The Role of Haudenosaunee Women Post European Contact Morgan Cornell HIST 521

The Role of Haudenosaunee Women Post European Contact
Morgan Cornell
HIST 521: Colonial America
Professor Daniel Krebs
November 27th, 2018

Introduction
The Iroquois Nation, or the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, comprised of Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora nations, were a powerful nation that relied on the delicate balance of power and responsibilities between men and women. The strength of the Confederacy depended on its use of complementary sex roles.

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“Represented symbolically as the forest (external, male-oriented activities of hunting, tradeand warfare) and the clearing (internal, female-oriented activities of agriculture, child rearing and food processing), they co-existed, each with a spatially separate land base and leadership.”
The legal philosophy that united the tribes together is the Kaienerekowa, or Great Law of Peace. The purpose of the Kaienerekowa was to replace conflict and chaos with diplomacy and peace. The central role of women is outlined in the philosophy, specifically in regards to lineal descent. In addition to lineal descent and claims to property and land, the Kaienerekowa emphasizes the importance of an equal balance between power and the sexes with both roles complementing each other. One cannot exist or be beneficial to the community without the work of the other.

In traditional Haudenosaunee society, women were widely regarded as central to the success of the Nation. Women brought new life and new members of the Haudenosaunee into the world and needed to be strong in order to be able to raise strong, healthy children. If the women are weak, frail or unable to raise healthy strong-minded children, the power of the nation is compromised. As described by Gawanahs Tonya Gonella Frichner of the Onodonga Nation,
“Our way of life is cyclical and the first circle is the family. The heart of the Confederacy, which we call ourselves, is the family. The heart of the family is the mother, because life comes from her. The children are our essence for the future. When our circle extends, it extends to the larger family, which is the clan. When we talk about the clan, it is an extended family. Your clan is determined by your mother.”
In essence, if the women of the Nation are powerful, the Nation is powerful. This is in direct contrast to European ideals of women during the time of North American colonialization. How European colonizers, particularly the English and the French, reacted to this alien idea of an egalitarian society, will drastically change how Haudenosaunee women are regarded in their society over time. The effects of increased European contact and how the Haudenosaunee reacted to economic, political, and social pressures will change the traditional views of women’s roles and responsibilities among the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in those same aspects.

In many published works of native cultures, historians have focused on a Eurocentric view of Haudenosaunee women. Native women, specifically Haudenosaunee, have been analyzed in relation to European women instead of researched as a separate entity. Many of the primary sources that discuss Haudenosaunee women during the 17th century are from the perspective of men and the discussion is focused around the differences between Native women and European women. It is only been in recent years that historians have taken a revisionist approach on the role of Haudenosaunee women during colonialization. In order to fully understand how the role of the Haudenosaunee women changed over time as a result of European contact, it is important to analyze how their roles changed in an attempt to adapt to the changing economic, political, and social environment around them rather than studying Haudenosaunee women as a separate part of society.

Economic

In order for a society like the Haudenosaunee to have grown so rapidly and amass power at the rate they did, there needed to be a stable food supply. The Haudenosaunee had a sophisticated agricultural system that allowed them to not only produce, but preserve enough food for their entire population that was able to withstand periods of drought or low crop yields. Without a steady source of food, the Haudenosaunee would not have been able to build their strong, successful, warrior empire.
The Haudenosaunee depended on garden agriculture for a majority of their food supply. The food supply gained from garden agriculture was supplemented by food gathered by women and with fish that was caught by women as well as men. The Haudenosaunee practiced shifting agriculture that was a four step process including clearing, planting, cultivating, and harvesting. The Haudenosaunee women, divided into work groups, controlled all four steps of this process. Their diet was highly nutritious and more often than not, was more diverse than that of the Europeans in North America during the 18th century. This along with the surplus of food produced by the women in these organized work groups allowed the men to be successful on long war party campaigns that could often last several years. It could be argued that having a stored food supply is a measurement of a tribe’s wealth. A large supply of food allowed other members of the society to focus on other pursuits besides food production such as warfare and hunting for trade rather than out of necessity.

In addition to having responsibility of the food production, Haudenosaunee women held ownership over the land in which they cultivated. The term ownership in this case, meaning control as Haudenosaunee society viewed land ownership as communal but women having ultimate control over its usage.
The Haudenosaunee women pre-contact also controlled the food distribution for the community, including members of the tribe as well as visitors. Scholar Lewis Morgan describes this responsibility in Houses and House-life of the American aborigines:
“Every household was organized under a matron who supervised the domestic economy. After a single daily meal was cooked at the several fires the matron was summoned, and it was her duty to divide the food, from the kettle, to the several families according to their respective needs. What remained was placed in the custody of another person until it was required by the matron…It shows that their domestic economy was not without method, and it displays the care and management of woman…”
The control of food distribution by women indirectly afforded women a significant amount of power within society. Food was needed to sustain the warrior fighting enemies in other lands and if the women in the community did not support the warfighting effort, they would not supply food making the war party’s campaign impossible. The women controlled the land and the food that was cultivated from it, giving support to the warriors in return for their military services. The food the Haudenosaunee women produced proved invaluable to the warfighting effort as warriors could not hunt while on a campaign, instead relying on a corn-maple syrup foodstuff produced by the women that was easy to carry and provided adequate sustenance to the warrior.

The Haudenosaunee women’s successful food production allowed the Haudenosaunee to remain less dependent on European settlers for their survival than other Native tribes such as the Munsee. According to the account books kept by two Dutch traders, Wendell and Ulster, women were the ones who were predominately making the transactions. Among these transactions recorded in Wendell and Ulster’s account books, Kane argues that one can determine the level of interdependence a tribe has with the Europeans. Kane argues that the types of goods bought by the tribes as well as how they paid for these goods can be used to assess the economic stability of a tribe. For example, the neighboring Munsee tribe traded food in exchange for cash or day labor whereas the Haudenosaunee seldom, if ever traded for food. From these account logs it can be determined that even though the Haudenosaunee participated in the fur trade with Europeans, they were much less in direct engagement with daily colonial day labor and were not dependent on the Europeans for food. This allowed the Haudenosaunee to remain fairly independent from the Europeans initially and consequently, less influenced by their societal norms, allowing Haudenosaunee women to remain in their high status so as long as there were no changes to the current agricultural economy. A status that will soon change as the Haudenosaunee become more engaged in trade and politics with the Europeans.

Political
Women are at the heart of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s leading philosophy, the Kaienerekowa. The political responsibilities of Haudenosaunee women are distinctly outlined within the Kaienerekowa:
The otiyaner (also known as clanmother) “set the path” of the culture. They choose the rotiyaner – the male councilors commonly called “chiefs” or “sachems” by Europeans. Wampum number fifty-four of the Kaienerekowa states, “When a chieftainship title becomes vacant through death or other cause, the Otiyaner women of the clan in which the title is hereditary shall hold a council and shall choose one of their sons to fill the office made vacant.”
Clan Mothers nominated new chiefs as well as their advisors and members of the Council. A Jesuit living among the Haudenosaunee, Pierre de Charlevoix, reported that these matron-appointed advisors were both men and women and that the chiefs could do nothing without their agreement. Women also reserved the right to remove any unsatisfactory rotiyaner. While not all women held the same political responsibility as Clan Mothers, membership in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ran through the maternal bloodline. Also, as mentioned earlier, women held the final say in sending warriors into war. Women provided the food and moccasins that the men needed to go to war, so if the women did not provide this, the men could not go to war. Much of Haudenosaunee women’s political power derived from their great economic influence and control of the food supply. As discussed earlier, women had total control over the food they produced as well as the food the men hunted, putting them in a place of high status in Haudenosaunee society.

The political influence that women held in Haudenosaunee society caused great confusion among European observers and led to the ideology that the native men were lazy and uncivilized, letting women control what the Europeans considered a male-dominated field. The traditional way of farming the “three sisters”-corn, beans, and squash was also subject to European scrutiny and considered to be a backwards, unsophisticated way of farming. This led to Europeans using this as a justification for English colonialization of the Haudenosaunee.

The extent and vast influence of Haudenosaunee women’s power in society is best described by Jesuit Pere Joseph Francois Lafitau in Jesuit Relations:
“Nothing, however, is more real than this superiority of the women. It is of them that the nation really consists; and it is through them that the nobility of the blood, the genealogical tree and the families are perpetuated. All real authority is vested in them. The land, the fields and their harvest all belong to them. They are the souls of the Councils, the arbiters of peace and of war. They have charge of the public treasury. To them are given the slaves. They arrange marriages. The children are their domain, and it is through their blood that the order of succession is transmitted.”
As Brown mentioned, it is important to note that the great powers of the matrons, or Clan Mothers, were not experienced by all Haudenosaunee women. Although, this prestige position was open to and could be achieved by all women. Unfortunately, there is a lack of detailed information on how these special positions were chosen. Although, as discussed previously, the bloodline for those men eligible for Council and Elders passed through the mother on the maternal line. European anthropologist Goldenweiser gives an account of the power of the matrons in the tribe:
“When a chief died, the women of his tribe held a meeting at which a candidate for the vacant place was decided upon. A woman delegate carried the news to the chiefs of the clans which belonged to the “side” of the deceased chief’s clan. They had the power to veto the selection, in which case another women’s meeting was called and another candidate selected.”
Social

Haudenosaunee were often considered to be the bearers of the culture. The Haudenosaunee bloodline passed through them, and with it cultural norms and oral traditions. Haudenosaunee women organized and participated in ceremonies, religious and all other. The woman was the center of the family, and the family was the center of Haudenosaunee society.

Matrons of the Haudenosaunee selected religious practitioners for the community, some of these being women. In this, women had a voice in religious activities and an active role in festivals and ceremonies. Female-centered activities, such as food production and fertility, were celebrated in the ceremonial sphere and these contributions were highly respected and valued among the Haudenosaunee.

Marriage and the succession of clan group membership and inheritance were also passed through the mother in Haudenosaunee society. Marriages were often arranged by the mothers and responsibility for the success of the marriage was placed upon them. The rules of marriage and inheritance for the Haudenosaunee includes:
“Not least remarkable among their institutions, was that which confined transmission of all titles, rights and property in the female line to the exclusion of the male… If the wife, either before or after marriage, inherited orchards, or planting lots, or reduced land to cultivation, she could dispose of them at her pleasure and in case of death, they were inherited, together with her other effects, by her children.”
This description of Haudenosaunee inheritance customs illustrates the crucial role that women played in keeping the culture and traditions, and the importance of the maternal lineage.

Conclusion
Haudenosaunee society, like many other Native nations pre-European contact, benefited from an egalitarian society with complementary gender roles. The success of the Haudenosaunee agricultural economy relied on the separate, but equally important roles of the men and women to be successful. To maintain the high status of women in Haudenosaunee society, it needed this interdependence of the sexes. Women’s strong economic influence garnered them respect and gave them political power, making them very different than other women around the world during this time. As Haudenosaunee economy changed and adapted to increased contact with European settlers and European goods, so did the role of women. As dependence on European goods, increased over time, Haudenosaunee agricultural practices changed. Faced with societal and economical pressures as a result of increased contact with Europeans, specifically the English, Haudenosaunee relied less on the labor of women; consequently resulting in a loss of the high status of women in society.

Bibliography
Primary Sources
Goldenweiser, Alexander A. 1912. Summary Report of the Geological Survey of Canada, Anthropology Division, sessional paper no. 26, pp. 462-475. Ottawa: GovernmentPrinting Bureau.

Pere Joseph Francois Lafitau. 1731. An Iroquois dance and food celebration. https://library-artstor-org.echo.louisville.edu/asset/LOCEON_1039798392.

Pere Joseph Francois Lafitau. 1731. Iroquois dance ceremonies. https://library-artstor-org.echo.louisville.edu/asset/LOCEON_1039798145.

Pere Joseph Francois Lafitau. 1731. Iroquois cooking in village while farmers are working in the
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