American Indian Women Essay - Critical Context

Marion E. Gridley

Critical Context

In the preface, Gridley explains her reasons for writing the book, stating that the perceived lack of power and status of Native American women in their own cultures called for refutation. She begins the book by describing the historical roles that women have played within their tribes. Among many tribes, for example, women were the property holders, and the lines of family descent were traced through the mother, rather than through the father. Reversing commonly held stereotypes regarding the limited roles women could play within the tribal structure, Gridley explains that women could choose to become guides, medicine women, and peace negotiators. Furthermore, within the Iroquois and Cherokee tribes, women were consulted in an advisory capacity when decisions regarding the welfare of the group needed to be made.

A work such as Gridley’s offers role models not only for young Native American readers but also for all young women who might benefit from the survey of professional and artistic choices that these women have made. Gridley’s book also under-scores the sense of personal achievement that these women realized by conducting their lives with pride and self-determinism. Another important value of American Indian Women for white readers is the heightening of their cultural awareness. For a Euro-American audience, the values that the biographical subjects represent, such as respect for heritage and community service, stress the positive similarities between Native American and white culture, bridging social and cultural gaps. For Native American readers or readers of Native American descent, the book helps to promote a sense of pride and belonging to a culture rich in values and tradition.

While not all the women Gridley discusses have achieved the mythic status in American culture of Pocahontas and Sacajawea, they nevertheless deserve recognition for their indefatigable efforts to transcend barriers of gender and race and to garner the rewards of personal and professional achievement.