"The social condition of the North Americans has been greatly misunderstood. The place of woman in the tribe was not that of a slave or of a beast of burden. The existence of the gentile organization, in most tribes, with descent in the female line, forbade any such subjugation of woman. In many tribes, women took part in the councils of the chiefs; in some, women were even the tribal rulers; while in all, they received a fair measure of respect and affection from those related to them." (Grinnell's "Story of the Indian," p. 244).
This is Grinnell's summing up of what every student of Indians has known for long. Here in addition are the statements of other good authorities:
"I have often heard and read that Indian women received no consideration from their husbands, and led a life of exceedingly hard and thankless work. That is very wide of the truth, so far as the natives of the northern plains were concerned. It is true, that the women gathered fuel for the lodge - bundles of dry willows, or limbs from a fallen cottonwood. They also did the cooking, and, besides tanning robes, converted the skins of deer, elk, antelope, and mountain sheep, into soft buckskin for family use. But never a one of them suffered from overwork; when they felt like it, they rested; they realized that there were other days coming, and they took their time about anything they had to do. Their husbands, never interfered with them, any more than they did with him in his task of providing the hides and skins and meat, the staff of life. The majority - nearly all of them - were naturally industrious, and took pride in their work; they joyed in putting away parfleche after par-flecheof choice dried meats and pemmican; in tanning soft robes and buckskins for home use or sale, in embroidering wonderful patterns of beads or colored porcupine quills upon moccasin tops, dresses, leggings and saddle trappings. When robes were to be traded, they got their share of the proceeds." (Schultz, p. 64).
"It has often been asserted that the 'Indian' did no work, even leaving the cultivation of the corn and squashes to the women. That the women in some of the tribes tended the crops, is true, but in others, like the Pueblos, they seldom or never touched hoe or spade. The Eastern men were hunting or building boats, or were on the war-path, hence it was necessary for the women to look after the fields." ("The N. A. of Yesterday," by F. S. Dellenbaugh, p. 333).
Schultz tells us that the men had to make their own clothing. ("My Life as an Indian," p. 180.) Prof. J. O. Dorsey writes of Omaha manners:
"Politeness is shown by men to women. Men used to help women and children to alight from horses. When they had to ford streams, the men used to assist them, and sometimes they carried them across on their backs." (Dorsey, 270-1; 3rd Ann. Rep. Ethn).
"One of the most erroneous beliefs relating to the status and condition of the American Indian woman is, that she was, both before and after marriage, the abject slave and drudge of the men of her tribe, in general. This view, due largely to inaccurate observation and misconception, was correct, perhaps, at times, as to a small percentage of the tribes and peoples whose social organization was of the most elementary kind politically and ceremonially, and especially of such tribes as were non-agricultural." ("Handbook of American Indians," Bur. Am. Ethn., p. 968).
"Among the Iroquoian tribes-the Susquehanna, the Hurons, and the Iroquois - the penalties for killing a woman of the tribe were double those exacted for the killing of a man, because in the death of a woman, the Iroquoian lawgivers recognized the probable loss of a long line of prospective offspring." ("Handbook American Indian," p. 971).
"In most, if not in all, the highly organized tribes, the woman was the sole master of her own body." ("Handbook North American Indian," p. 972).
" The men are the warriors and hunters, though an old woman of rank usually steers the war-canoe." ("Coast Indian"; Niblack; 1889; p. 253).
"A mother possessed the important authority to forbid her sons going on the war-path, and frequently the chiefs took advantage of this power of the woman, to avoid a rupture with another tribe." ("Handbook North American Indian," p. 971).
"Roger Williams, with reference to another subject, brings this same respect for woman to view; he wrote: 'So did never the Lord Jesus bring any unto his most pure worship, for he abhors, as all men, yea, the very Indians, an unwilling spouse to enter into forced relations." ("Handbook North America," p. 972).
"At a later day, and in the face of circumstances adverse to the Indians, Gen. James Clinton, who commanded the New York Division in the Sullivan expedition in 1779, against the hostile Iroquois, paid his enemies the tribute of a soldier, by writing in April, 1779, to Colonel Van Schaick, then leading the troops against the Onondaga, the following terse compliment: ' Bad as the savages are, they never violate the chastity of any woman, their prisoners.'"
"Among the Sioux and the Yuchi, men who made a practice of seduction were in grave bodily danger, from the aggrieved women and girls, and the resort by the latter to extreme measures was sanctioned by public opinion, as properly avenging a gross violation of woman's inalienable right - the control of her own body. The dower or bride-price, when such was given, did not confer it, it seems, on the husband, absolute right over the life and liberty of the wife: it was rather compensation to her kindred and household for the loss of her services." ("Handbook American Indian," pp. 972,3).
"It is the universal testimony, as voiced by Portlock (1787), that they [the Coast Indians] treat their wives and children with much affection and tenderness." ("Voyages," p. 290.) " In the approach to political and industrial equality of the sexes, and in the respect shown for the opinions of their females, these Indians furnish another refutation of the old misconception concerning the systematic mal-treatment of the women by savages. Such a thing is incompatible with the laws of nature. Good treatment of the female is essential to the preservation of the species, and it will be found that this ill-treatment is more apparent than real." (Niblack, "Coast Indian," 1889, p. 238-9).
That is, the sum of evidence, according to all reliable authority, plainly shows that the condition of the women among the primitive Indians was much as with white folks. They had the steady, dreary work of the household, while the men did the intermittent, yet much harder work of portaging, hunting and fighting. But the Indian woman had several advantages over her white sister. She owned the house and the children. She had absolute control of her body. There could be no war without her consent; she could and often did become the Head Chief of the Nation.
Awashonks, the Woman Chief of Seconset, R. I. (1671), and Wetamoo, the beautiful woman Sachem of the Massachusetts Wampanoags (1662) were among the many famous women whose lives and positions give the lie to the tiresome calumny that the "Indian women were mere beasts of burden; they had no rights, nor any voice in their public affairs".