Women and Land
The bond between Indian women and the land is based on respect for Mother Earth. Iroquois people believed that history began with a godlike being called Sky Woman. The Creation Story speaks of the Sky Woman falling from the Sky World and landing safely on the turtle's back. Animals brought earth to put on the turtle's back and this grew into the continent of North America with the Sky Woman's help. The Sky Woman became the first caretaker. From this beginning sprang the Indian women's special yet natural relationship to the land. Its central elements were as follows: all living things are respected; one must live in harmony with all living things;land does not belong to the people but the people belong to the land.
Women and Clothes
The women of the East Coast (woodland tribes )wore dresses made of soft deerskin, suitable to the climate; their leggings came to just beneath the knee, fastened with tie thongs or a garter; they braided their hair with a bit of ribbon tied to the ends; they never used war paint but sometimes applied a spot of rouge to the cheeks and chin. In winter, they wore blankets for warmth. Their Moccasins were of the same style as men's, decorated with bead or quillwork in traditional tribal designs and patterns.
Women and Work
Women performed those jobs , which would allow them to take care of children. Their jobs were generally repetitive, could be easily interrupted and did not require travel far from home. Except for tobacco, women took care of crops in Southern New England and further South. The women were the farmers and grew corn, beans, squash in fields of up to 200 acres. They were the food preparers and made clothing, pottery, baskets, mats and wooden vessels called mortars used for grinding foods. In the nonagricultural North where the Pequots lived, women gathered shellfish and birds, wild plants, trapped small rodents, made garments and were involved in all the food-processing activities. Women owned the wigwams and most household goods such as baskets, mats, kettles and hoes. They moved their camps from field to field as necessary. The women planted corn in scattered plots both near and away from their villages in plots heavily fertilized with dead fish. They gathered seafood on the coast and cattails used in making mats for wigwams. Women brought to their camps the animals, which the men hunted. They butchered and processed them, prepared the hides for clothing, cooking the meat and smoking some of it for use later in the winter. During winter, they made clothes and remained in camp. When men cleared the trees, women burned the logs.
Indian women were very hard working. Indian men looked at their wives as wealth. However to Englishmen Native Women appeared to be slaves. At the same time Native American men looked upon English women as lazy since their handicraft and needlework seemed idle pursuits. Indian women used their hoes and hands to turn soil; colonists used oxen and horses to pull plows.
Women and Culture
Among the Iroquois, Women were at the center of families. The man lived with the wife's family after marriage. Children belonged to the family line and would inherit property. The husband remained connected to his mother's household and his mother and sisters were dearer to him than his wife. Women were providers for the community at large. The land was theirs and so were the crops. The three sister crops were corn, squash and beans. Corn cultivation was detailed. Women planted, harvested, dried, shelled, ground into flour, sifted and boiled as stew. They farmed; cared for the home; gathered berries and fruits and insects such as grasshoppers; skinned, packed and prepared animals; fished; produced crafts such as basketry, pottery, rope making, leather work. Thus, they produced a variety of household objects for their family and community.
Elder women were called clan matrons and they selected the local chiefs. These matrons decided who should fight and when. They also decided the fate of the captives- burn them or adopt them. Mary Jemison, a "white Indian" was captured by the Iroquois in the 1740's and received favorable treatment from her captors. Matrons would also match-make. Some served as chiefs-
Women also maintained social stability through tightly knit female relationships. The mother-daughter bond was particularly strong. Since men were away often, women turned to other women for food, medical care and advice on love and child rearing. Women declared their opinions and decided about wars and the treatment of captives. Their traditional craft skills were making clay pots, shaping bone into combs, needles and toys and weaving fiber mats. They wove sashes with beaded designs and made boxes from birch bark and decorated it with quills. The role of mothers gave them special authority in guarding the welfare of society. Native American women were daughters, wives, mothers and grand mothers and shared certain realities where work, love, sex, and death were concerned. Traditionally, their communities as medicine women did not only esteem Native American women of the Eastern Algonquian tribes, but they also held social and political power.