Native Americans are characterized as both civilized and uncivilized in module
one readings, their lifestyles and culture are observed to be civilized more
often than not. The separate and distinct duties of men and women (Sigard,
1632) reveal a society that has defined roles and expectations based on gender.
There are customs related to courtship (Le
Clercq, 1691) that are similar to European cultures. Marriage was a recognized
union amongst Native Americans, although not necessarily viewed as a serious,
lifelong commitment like the Europeans (Heckewelder, 1819).
to gender roles in Native American culture, Sigard writes of the Huron people that
“Just as the men have their special occupation and understand wherein a man’s
duty consists, so also the women and girls keep their place and perform quietly
their little tasks and functions of service”. He also observed that “They
usually do more work than the men, although they are not forced or compelled to
do so” (1632). Gender roles in European
society were also well defined in this era. Women handled household chores and
cared for the children while men hunted to provide for their families, fought
in wars, and had more rights and freedom than women. It is difficult to
determine if Native American men had more rights than women, although it
appears from the documents that they did have more free time. A noticeable difference
between the Huron women and Native Americans in colonial Pennsylvania, however,
was documented by Heckewelder when he stated that women were to “…cut and fetch
the fire wood, till the ground, sow and reap the grain, and pound the corn in
mortars for their pottage…” (1819). These tasks are more physically demanding
than those normally performed by Huron women. This observation demonstrates that
there were differing expectations in various Native American cultures, which is
also similar to Europeans. Expectations
of men and women varied based on their location, position in society and
accepted cultural traditions.
American courtship and marriage processes also shared similarities with those
of Europeans. In the Micmac society, a
young man had to obtain approval from the father of the girl he wished to marry.
If the father consented, the boy would talk to the girl he was interested in to
see if she felt the same, and if so, would present her with a gift (Le Clercq,
1691). This is a familiar process in
many European societies wherein a young man would seek approval from a girl’s
father prior to proposing marriage, or in some instances, prior to serious
courtship. The Micmac people had a long courtship period, during which time the
young man would live for a year with his future father-in-law “…whom, according
to the laws of the country, he is to serve, and to whom he is to give all the
furs which he secures in hunting…” (Le Clercq, 1691). The process described here
seems to be more complex and with higher expectations than those of European
marriage in Native American culture was not always considered a lifelong commitment.
Women seemed to have equal authority to dissolve a relationship if they were
unhappy or found the partnership disagreeable.
Heckewelder wrote that “…it is understood on both sides that the parties
are not to live together any longer than they shall be pleased with each other.
The husband may put away his wife whenever he pleases, and the woman may in
like manner abandon her husband” (1819). In this sense, Native American women
had more rights in a marriage than European women, who would find it almost
impossible to divorce and still be considered an upstanding and accepted member
of the community.
Americans were just as civilized as the Europeans that migrated to America, and
may have even been more civilized in some of their cultural practices. They had
clear expectations of the men and women in their societies, and rules and
expectations related to courtship and marriage. Native American women held more
power than European women when it came to ending an unhappy marriage, having
the ability to make that decision themselves and take action to dissolve the union.
Men have similar roles in both cultures as being the hunters and warriors. To
be civilized means “having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc.”
(Dictionary.com) and both Native Americans and Europeans met this definition in
many similar ways.