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The model of Native women’s rights gave suffragists the ammunition they needed, and the vision of something better. For years, white women had been told by their ministers that the position of women was decreed by God as the eternal punishment women would suffer because of Eve’s sin. Clergy quoted the Bible: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Genesis 3:16), the command declared all the way through the Bible to the Ephesians, Stanton pointed out. To work for your rights meant going against the will of God. You also were defying biology, since science of the time maintained that women had smaller brains, with less intelligence and physical strength than men. Hence, it was natural that they should be under the authority of men. Seeing Native women who farmed with strong bodies, had total authority over their lives, and lived in equality with men put the lie to religion and science’s teachings of women’s subordination and inferiority.

Indigenous women of numerous Native Nations had rights, sovereignty, and integrity long before European settlers arrived on these shores. They had complete control of their lives, maintained economic independence in marriage, and lived in a culture free from gender-based violence. While women in the United States are recognizing that 100 years ago the Constitution finally recognized the right of U.S. women to vote, Native Nation women have had political voice on this land for thousands of years.

Despite differences among hundreds of First Nations tribes, prior to the arrival of Europeans, the balance between women and men’s roles were typically different but complementary. Women worked the land, while the men hunted, fished, and went to war. Many tribes were also matrilineal — wealth, power, and inheritance were passed down through mothers.

When European settlers arrived, they brought with them the patriarchal European value system. Many settlers believed that women were delicate and ill-equipped for hard labor, so when they saw the women working the land, they viewed it as proof that native men treated their women as inferior. They also refused to deal with women when making trade deals. Overall, colonialism functioned to dehumanize indigenous women, forging a culture where women were less valued and thought of as property.

According to the National Institute of Justice, 84% of Indigenous women have experienced psychological, sexual, or physical violence in their lifetime, with more than half of that abuse endured at the hands of an intimate partner. More than 66% of Native women say they have been the victims of psychological abuse by a partner. Comparatively, 35% of women and 28% of men in the mainstream population can say the same. Additionally, more than half of the women that experienced physical abuse also experienced sexual abuse. Nearly 97% of these cases were committed by non-Native individuals.

On top of these shocking statistics, only 38% of those victims were able to access legal, medical, or other support services.

Source: National Park Service

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