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May 12, 2017

45 Enchanting Portraits of Native American Teen Girls From Between the Late 19th to Early 20th Centuries

Natives Americans tribes believed that they originated from a woman and many of their legends and creation stories depict a “mother earth.” Agriculture was put under the women of the tribe’s trust, and they saw to the fields, both harvesting and cultivating the vegetables and plants for their people.

Tribal women like the Algonquians planted their fields meticulously and in a way that kept the land sustainable for future use. After planting seeds and piling on earth to protect it from the birds and harvesting until the soil lacked nutrients to continue on, women decided when to clear new fields and allow the used ones to regenerate. Women in the Iroquois tribes often controlled the distribution of food among their people. Their perceived position as beings of spiritual power gave women in some tribes the opportunity to be healers for minor injuries, as men were more commonly shamans, midwives, and herbalists.

The Native American people were known for having women sit in positions of political power beyond simply controlling the food or being “agricultural scientists.” Elder women in the Iroquois tribes gathered in clans to decide who would sit on the tribe or village council, even choosing the 49 chiefs sitting on the Five Nation Iroquois Confederacy.

There were women who learned skills in hunting, fishing, swimming and became a warrior for their people, like Queen Weetamoo. It was not usual for women to go into combat “there are numerous stories of women rushing onto the battlefield to protect or substitute for their fallen husbands or brothers,” some even earned titles and were allowed to sing and dance with their warrior brothers. Women who sat as leaders of their tribes, like Queen Anne and Weetamoo, were known for their participation in wars, as many tribal leaders were.

In many different tribes, like the Iroquois, the families were matrilineal, where the family line was continued through the women. Instead of women leaving their families to join their husbands, it was the opposite; men joined the families of the women they married and their sons left to join their wives’ families. The women and all of their descendants lived in what is called a “longhouse” together. While it was common for marriages to be arranged by fathers or the other male family, women controlled whether or not they wanted a divorce. They could simply move back in with their families or, as was common in Iroquois society, a woman could leave her husband's belongings outside their door to say she wanted a divorce.

In the Lakota tribes there was the legend of the “Double Woman Dreamer” who behaved in masculine ways and had special powers. This spurred on the concepts of warrior women or “manly hearted women” who acted like men in hunting and during warfare. There was the counterpart role for men of the “berdache” a role where a man could dress and take on the responsibilities of a woman.

Here are some enchanting vintage photographs of Native American teen girls captured from between the late 19th and until the turn of the 20th century.



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