Accepted Paper:

War women of the Eastern Woodland matriarchies  


Barbara Alice Mann (University of Toledo)

Paper short abstract:

Although suppressed in the Western historical record, the active matriarchies of the Eastern Woodlands of North America included active War Women. This presentation will glimpse long-ignored records of War Women in action, including Iroquois, Choctaw, and Cherokee examples.

Paper long abstract:

Should the topic of "war women" among Indigenous Americans come up, if they attend to the issue at all, Western scholars default to the Pretty Woman, Nayehi, the Tsalagi war woman of Chota, as though she were the one such example extant, when she was really just one of the few recorded with any respect. This was primarily because Nanyehi mollified the Euro-settlers with, and was widely lauded in their chronicles for expressing, hopes for peace. However, other War Women existed and were recorded as active across Indigenous America, particularly including the Iroquoian war woman of Sheshequin, whose only recorded name is "Queen Esther." Less fondly recalled by settler chronicles than Nanyehi, along with her mother and sisters, Esther was a fierce opponent of the invading Europeans, renowned for personally tomahawking various of its attackers when they invaded Iroquoia in general, and her town, Sheshequin, in particular. Similarly, a horrified settler recorded seeing armed Choctaw women striding forth in pursuit of the "invading armies" of the Europeans in 1771, even as the Oneida woman, Tyonajanegen, stepped into battle in 1777. Although typically presented as "helping" her husband, she was as engaged in battle as he was. Indeed, War Women such as Nonhelema of the Shawnee abounded throughout the eastern Woodlands, and it is only intensive Euro-patriarchy of scholarship that either toned down their existence to one "Cherokee princess," Nanyehi, or wiped their openly fierce sisters from the common historical record, but Indigenous scholars today are restoring their existence to memory.

Panel RM-KG03
Matrilineal societies in today's world