Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
Feminism at its roots is a gift from our First Nations Sisters. Little known to many of the women promoting it today was actually not an ideal born of their own but a gift that was given to very special women who started the movement within white society and were the birth mothers of the feminist movement as we know it today. What few women also know today is that the foremother’s of our freedoms did not attempt to live by a man’s standards. They did not live by the white world’s standards. They lived and breathed in the true spirit of what a woman’s place in society ought to be. They learned a new way of thinking and a new vision for women all over the world. This was a vision that sets aside the petty ideals of what we should or should not be, dictated to us by women who live to please men. Women who get their power handed to them by white men. A vision that was over a thousand years old, shared with them from women who had walked in that place and refused to be transformed into a position of willing slavery to please the powers that be.
My gift to you today is a gift of true knowledge as recorded by female historians. I wish to give to my sisters all over the world the gift of knowing where your roots in true female power lay, where you can go to find them and the wonderful testimony of European men to the power that embracing true feminism and its spirit can bring to this world. To begin with, I will begin my story by telling you from the words of First Nations women what a woman’s place in society is and how the relationship of power and balance is in a truly harmonious society.
Haudenosaunee or Iroquois women held a very important position within the family and in society as a whole. To understand how women were viewed before the encroachment of European society, I will turn to history as recorded by the founders of the movement Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. According to their introduction to a woman’s true place in society, they observed many differences. To begin with, I will define the Spiritual position women held. In the Haudenosaunee Society children belonged to clan of their mother. Why is this important you may ask? What is the big deal with that? You could only ask if you had not seen a man walk around proclaiming the wonders of the birth of “his” child. The pride that goes with giving your name to your children and ensuring your legacy continues through the birth of your child is one of the most profound and empowering moments in ones life. So then why is it that we as women feel like we have to be ready to give up everything once we have a child? Why is it that we allow ourselves to look at having children as a burden and that we are making great sacrifices when we “choose” to give birth? I am not arguing a woman’s right to choose. I try to defer the deciding of the law to the politicians, lawyers and courts who are more qualified than I. The case of Roe V.S. Wade originated in Texas in March 1970 and was decided in 1973, so the right to me is established in law and no further argument needs be had on this point. What I am speaking to is that women would see the gift and miracle of giving birth as a burden due to the way society views unwed mothers, wed mothers and aged mothers. The bottom line is, if you are a mother in the society in which we live, the odds are stacked against you and your gift of life becomes a curse as opportunity after opportunity is taken away from you for no other reason than your gift of giving life. The question is not do we have the right, the question is are we choosing the “right” for the “right” reasons. The question is, what is wrong in our society that so many women are feeling they have to choose or pay the consequences of sacrificing all they have worked for to that point in their life? What is wrong is that the feminist movement has still not embraced the totality of what a woman’s true position in society is.
Not believing in coincidences, I find it interesting that the laws for child support enforcement were not aggressively pursued until the same time period, though they were long standing on the record. In fact, child support from an absent parent was enforceable from the time of the foundation of this colony, though at the same time as history attests, many women were trapped into marriages with the threat that is they left their husband, they were choosing to leave their children too. There is a certain amount of power that goes with the allegiances of our children. The future of the world does in fact lie within our children.
Turning back to the social standing of women in Haudenosaunee society, with the children being the lineage of the mother a great amount of power was conferred in this position. If you think of the sacrifices that women make for their children from conception, it seems appropriate and right to support this position.
In Haudenosaunee society, women’s responsibilities had a spiritual basis. Violence upon women was not only frowned upon but was not a part of their culture. In the odd times that it did occur, it was dealt with very seriously indeed. Economically women held a very important place as well. To begin with, each woman was in control of her own personal property. Her responsibilities were in agriculture as well as home life. Work was done under the direction of other women, was satisfying and was done communally.
Women spirituality were viewed as interrelated to the Mother Earth. The catalyst for the world was considered to be a woman. Women held responsibilities in ceremonies as well as in balance with men. Politically, it was women who chose their chief, they held political offices, and they were assured of a woman’s political power. Further more, decisions were made by everyone voicing their opinion, man and woman alike.
In juxtaposition to this way of life, it was not until women’s rights advocates began working to reverse the way white euro society operated that women were safe from the “right” to beat his wife. The courts deemed it, paraphrasing, as meddling into the affairs of a husband and his wife as well as a hindrance to them moving on in the marriage to living in the way a married couple should live. Compared to their neighbors, the Haudenosaunee, the women who had by now made friends with them and even been adopted into their families began to think that the society in which they lived was truly wrong in its attitude towards women. Due to the sisterhood shared by several women back in colonial times, a vision for what was being denied to white women gave birth to the continual conquest of women to take their rightful place in society.
What is to be gained by women and society as a whole by women taking their proper place in society? To begin with, a healthy respect for looking as a woman should at the age they find themselves. No longer would we look only to younger women as the only desirable image but we could find beauty in mothers, women with child, and the elderly women who have led the way for us. The suffering to hold on to youth at all costs is just a symptom of a disease we still have a very long way to go to deal with. Age comes to us all, and there is no escaping it. One of the best mother figures I ever had was indeed and by choice childless all of her life. Women all hold within themselves the gift of “motherhood” whether it is ever used in birthing a child or not.
When women are given the respect and voice that they deserve, the impact they have on society is incredible and immense. When women embrace in honesty that they are equal with men but also they are uniquely different and wonderfully made then can true piece reign in the world. No more evident is this than in the witness given in the records of how the First Nations People lived when Europeans came to this land. When women held power and a voice in society, as it was in the traditional Haudenosaunee society, then was it evident the true potential of human existence. Am I saying a woman is limited in what position she should take? Perish the thought! What I am saying is, that until women put aside the petty struggle to exist in the white man’s, or the Euro centralized version of, society, and begin setting the standard ourselves, give ourselves a voice and choose to take our places and assert an equal voice on matters of importance, then we will never truly experience life as we were born to experience it.
What are the matters of importance? That all depends on the individual, but I assure you, I doubt seriously they are matters of whether you are wearing today’s latest in fashion as the mainstream media is so tirelessly attempting to woo us into thinking. What better way to remove a woman’s potential than to direct her attention to trivial matters that in the end are less important. We, as a sisterhood, are being dummied down. We spend millions of dollars a year on plastic surgery, cosmetics, well; the list goes on and on, to follow the dictates of a male driven society that states rather bluntly that we are to live according to their dictates. Through these expenses, which men are not burdened by I might add, we are entrapping ourselves once again by ruining our financial potential. Through a supportive sisterhood, we can begin to gain ground on all that has been robbed from us and turn our finances as well as our focus to more important and pressing matters. What we forgot to take with us from our First Nations Sisters is the spirit of womanhood. I can akin it to keeping the wrapping in lieu of the gift.
So what evidence do I have to support this better way of thinking? I have only the testimony of the European white male when he came to this land, before he ruined the society that was here by enforcing his way of thinking with the same brute force and iron hand he wielded upon his wife.
Christopher Columbus: Saturday, 13 October. "At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome; their hair not curled but straight and coarse like horse-hair, and all with foreheads and heads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen; their eyes were large and very beautiful; they were not black, but the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries, which is a very natural circumstance, they being in the same latitude with the island of Ferro in the Canaries. They were straight-limbed without exception and not with prominent bellies but handsomely shaped. The natives are an inoffensive people…
Giovanni da Verrazano noted that the Wampanoag were "very charitable towards their neighbors". From the Dairio of Juan Perez, “Presently I found a large multitude of Indians who came out to meet me in their canoes. They were a beautiful people indeed, the men and women alike.…The first thing they did when they approached…was to begin singing in unison…and to cast their feathers on the water."
I then will leave you with a thought to consider by quoting the archeologist Arthur C. Parker, “Does the modern American woman [who] is a petitioner before man, pleading for her political rights, ever stop to consider that the red woman that lived in New York state five hundred years ago, had far more political rights and enjoyed a much wider liberty than the twentieth century woman of civilization?”