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The Roles and Duties of Native American Women in Their Spiritual Socie

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With Native Americans being the first inhabitants of North America, many people often question what traditions they have created on their own, before the ideas of the pale settlers. When taking a look into their interesting beliefs, it is obvious to see an intricate basis or animals and spirits that guide the lifestyles of Indians all over the country. Even their society had a special way of doing things, including gender roles of both men and women. There are many customs that have seemed odd to the average American throughout the centuries, but Indians found these a normal way of life. Even the lifestyles of Native Americans were unique, from hunting animals to tanning buffalo hides. Gender was a major factor in the duties that were expected. Native American women had some power over men, they were restricted to maintain their roles and duties in their tribe, and were expected to continue the spiritual ways of Native American life.

The women's strongest source of power was to bear children, a power centered around the menstrual cycle. A girl's first period marked an occasion for her seclusion to a tepee with other menstruating women to separate them from the rest of the tribe. The first period also was marked as very significant, because during the time, her dreams held special significance for her future, followed by a ceremony that was either a family or tribal acknowledgment of her new status as a marriageable woman. Men feared the power of menstrual blood, hence the ritual of seclusion. It was believed that women's blood could destroy the power of a man's weapons in hunting. Men even avoided traveling paths that might be walked on by menstruating women (Schulz). The fear came from the fact that men had no way of controlling or influencing menstruation. It was a uniquely female experience, and the power of birthing that it represented was greater than the power of the spiritual beings that were men's guardians.

The roles of men and women were very distinct throughout a tribe. The role of men was to hunt, to defend their lands and families, to debate in public forums, and to lead the community's religious life. The role of women was to gather and prepare food, provide clothing and shelter, bear and raise children, and maintain the home. Depending on the amount of food that women produced, their status in their society was greater or lesser. Sadly, most men and women in Indian societies spent a great deal of time apart. While some men went to out to hunt, others spent significant amounts of time together preparing for and taking part in ceremonial activities. Women gathered food in groups; they had their own societies for ceremonial activity. They raised their children together until the children were about six or seven, at which point boys generally were sent to spend time with male relatives to be taught their roles in life. Girls remained with their mothers, learning the roles that they would eventually endeavor (Finch 44).

Standards for women's behavior were strict. Women bore and raised children. Public praise focused on their reputations for hard work, productivity in tanning hides, making pottery or exquisite quillwork, or constructing buffalo-skin tepees. Most importantly, Native American women were critiqued for the actions of the children that they raised. These were the most lasting contributions that women made to society; therefore they reflected most favorably on them as individuals (Native). Therefore, to have a good reputation among their peers, their children had to behave well.

The experience of vision seeking was characteristic of many but not all tribes. The seeker was sent out after having been instructed on what to expect. The person was often purified with a sweat bath and told to fast and pray for four days. After that, the nature of vision questing differs among tribes. In some areas vision quests were expected of all males; in some areas females were also expected to go on quests, like in the Winnebagos and the Ojibwas tribes in the Northeast (Kidwell). In those societies, the quest put an individual



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