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Women - Indian women were long thought of by the white man as hardly more than slaves or drudges of the men and the tribe in general.  The term "squaw," which was a Narraganset indian word for "woman," was early used by the white man and became the accepted term for an Indian woman, especially an Indian wife.  Even Indians of other tribes on reservations throughout the United States adopted it.  And usually the word brought to mind a poor, hard working, burden bearing woman. who was at the mercy of her husband, and without any rights of her own.

It is true that most Indian women had a hard lives, but so did the men.  Among the more highly organized tribes, such as the Iroquois, women had many rights.  The child of the Iroquois woman always belonged to the mother's clan - in other words, descent was reckoned through the mother.  Women selected the sachem, or chief of the clan.  They could have the sachem removed from office if they were not satisfied with him.  They could forbid their sons to go to war.  They owned the tribal fields, the wigwams, and everything in these wigwams.  They had the right of life or death over such prisoners as might become their share of the spoils of war.  Thus women ruled the tribe, as the men who actually were the chiefs were representatives of the women - not of the men.

Among the Pueblo Indians much the same high position was given women.  The husband came to live with the wife and she could get rid of him whenever she wanted to.  The children belonged to the woman, or rather to her clan.  men helped the women with the heavier work, such as house building and fuel gathering; and even wove blankets and made moccasins for their wives, and worked in the fields.

Women on the Plains possibly had the hardest time.  Before they had the dog or horse to drag the travois, they carried all the camp equipment.  All hard work was done by them.  men killed the buffalo and left them where they fell.  The women followed and skinned the buffalo, cured the hide, cut up the meat, and carried it to camp.  They put up and took down tepees, did all the cooking and making of the clothing.  Yet they were not without influence and power.

Women did not always remain in camp when their men went on horse stealing expeditions or to war.  The Piegan had a famous woman warrior named Running Eagle who went to war and led many horse raids.  She was killed attempting to take horses from the Flatheads.

Women had their own dances and their own games.  Some had their own "talk."  There were women's societies in some tribes, also, such as the Goose Women, who guarded the corn, and the White Buffalo Cows, whose ceremonies were thought to lure the herds for the buffalo hunters.  In the South some women became rulers of their tribe such as the lady of Cofitachiqui, encountered by the Spanish explorer De Soto.

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[ Beads ][ Blanket ][ Bright Eyes ][ Clan ][ Cofitachiqui ]
[ Costume ][ Dance ][ Feasts ][ Games ][ Hair ][ Indian Language ]
[ Indian Names ][ Milly ][ Minnehara ][ Moccasins ][ Mother-in-Law ]
[ Taboo ][ Paint ][ Pocahontas ][ Quillwork ][ Toby Riddle ]
[ Sacajawea ][ Scalp Dance ][ Songs ][ Squaw ][ Squaw Man ]
[ Tattooing ][ Tekakwitha ][ Tepee ][ Torture ][ Travois ][ Nancy Ward ]