Haudenosaunee people are matriarchal.
This sentence is enough to make many that know some of our warring history tilt their heads to the side wondering why? In Haudenosaunee history, our pictographs have shown through images of jaguars and panthers that our ancestors travelled from the South. On their way up to North America they warred, murdered, raided, stole and slaughtered small civilizations with the skills the men honed using games such as Lacrosse.
In the distant past we might have once been the “savages” Hollywood paints indigenous people to be. But, let’s just remember that this was the distant past, because this ended when the Kaianere’ko:wa (Gai-yan-nay-late-go-wah) or the Great Law of Peace was implemented, given to our people by the Huron man Tekanonwi:ta (Day-ga-new-wee-dah), the Peacemaker. This was the foundation of our now peaceful society and our democratic confederacy system. But, the thing many cannot seem to understand is how or why our society — even though it changed from a warrior society to a peace society — had always had women in power.
The Creation Story as many know, tells that the Sky Woman created the earth and it was her daughter that birthed our Creator and his negative twin. This left a catalyst for how women were to be treated — we were the givers of life and the most precious asset to our people because of this. This is why Haudenosaunee people take both their Nation and Clan from their mothers and why the duties of the women were always aligned with familial power, creation and giving life.
Another concept that seems to baffle historians and agriculturalists today is that the Haudenosaunee women were the cultivators and agriculturalists — to our people it is merely a different form of giving life. This is also why in our genetics, many Haudenosaunee women still display the broad shoulders of our ancestors, who needed the upper body strength to haul food in after harvesting a field.
However, even though women and men had separate roles, many learned both roles just in case. Imagine the men in a village departing for a hunting trip and leaving only women and children. If a war party were to take the opportunity to attack, the women would have to protect the children and themselves.
In present time, listening to a non-native man explain a fight in the stands during a lacrosse game between a non-native community and Six Nations, the resonance of history repeating itself lingered. He exclaimed “those women fight just like men,” in regards to the Six Nations women. This proves that a lot of people don’t know, or simply forget how hard life was for our ancestors in the past and how this hardship transferred itself into the present. It only further advances the knowledge that our women need and needed to be strong both physically and spiritually — but times have changed.
Today, no longer is it the fear of being attacked in the night by a war party, it’s the fear of walking alone in the street at night. No longer is it the fear of drought to prevent harvest, it’s the fear of not having enough money to buy food after paying the bills. No longer is it the fear of losing a loved one to war, it’s the fear of losing a loved one to suicide. No longer is it the fear of losing a baby, it’s the fear of having a baby before the time is right.
We as Haudenosaunee women, indigenous women not only walk with the weight of years of oppression, we walk with the weight of so much responsibility to our families, our people, our communities and the future. This is why the honouring that was done so commonly in the past must continue into present time. Our women are still strong fighters in every possible way, it’s just that the battles have changed. This week’s issue will honour the strong women that hail from the Haudenosaunee as well as women that are prime examples of having a foot in two worlds for Women’s Month.