Jun 25, 2019 in Exploratory

American Indian Women: A Group to Be Admired


The life of indigenous groups and its members, especially women, is unknown to the majority of people. In fact, such females suffer from violence and abuse more often than other women, and American Indian representatives are not an exception. An average American Indian woman living inside the traditional community meets many obstacles on her way to independent and educated life when it is possible. The paper will discuss the violation of human rights of American Indian women by modern exploration and historical retrospective as well as will provide possible solutions in the context of personal understanding, research experience and appropriate measures.

Historical Retrospection and Traditionalism

For few centuries, there was a collision between Europeans and Americans over the role of women in society and their responsibilities. For example, in Europe, it was men’s obligation to mow, plant, and work with land in addition to hunting and fighting. As a result, when Europeans heard that American Indian women execute the same duties, they considered those women as the slaves of their men. Nevertheless, the inner order in the American Indian families before the periods of modernism and postmodernism (in daily life) ensured equal gender role. As many others groups, American Indians had a legacy of kinship traditions and clan bounds, which were based on the principle of mutual obligation inside the community. Hence, men had a more public role, being also responsible for warfare and relations outside their community. Consequently, women were obliged to take care of food, agriculture and common children, being less public and more engaged in the household. Speaking about the trade relations, American Indian women participated in it a bit more as compared to European females.

Historically, those female roles among American Indian clans acknowledged advantages of the women in some important spheres such as policy as well as social and economic welfare. Thus, even in case American Indian women “felt oppressed” by men with regard to vital things and resolutions, they were able to make an impact to the process of resolution (Futures without Violence, n.d., p. 2). Due to the executing roles American Indian women gained in their communities, their groups recognized matrilineal (leading by females) descent. Hence, the local matrons chose and deposed a man to lead the clan. 

One of the things that are common to various cultures from the past to modern days, including American Indian people, is the value of childbirth. Both stories and folk literature tell that a woman who had born many children were admired and sometimes received different privileges. The role of women and motherhood is explained by analogy with the earth that is a source of birth, life and survival of plants and animals, since women’s mission is to create a new life. Obviously, a part of the American Indian tradition is signed as a matriarchal model of authority and influence. Historically, this model was more popular among African and North American ethnic and racial groups of monotheistic religions. In monotheism, the role of women is more valuable as an average female was always considered as the one who gives life (an analogue to the Earth). Christianity provided reforms concerning the estimation of those values; thus, despite the fact that formally indigenous beliefs are relevant nowadays, the key issues are not applicable anymore.

One of the key things that have changed the model was cultural and mental assimilation with the European Americans and Europeans, whose patriarchal social order was much stronger. In fact, they neglected matriarchal gender obligations and competences even in trade negotiation and policy. The reason was in strong and spread role of Christianity, which promoted gender roles and responsibilities differently from conditional American Indian code. In this context, Maybury-Lewis provides a deep analysis of the consequences of European invasion, including decimated and enslaved native populations, legal oppression and conquering wars. “There is something like a second conquest taking place in the Americas today, powered by the worldwide search of sources” (Maybury-Lewis, 1985, p. 131). In fact, the consequences of those processes are hardly to be estimated and counted as it includes complex consequences. Julian Burger (1987) in his works within this context mentioned, “Increasingly the exploitation of indigenous land has wider national and international repercussions” (p. 49). Thus, the benefits natives lost are both material and non-material, and on the background of it, indigenous people had weaker resources to prevent such results. A woman as an equal consumer of resources with her own rights and opinions was (and sometimes is) not considered at all, taking last positions and being less protected.


American Indian Women: Challenges of Abuse

Nowadays, American Indian women living within reservations have a much higher risk than non-native females to be sexually or psychologically abused, being left with no further investigation and punishment of abusers. It means that there is an omission in the development of prevention campaigns, monitoring, analysis and state reaction to cases of Indian women abuse and violation. According to the Futures without Violence (n.d.), “Comprehensive data on violence against women under tribal jurisdiction does not exist since no federal or Indian agency nor organization systematically collects this information” (p.1). Hence, unreported crimes to “tribal or/and federal authorities” and indefinite data on the crimes against Indian women make weak and chaotic recognition of this challenge at all (Futures without Violence, n.d., p. 2). 

In addition, certain reservations suffer from elevated social degradation of some natives as they are more used to free taxes and social revenues. Within some communities, there is a tendency to the development of hidden cultural interventions in violence within and beyond the criminal justice system. Consequently, this phenomenon increased the amount of domestic violence, especially within the troublesome groups of native people and interracial spouses, where the rate of violence is even higher. In fact, American Indian females suffer from physical assault, domestic violation and abuse more than women of other ethnic groups. Futures without Violence (n.d.) estimate those rates “to be as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic” (p. 2).

With regard to terminology in the context of human rights and the rights of peoples and nations, it is reasonable to use the Future without Violence Fund’s policies. There are many indigenous tribes and groups mostly representing “American Indian and Alaskan Native Indian tribes”, and also “Indigenous” and “Native American” (Bachman, Zaykowski, Kallmyer, Poteyeva, & Lanier, 2008). The similar terminology is used only with the purpose of data reporting and excluding misunderstandings and discrimination or endorsement of one term usage over the other. As there are “over 560 federally recognized” native tribes, it is reasonable to discuss the way they develop in support of female rights. 

In fact, the crimes over American Indian women are not well defined in quantitative data for two main reasons, namely indifference of the police (within some areas), and the cases when the victims refuse to speak (for example, they do not believe something will change). In fact, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are “more likely to be injured than women of all other groups and more of these injuries needed medical care” (Futures without Violence, n.d.). They mostly prefer to be silent and never report to the police being scared and confused. The statistical example of consequences is demonstrated by Tjaden and Thonennes, “34% or more than one in three Native women will be raped during their lifetime, whereas for women as a whole the risk is less than one in five” (n. p.). The negative issues in law enforcement are also explained by inappropriate education of the family and intimate behavior through the training courses, insufficient funding, and lack of people’s mental recognition of the problem.

The Public Law of 2008 has jurisdiction that regulates law enforcement in few issues. First, defined reservation/location of abuse; second, participation (ethnic group or race of the offender and victim); third, the nature of the crime; fourth, reside of the tribe within states identified by Public Law 280. According to Futures without Violence (n.d.), “The six “mandatory” states required to adopt PL-280 were Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin.” The tribal government cannot fulfill the requirements with regard to the implementation of the duties that in fact may be implemented despite jurisdictional complexities concerning coordination and execution. 

Another challenge that bothers American Indian women is their dependence on decisions of the clan elders, especially when it concerns marriage. Simultaneously, with the collision between ethnocide and intercultural discrimination, the attempts of indigenous people to save their unique being provokes another conflict over human rights. Despite the fact that traditional life of the majority of indigenous people has changed, some elders still use their authority to forcibly prevent young members of their tribes from interethnic marriage. When speaking about the dichotomy of physical and mental obey and impact, there are probably some cases when one has a moral right to make an impact. The question Christian Bay (1988) asks within this context has also an approved answer, “Do indigenous individuals have a human right to reject certain traditional customs that they have come to find unacceptable, perhaps, as a result of outside influence?” (p. 263). Thus, Bay rationally speaks about the surgery operations on girls and some consequences they will have for their further life.

Taking the above mentioned into account, it is necessary to make some legal limitations in order to protect human rights, dignity and health not only outside the indigenous communities but also inside them. Undoubtedly, it will be opposite to the principles of untouched cultural and religion life of peoples and nations. When there is collision between preservation of the authentic culture and prevention of physical abuse and violence, the second issue is always preferable. 

Activities and Protection

One of the first valuable steps toward Indian protection was made in 1974 with the foundation of the USA International Indian Treaty Council (ITC) (Bay, 1988, p. 262). The creation of the council was aimed at establishing connecting links between various indigenous groups and their equal integration into the whole American society on social, economic, legal and cultural levels. In 1979, the step was empowered by the foundation of the “Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC)”, which is competent to represent American Indian peoples’ legal interests (Bay, 1988, p. 262). 

Undoubtedly, the foundation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples along with the regional organizations and working groups within the United Nations demonstrated an attempt to form unified international solidarity among native people. According to Burger (1987), “Most dramatically, there are still numerous tribal leaders who are given some nominal position or other privilege and, thereby, co-opted by governments” (p. 61). 

A valuable achievement of the policy toward protection of the rights of Native American women is called Violence against Women Act. It contains not only norms and judicial mechanisms for protection of the rights of the Native Americans but also preventive compulsory statements against abuse and violence. It is important that sexual violence and assault as an element of family abuse (against spouse mostly) is under the tribal jurisdiction of this Act. Particularly, it is regional continuation of the global international legislature that grants being freedom from violence. With regard to the amendments of VAWA, they “went into effect on March, 2015” (MMWR, 2008, p. 113). Hence, the legislature and the VAWA office on the basis of the USA Department of Justice is a “new effort against American Indian women” as well (MMWR, 2008, p. 113). 

Nowadays, American Indian women are more motivated to protect their rights, dignity and social recognition. For example, one of the most active native organizations is Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. It is a non-profit organization that was created for social and personal growth of American Indian women. Thus, it addresses cultural and gender needs of its members and their families, their legal protection, mental care, advocacy, and employment among others. 

Another example is the University of Nebraska, which involves the grants (one of them is from the Carnegie Foundation) for the reduction of ignorance toward American Indian women. As a part of intended informational campaign, the students and teachers made a few pilot projects aimed at publishing and spreading some valuable facts about American Indian women. Undoubtedly, on the background of general achievements of active women of various groups, this criterion does not seem high. Compared to the activity of public organizations within local communities, the result is quite noticeable. Unfortunately, such publicity is not enough, but in prospect, new generations will have more rights and power. 

In fact, there are too many questions on the reasons why American Indian women are more sexually harassed and less protected, despite their contribution to state development. They are highly represented in “the USA armed forces, medical schools” (and this rate increases each year), and research centers, among others (MMWR, 2008, p. 114). There are more men in the workforce of some of those establishments; thus, women face high risk of abuse and have insufficient amount of preventive tools. In addition to legislative security, it is crucial to provide more social positions and responsibilities.  

Possible Resolutions of Violence against American Indian Women

Many organizations and structures practice branding as one of the most effective tools to win public attention and solve the challenges related to native women (including American Indian) abuse and protection. Marketing delivery through the advertisement, public discussions, mass events, and social network among others is much more effective than single researches and statistics. In addition to the issue to statistics, it is vital to give more differential information as some questionnaires are not able to depict the obvious and actual condition of some issues within American Indian groups. For better results, public organizations and activists should create a unified platform (for example, by signing memorandum) and define working groups. Those groups will formulate and publish the single marketing strategy on advocacy, promotion, and popularization of American Indian female challenges as well as potential and project proposals. Through further national campaign, people will be more open to the dialogue which will lead to the development of public sector and involve new investments in some communities. Burger (1987) correctly admitted that “Where some concern for public image and a certain social consciousness exist, the NGOs and the appeals of bodies like the United Nations or the International Labor Organization, can have an impact” (p. 277).

For example, local community represented by American Indian women activists applies for a grant on making a single local legal center and a hot line for women so that they could get a consultation any time. The acquisition of this grant will provide double benefit for the activists. First, the problem of lack of legal education among American Indian female groups and women at all (other women may apply as well) will be resolved. Second, the creation of such centers will bring new work places and taxes incomes to the local budget, granted by donors and funds. 

Another important solution is advocacy and active American Indian representation in the highest state structures. Most of the local public activities may be not effective because the authorities have a limited understanding of the challenges American Indian and other Natives meet in their daily life. The policy on the governors from the inside can enclose the elite personalities and encourage them to invest in American Indian women education and support. Maybury-Lewis (1985) correctly admitted, “Any advocacy of indigenous rights must therefore begin by countering such arguments and reopening discussion of possible futures for indigenous cultures” (p. 132).

The recognition of the problem allows one to make some personal recommendations on American Indian women protection through the art. Within social networks, there are many groups of professional and amateur filmmakers that are interested in creation of socially valuable motion pictures. They find and form their own teams, develop a concept of their film and apply to the crowd funding platform (for example, Indiegogo). During the month, people donate money for implementation of the film idea; hence, they are involved in the process of creation of something important. 

There are no notable feature documentaries about the life, difficulties and tools for protection of American Indian women or historical female representatives that is well-known by people. Such product may have a profound effect on the auditory, namely provoke discussions, empathy and pride. In this way, it is easier to educate people and, what is more important, to reduce fear of becoming a victim of human rights violation. 


There are many international and national agreements that formally ensure protection of human rights of the indigenous society, especially women as the least protected members of it. From personal observations, American Indian women still face cruel abuse in their daily life. The issue is that this problem is not publically depicted enough for proposing effective preventive measures. Personal impression has helped to define few ideas that may be useful such as establishment of a strategy, close relation of the natives to the authority, advocacy and activism and media art. The personal conduct of the research and practical observation demonstrate that the problems of separate groups impact on the life of the entire country.


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