task and vice versa.
We try to give equal responsibility to both sexes and generally all responsibilities are handled in the same fashion. Though, we are trending away from the typical gender roles, we still see roles being done by specific genders. Examples of this is men tend to be the bread winners and women the nurturers. Though there are exceptions to this rule, it still stands that women tend to be the nurturer and men the business. Property possession, power, inheritance and influence was generally based on whether a tribe was matrilineal (woman) or patrilineal (man). There were a ew tasks that all women and all men shared among the tribes, like women, cleaning, nurturing, gathering, cooking, packing, etc. and men, hunting, house building and battle. But, others varied by region and such variances in gender roles only show the diversity that existed among the Native Americans. References: Dozier, E. P. , (1971). The American Southwest. In Leacock, E. B. , Lurie, N. O. (Eds. ), North American Indians in Historical Perspective, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. Moore, J. H. (1996). The Cheyenne. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc. Mary Crow Dog. Lakota Woman. May 2001