Give examples of what we learned about Native American women from legends, myths, and the work they did?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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While the eNotes format is not meant for detailed discussions but for tutorial and reference information, we can look at two examples of Native American folklore that illustrate the role of women in Native American culture. The first is the the legend of "Buffalo Woman" in which a woman chooses her husband while risking danger and the loss of her own people. The second is the legend of Godasiyo, a chieftess, "Godasiyo the Woman Chief," who gave unity and harmony to native Americans but whose people became divided (perhaps because of a folly of vanity on her part) leading to greater division and language changes.

In the first legend, we learn that Native American women had the authority to choose their own futures. It was Buffalo Woman who sought out and approached Braveness. He was not surprised by her request to become his wife; he was only surprised that she would ask while not being from his own tribe. Her request was honored by the parents of Braveness. The other thing we learn is that, like Wealhtheow (Wealhþēow) in Beowulf, Buffalo Woman had every expectation of being honored and that thus (1) she could make requests of Braveness and that (2) he would honor her requests without qualification as long as, as Braveness said, "what you ask is not unreasonable." 

... all at once she turned round and looked at Braveness and said: "You promised me that you would do anything I say."
   "Yes," he answered.

In the second legend we learn that Native American women had the authority to rule (at least at one early time) to be chiefs of tribes and that, in fact, one of the most renowned chiefs was indeed a woman. We also learn that regardless of the beauty and goodness of Godasiyo, her people persisted in finding reason to be divided from each other and to be jealous of each other. The first divisiveness came because the south and north parts of the community were divided by a river that Godasiya ordered bridged over. The second divisiveness came because Godasiyo claimed a stray white dog as her own, which meant that the south side of the village, where the council house and Godasiyo's dwelling were, had an advantage that the north side did not have relating to the presence of the dog and which stirred up jealous accusations of evil leveled at the dog. 

Not long after this, a white dog appeared in the village, and Godasiyo claimed it for her own. Everywhere the chief went the dog followed her, and the people on the north side of the river became jealous of the animal. They spread stories that the dog was possessed by an evil spirit that would bring harm to the tribe.  

When Godasiyo is tragically drowned because of petty divisiveness, Native American's became divided tribes with divided languages replacing their once single, harmonious language. From this we learn that while women had authority to rule, divisiveness and jealousy had the power to overwhelm their goodness and cause them to metaphorically drown in seeming failure. The question is begged as to whether Godasiyo displayed vanity over the white dog thus leading her people to their doom, but the text only suggests the question without hinting at an accusation or at an answer.

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