From the very beginning of their history, from before the arrival of European explorers to after the westward expansion of American settlers, women have played an important role in Native culture, helping to lead and cultivate their Tribe’s unique society and influencing the future of America as well. November is officially designated as National Native American Heritage Month.
Sacagawea, arguably the most famous Native woman, became a symbol of America itself. There may be more monuments dedicated to Sacagawea (also spelled Sakakawea and Sacajawea) than to any other American woman. History embraces the story of the teenager with the baby on her back who led men across a dangerous, unknown continent. Susan B. Anthony cited Sacajawea in 1905 as an example of why women should be allowed to vote. More recently, a golden dollar coin was issued in her honor in 2000.
Beyond Sacagawea, Native women have contributed to all aspects of American society. Warriors like One Who Walks With Stars and Minnie Hollow Wood – who both fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn – and leaders like Glory of the Morning, Chief of the Hocak Nation and Queen Anne, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, fought for the continued existence of their Tribes and their way of life. Artists and storytellers like basket weaver Carrie Bethel and potter Vera Chino shared the beauty of their people’s lives and stories. In addition, women like Fidelia Fielding, the last native speaker of the Mohegan-Pequot language, passed down their knowledge.
More recently, Native women have continued the in the roles of their foremothers while also branching out into new roles such as being advocates for Indian Country and working to promote their interest at the federal level.
Whether it was as leaders, warriors, teachers or artists, Native women have contributed to the world around them. Today, countless women carry on the traditions of their foremothers, working to honor and preserve their Native heritage and continuing to help shape America.