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A Free Reading Passage on Women’s Roles in Native American Tribes for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

May 15




Women’s roles in Native American tribes is a referenced topic in the Cultural Interactions Between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.

Native Americans working

In many Native American tribes, women have traditionally held vital roles that contributed significantly to their communities’ social, economic, and political life. The roles of women varied among tribes, reflecting diverse cultures, traditions, and ways of life.

Cherokee Women

The Cherokee, originally located in the Southeastern United States, had a matrilineal society where lineage was traced through the mother. Women were central to Cherokee social and economic life. They were the primary agriculturalists, responsible for cultivating crops such as corn, beans, and squash, known as the “Three Sisters.” Cherokee women also gathered wild plants, nuts, and berries, contributing significantly to the community’s food supply.

Cherokee women held considerable political influence. They participated in council meetings and had a voice in community decisions. Women could also become Beloved Women, or Ghigau, a title of great honor and respect. Beloved Women had significant authority in both civic and ceremonial matters and were involved in making decisions about war and peace.

Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Women

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, is composed of six nations: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The Haudenosaunee practiced a matrilineal system similar to the Cherokee, where inheritance and descent were traced through the female line.

Haudenosaunee women, particularly the Clan Mothers, played a crucial role in governance. Clan Mothers were responsible for selecting and advising the male chiefs, known as sachems. They had the authority to remove a sachem if he failed to fulfill his duties properly. This system ensured that women’s perspectives were integral to the political process, providing a balance in leadership and decision-making.

Economically, Haudenosaunee women were the primary farmers, growing the Three Sisters and other crops. They managed household affairs and played a key role in the distribution of food and resources, ensuring the community’s well-being.

Navajo Women

The Navajo, or Diné, people of the Southwestern United States also valued the roles of women highly. The Navajo society is matrilineal, with clan membership and property passed down through the mother’s line. Navajo women are central to the family and community structure, often managing family affairs and playing key roles in economic activities.

Navajo women are known for their skills in weaving, particularly the creation of intricate and beautiful Navajo rugs and blankets. Weaving is not only an economic activity but also a

cultural practice that embodies Navajo stories, traditions, and values. Women also engage in agriculture and livestock management, contributing significantly to the community’s economy.

In Navajo governance, women participate in decision-making processes and hold leadership positions within their clans and the broader community. Their involvement ensures that the voices and perspectives of women are heard and respected in communal matters.

Coast Salish Women

The Coast Salish peoples inhabit the Pacific Northwest, including parts of present-day Washington State and British Columbia. Coast Salish women have traditionally played crucial roles in both their families and communities. Their roles are diverse, encompassing economic, social, and cultural responsibilities.

Economically, Coast Salish women were central to the fishing and gathering activities that sustained their communities. They were involved in the preparation and preservation of fish, shellfish, and other marine resources, which were staple foods. Women also gathered plants, berries, and roots, contributing to the community’s diet and medicinal practices.

Coast Salish women are renowned for their basketry and weaving skills. They crafted intricate baskets, mats, and clothing from materials such as cedar bark and wool from mountain goats. These items were not only practical but also held cultural significance, often featuring designs and patterns that conveyed stories and tribal identities.

Socially, Coast Salish women held respected positions within their communities. They participated in potlatches, a traditional ceremonial feast where wealth was distributed, and social status was reinforced. Women played key roles in organizing and hosting these events, which were vital to maintaining social bonds and cultural traditions.

Women’s roles in Native American tribes were diverse and essential to the social, economic, and political fabric of their communities. Whether through agriculture, governance, craftsmanship, or family management, women contributed significantly to the prosperity and sustainability of their tribes. The examples from the Cherokee, Haudenosaunee, Navajo, and Coast Salish highlight the importance of women in maintaining cultural traditions, ensuring community well-being, and providing balanced leadership. These roles reflect a deep respect for women’s contributions and a recognition of their central place in Native American life.


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Women's Roles in Native American Tribes FREE Reading Passage

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Cultural Interactions Between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans 

Period 1

AP U.S. History

Women's Roles in Native American Tribes

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

May 15




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