Updated August 29, 2020
“Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists” documents the surprisingly unrecognized authority of Native women, who inspired the Suffrage movement.
Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner shared this information about the influence of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, women on the Suffrage movement.
“These are Indigenous women who, for a thousand years, had political voice in their sovereign nations — and continue to. The Haudenosaunee clan mothers decide the chiefs to represent their clan. They advise them and have the responsibility to remove them if they don’t live up to their responsibilities. One absolute rule is that a chief can’t have abused a woman or child. That sounds pretty good as a test of suitability for office, doesn’t it?”
“The early suffragists knew Indigenous women had authority over their lives in their nations that U.S. women didn’t: rights to their bodies, their possessions and their children, safety and political voice. Having this model showed some suffragists that equality was possible.”
The Ojibwe and Dakota women of Minnesota are known as dynamic and resourceful.
Long before Minnesota was a state, Dakota and Ojibwewomen in the region had a strong voice in deciding policies of trade or of war and peace, although they were not ordinarily a part of tribal councils. Usually working together, they processed hides and meat, raised gardens, made maple sugar, and gathered wild fruit, nuts, and herbs. They also were responsible for building and maintaining the dwelling, whether a skin tipi or a bark house, and it belonged to the wife. Thus, a woman had the right, backed by others in the community, to tell an abusive or lazy husband to leave. The role of men was in performing the strenuous and often dangerous job of hunting. Men also defended the family or band in warfare when necessary and generally represented the tribe in external relations. Source: Women Weaving Web Society North State
According to Mary Annette Pember, “Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy as in European traditions.”
In traditional Ojibwe society, men did not gain the right to direct a woman’s life or resources after marriage. “Women continuously worked and otherwise interacted with relatives and the roles of daughter, sister, mother and aunt were important mantles of responsibility.” Source: The Power of Ojibwe Women
In “FARMERS WARRIORS TRADERS—A Fresh Look at Ojibway Women”, Priscilla K. Buffalohead wrote: Ojibway (spelled as author spells ‘Ojibway’) women were in a very real sense economic providers. They worked alone and in groups to construct the lodges, collect the firewood, make the clothing, and produce a substantial portion of the food supply. Credit for these contributions has for too long been hidden in the sources because historians and ethnologists presumed women’s work to be supplementary and secondary to the primary hunting role of men. Furthermore, continued references to women’s ownership and distribution rights, to their products, and to their strong voice in determining how male-acquired resources should be distributed suggest that the products of women’s work were appreciated by the Ojibway themselves.
Ojibwe oral tradition emphasized the distinctiveness of the sexes, and child-rearing practices stressed sex separation in work roles, dress, and mannerisms. While the ideal of sex separation ordered the work world and social life into mutually dependent spheres, some women were able to make unique contributions in male-dominated areas with seeming ease. Repeated clues in the primary historical sources resolve this apparent contradiction. Taken together, they describe the Ojibwe as an egalitarian society, a society that placed a premium value on individuality. Women as well as men could step outside the boundaries of traditional sex role assignments and, as individuals, make group-respected choices.
Perhaps the over-all status of women in Ojibwe history and the quality of the relationship between the sexes is best summarized by the scientist-explorer, Joseph Nicollet, who nearly 150 years ago as a guest in Ojibwe lodges of northern Minnesota observed that family life was “not a matter of one sex having power over the other, but a matter of mutual respect (Bray, ed., Journals of Joseph N. Nicollet, 188).”
In Dakota society, women have always held an essential role.
They gathered wood, processed hides, farmed, made clothes, and were the central keepers of the home. Men hunted and fished to provide game for, while also securing community safety. In the spring, winter villages dispersed and men left on hunting parties while women, children, and the elderly moved into sugaring camps to make maple sugar and syrup. During the summer months families gathered in villages to hunt and fish. They processed the game and harvested traditional medicines and indigenous plants, as well crops such as corn, squash, and beans. They also gathered wild rice along the vast lakes throughout Mni Sota. In autumn, families moved to the year’s chosen hunting grounds for the annual hunt that also prepared them for the upcoming winter. Winter months were spent living off the stores of supplies they built up during the previous year, along with continual fishing and hunting. This traditional lifestyle of communal support and a deep connection to the land and natural resources are the basis for Dakota society and culture.
Kinship formed the basis for traditional Dakota social structure. Yankton Dakota anthropologist Ella Deloria wrote in 1944: “The Ultimate aim of a Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative.”