Women and North American Native Religions

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My Religion My Tribe, My Life:
The Importance of women in Native American Religion

"In February 1757, the great Cherokee leader Attakullakulla arrived in South Carolina to negotiate trade agreements with the governor and was shocked to find that no white woman was present. Because Cherokee women regularly advised his nations council on matters of war and peace."#

For many years a lot had said about Native American religion. From the believing in spirituality to the Sun Dance ceremony, from the pipe, to the dreams, from the healing, to respect for nature and not forgetting the smoke. But in my introduction to north American Native religion studies, little was mentioned about the importance and role women played.

This paper discuses the importance of native American women to their religion and how they hold the religion together. In many of these tribes there was an equality in roles played by both genders and at times women were even superior.

This surprised the first European missionaries as it was reverse in Europe which had Christian values. Gender roles over time have been influenced by Christianity and other religions.

Functions of women
The functions of women in native American religions varies in different tribes. Women's roles go from raring children and the old, to farming, fighting wars all the way to be medicine women. Women cultivated and gathered food .

"When the Europeans encountered the Cherokees in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were shocked to find that women had so much sexual freedom and held considerable political economic and domestic power".# Carolyn Ross Johnston shows how this differed from Christianity. "The Europeans viewed this reversal of patrical values as defiant, uncivilized, pagan, sinful and deeply threatening."#

In Cherokee and many other native American religions, the women was the head of the family. She owned the land that was cultivated and the family name. When a man married, he went to live with his wife and when time came for divorce, he had to leave everything behind at the wife's clan. This included children . When the Lakota traced their ancestry, while acknowledging and respecting their fathers relatives, most took the band name of their mothers and these patterns still exist".# For the man to see the children he had to visit the former wife's family.

Because the woman had custody of the children after divorce, the father didn't discipline the children. This was done by the older brother, or maternal uncle. However, in the case were neither of them was present in some other native American religions, the mother had to do it.

Even though gender roles were not engraved in rock, there seamed to be an understanding of the roles of women and men. "Women would tan hides, carrying wood, and on occasion carrying burdens that in no way inferred low status."#

War was a field dominated by men in many aboriginal religions but even with these reports there are a lot of women who were actively involved on the battle field. Oliver La Farge said" The conquering of white man's west was men's business chiefly, but keeping their country was the task of the whole Indian family and the women often were stauncher and braver than men".# If as a woman you could fight she would get in the army. "Some" women "even led war expeditions and if they achieved honours they became, winoxta, women soldiers." # Collins mentions that some of the women's duties in the war were "counting coups, stealing guns or horses, killing, and scalping".#

Off the battle field women would treat the wounded. "Sometimes women would pressure their husbands to steal more horses in order to acquire more wealth, and some would even encourage their husbands to capture other women to be co-wives in helping with domestic duties."# Native American women had final say when the warriors disagreed, they could stop warriors from going to war, and even made decisions on...
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