The Tried and the True
Native American Women
The first of the women we now call Native American were actually natives of Asia who lived and died some twenty thousand years ago. They belonged to small bands of prehistoric people who roamed the rugged wilderness of eastern Siberia and survived chiefly by hunting. Some twenty thousand years ago (and in still earlier eras as well) ocean levels were lower, and a land bridge linked Asia and North America where the forty-mile-wide Bering Strait flows today. Across the bridge, from time to time, moved animals of various ancient types—followed by the humans who hunted them.
From this remote beginning flowed the peopling of the Americas. The earth was locked in a bitter Ice Age, but between huge glaciers lay corridors of open land. The hunters and their descendants could walk these corridors from what is now Alaska to milder climes in the south. The process was long and difficult, but by about the year 7000 B.C. people were scattered throughout the Americas. Archaeologists have found their traces—their tools, their graves, the bones of the animals they killed—in campsites as far south as the Strait of Magellan at South America’s lowest tip.
Like other prehistoric groups around the world, these people lived in the manner of the Stone Age. They were nomads who wandered from place to place, in continuous pursuit of their game, which included mastodons, woolly mammoths, antelopes, wild horses, tapirs, and pigs. Eventually, with the passage of many centuries, some of these species became extinct, and the hunters shifted their sights toward smaller game, such as deer and fox and other fur-bearers. They began also to develop new ways of sustaining themselves. Wild roots, berries, nuts, seeds, and fruit became a major part of their diet. This change brought changes in their social patterns. The human bands became somewhat larger and less nomadic. And the balance of duties between men and women gradually shifted. In the first period, men were the hunters and women their helpers. In the second, men still hunted