Native American Women – Women Warriors

Published on March 11, 2013 by Amy

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Native American Women - Women Warriors
Native American Women – Women Warriors

The word ‘warrior’ sends a tingle of fear down the spine. The word conjures up fierce, merciless fighters seemingly invulnerable to fear or intimidation and prepared to fight to the death using deadly weapons and blood thirsty tactics to achieve victory. Not the usual image that we would associate with women – but there were many Native American Women Warriors. Whilst the warrior class in tribal societies was typically all-male, there were exceptions where young, unmarried women formed part of the warrior class – the Warrior Women.

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Women Warriors – Lifestyle and Culture of North American Women

Native Indian tribes spread across the whole continent of North America. There were many different cultures that emerged based on the climate of an area and the natural resources available. The men and the women were dependant upon each other to live. And in many Native Indian cultures the men and women were considered equals. Native American Indian women were not subservient to men. The men adopted the role of hunter and the women usually adopted the conventional roles of raising the children, looking after the home and gathering food. But there were many circumstances when the female members of the tribe adopted the role of Women Warriors.

Women Warriors – Decision making roles

The Native Indian women were used to blood, guts, death and gore – it was their job to skin and prepare the carcasses of animals for food. They were also used to a violent war-like culture with many inter-tribal wars. Native Indian women often played an important role in decision making – in many tribes the women decided to go to war, when to stop a war and the torture and punishments for captives.

Women Warriors – Violence, Death and Torture

In some tribes the women mutilated the bodies of the fallen, whilst in other tribes women would torture prisoners to death. Women also played a role in ceremonies such as the Scalp Dance. Women Warriors were no strangers to violence.

Women Warriors – Scalp Dance

In the above picture the central figure is a woman of the Spokane tribe, whose husband had been killed by the Blackfoot, The stick she waves has a Blackfoot scalp on top of it. The woman whirled around a fire swashing and kicking in revenge with a Blackfoot scalp on a stick. Behind her, eight painted women danced and chanted, as did the rest of the tribe to the beat of drums.

Women Warriors – Face Paint and War Paint

The above picture is particularly interesting in respect of women warriors. A question often asked is “Did women warriors wear war paint?” The many pictures featured on this website confirm that Native American Indian women did wear face paint on many occasions and were also known to wear War Paint.

Who were the Women Warriors?

Most women Warriors who fought in battles and conflicts did not pursue the life of Women Warrior on a permanent basis. However, there were many instances of aggressive women who chose the warrior lifestyle of a man rather than the life of a Native American woman. No social stigma within the tribe was attached to these Women Warriors. Young women took part in war and raiding parties before they were married. Women warriors could gain honors and prestige within their tribe by exhibiting behavior that was culturally defined as masculine. Married women, without children, would accompany their husbands on war parties.

Women Warriors of the Great Plains Tribes

The Great Plains Indian tribes led a life of the Hunter gatherer. With the introduction of the horse by the Europeans many tribes left their homelands for the nomadic lifestyle. There was incessant inter-tribal wars. Women warriors could gain honors and prestige within their tribe by exhibiting behavior that was culturally defined as masculine. In this situation Women warriors could compete for the prestige associated with war and raiding on equal terms with men. Women warriors could profit from the ‘spoils of war’, such as horses and other items that were highly valued.

Women Warriors – Reasons to fight

There were many reasons that a Native Indian woman would fight and become one of the Women Warriors. Most women Warriors who fought in battles and conflicts did not pursue the life of Women Warrior on a permanent basis. They fought because there was an urgent need for them to do so. The reasons for Women Warriors to fight included the following:

  • Revenge – for the killing of close relatives
  • Defence – A woman would turn into a warrior if her life and the lives of her children were threatened by hostile Indians of other tribes who had carried out a raiding party on her village
  • Beliefs – A Woman Warrior might have had a vision telling her she should fight
  • Desire of a Woman Warrior for recognition and status
  • The need to expand tribal lands
  • To acquire captives to use, or sell, as slaves
  • Tribes of Women Warriors

There were many tribes who had Women Warriors. These tribes included:

  • The Iroquois
  • Cherokee
  • Crow
  • Sioux
  • Blackfoot
  • Cheyenne
  • Spokane
  • Shoshone
  • Apache

There were Warrior women in all of these tribes.

Source: warpaths2peacepipes Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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