Published on August 22, 2014 by Amy
American Indians (now more commonly called Native Americans) in the 19th century differed a great deal from one tribe to another in terms of culture and customs. These differences extended to gender roles, which varied widely across tribes. Even within a tribe, gender roles varied across time.
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Most Native American tribes had what European-Americans consider “traditional” gender roles, where men had primary roles in hunting, warfare and tribal governance and women had primary roles in child raising, agriculture and food preparation. Most tribes were led by men (patriarchal), and a person traced lineage through the father’s line (patrilineal). However, there were many departures from this pattern, in work roles, education, tribal governance and the parent through whom individuals traced their lineage.
Some tribes practiced gender equity in work. For example, among the Ojibwa and Menominee, men and women alternated roles in the harvesting of wild rice. In some tribes, one gender had primary responsibility for a work role, with the other gender having a supporting role. Osage women were primarily responsible for the care of crops, but men were secondary participants.
Even some tribes that featured different adult gender roles taught children of both genders the skills traditionally assigned to each gender. For example, both boys and girls among the Apache and Sioux were taught skills for food preparation, hunting and battle.
Some tribes, such as the Haida, were matriarchal (women had a strong voice in governance) and matrilineal (a person traced lineage through the mother’s line). In some tribes, the genders shared power closely. The chief of the Iroquois was always a male but was elected by the females of the tribe.