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The Native American Women

Native Americans

  • Over 60 million Native Americans lived in North America before European arrival
  • Tribes were diverse
  • Lived differently according to region and spiritual beliefs


Native Women’s Life and Work in the Society

  • Native American women had a variety of roles in their societies
  • Work was sometimes divided by sex and age
    • but women’s work was essential for the tribe’s survival
    • Women’s work was valued
  • Some work consisted of processing foods, gathering seeds, fruits, roots, cooked, preserved foods, made household utensils and furnishing and nurturing and child-bearing.


Kinship and Extended Family

  • Matrilineal: kinship and property is passed down through the mother’s line
  • Matrilocal: married couples lived with the wife’s family


European Views on Native Americans

  • First descriptions were written by men
    • Misunderstood / Misinterpreted
    • European and Christian values
    • Biased
  • Most indigenous tribes did not have written languages
    • European views dominated popular understanding of Indigenous life (to this day)


European Impact on Native Life

  • By the 1630’s epidemics and plague decimated most New England tribes
  • Colonization weakened the position of all coastal Indians
  • Women’s roles in Indian society were impacted
    • Intermarriage with Europeans
    • Adoption of European ways of life
    • Participation in the changing economy


The New Economy

  • Trade in animal hides was a major component of the economy in early America.
  • Women linked “Indian’ Country” to the expanding transatlantic economy
    • Served as linguistic and cultural interpreters
    • Fished, trapped small game
    • Prepared skins for shipment
    • Made clothing, prepared food
    • Women played a key role in the fur trade.


Cost of the Fur Trade

  • Native Americans became tied to European capitalism and the world market
  • Many tribes became dependent on European goods
    • Women’s work was devalued
  • Degraded the environment and changed subsistence patterns

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History 111