Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850

Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850

Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850

Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850

Synopsis

Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850 probes gender identification, labor roles, and political authority within Native American societies from the colonial period through the nineteenth century to illustrate how these aspects of Native American life were altered through interactions with Europeans. Editors Sandra Slater and Fay A. Yarbrough and their contributors deftly explore the historical implications of variations in the meanings of gender, sexuality, and marriage among indigenous communities in North America.

The essays are linked by overarching examinations of how Europeans manipulated native ideas about gender for their own ends and how indigenous people responded to European attempts to impose gendered cultural practices at odds with established traditions. Many of the essays also address how indigenous people made meaning of gender and how these meanings developed over time within their own communities. Several contributors also consider sexual practice as a mode of cultural articulation, as well as a vehicle for the expression of gender roles.

Excerpt

Fay A. Yarbrough

One cannot hark back to a time when gender roles were clear and simple or definitions of marriage were universally agreed upon. Gender roles and sexual identities have never been static, but rather constantly shift in relation to historical change and contact between groups. Questions about how societies choose to define gender identities, the meaning of sexual orientation and behavior, and what constitutes marriage continue to provoke controversy even now. This essay collection explores some of this variation in the meanings of gender, sexuality, and marriage by examining indigenous communities in North America from the colonial period through the nineteenth century. While the essays in the collection do not directly tackle current controversies, they do offer important historical background suggesting perhaps the roots of contemporary controversies and ways to address them.

Several overarching themes connect the essays in Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400–1850. the question of how Europeans manipulated native ideas about gender for their own purposes and how indigenous people responded to European attempts to impose gendered cultural practices that clashed with native thinking informs all of the work here. For instance Sandra Slater finds that conflicting definitions of masculinity could lead to violence between indigenous groups and Europeans. Conversely Dawn G. Marsh shows that Quakers’ own acceptance of more egalitarian gender roles, a pattern more in line with local native groups, enabled Lenape woman Hannah Freeman to negotiate her own economic activity and land ownership with her Quaker neighbors. Likewise M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo describes Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca taking on some of the roles of native women in order to improve his situation while a captive of the local indigenous population. Both Jan V. Noel and Fay A. Yarbrough demonstrate the various ways in which indigenous peoples could react to European and Euro-American pressure to change women’s roles in particular in native societies. Moreover, Europeans often spoke of the act of conquest itself in gendered terms, as discussed by Slater and Gomez-Galisteo.

Many of the essays also address how indigenous people made meaning of gender and how these meanings changed over time within their own communities.

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