This is part of my continuing series on the honor's paper I wrote for a World History class in college in 2006. Due to the response from part one, posted on March 13, I've decided to post the rest of the paper until it's completed. Thanks for all the comments I've received.
While the chief of a tribe was typically male, there are several occasions where a woman was the tribal leader, providing women with the opportunity to advance and participate politically in the Native American society. Two of the more well-known female chiefs are Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey and Weetamoo of the Wampanoag. Cockacoeske became werowance,1 when her husband was killed fighting for the colonists. During her twenty year reign2 she sided with England through Bacon’s Rebellion.3 Cockacoeske signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677, which prescribed hunting, fishing and gathering rights to the tribe, made her the suzerain4 of the other chiefs who signed the treaty, and disallowed colonists from settling within three miles of any Indian village.5 This treaty is still in effect and a law suit was filed in the State of Virginia a few years ago claiming the treaty was being violated by plans to build a reservoir within the three mile range set in the treaty.6
Weetamoo, sister-in-law of Metacom (King Philip), became sachem7 of her family’s tribe when her father died. When her husband, and Metacom’s brother, died unexpectedly after a visit with the English, she vowed revenge, believing her husband had been poisoned. She controlled three hundred warriors, divorced her second husband because of his friendliness with the English and married the nephew of the sachem of the Narraganset tribe. This marriage was seen as a political match. Her new husband purchased Mary Rowlandson after she was captured and Mary was a servant for Weetamoo during her captivity. Weetamoo was an ally of Metacom and participated in his war against the English. Weetamoo’s former father-in-law, Massasoit had cultivated friendship and peace with the colonists. However, by the time Weetamoo and Meatcom were sachems, a bitter resentment had developed between the natives and English over the loss of land by the Native Americans. In 1675 Metacom’s tribe, the Wampanoag, rose up in a bloody revolt, killing up to one third of the people in New England. 8 Weetamoo aligned her tribe and her third husband’s tribe, the Narraganset, with Metacom and fought with him. She was killed trying to escape the English.9
While Native American tribes seemed more ready to accept the power of women, they still expected them to remain in their places. Tekakwitha, the daughter of a captured Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, was one woman who stepped out of line. Orphaned at four when small pox swept through her village, killing her family and leaving her severely scared and nearly blind, she was adopted by her mother’s brother-in-law, an important Mohawk chief. He hated Christians in general and Roman Catholics in particular.
When she was eleven, Tekakwitha became familiar with Jesuits’ teachings and declared she wished to become a convert, much to her uncle’s dislike. After her baptism, at which time she took the name Katherine, she was “ridiculed…mocked and jeered. When she refused to work in the fields [on the Sabbath] she was pelted with stones.”10 After she learned of the vow of chastity nuns took, she stated she would remain unmarried. The Mohawks were angered at her refusal to marry, to have children or to do the work expected of a Mohawk woman.
After receiving death threats, Tekakwitha left her village for another where Christians were more welcomed. Soon after arriving, she approached the priests about starting a convent. Feeling she was too newly converted, they refused her, but finally allowed her take the vow of chastity.
This chastity request by Tekakwitha may have come from her Mohawk upbringing. The Mohawks allowed women to declare themselves virgins for life and to live cloistered with other such women. Unfortunately, “several cloistered women became drunk from alcohol given them…[and] their behavior was so embarrassing to Mohawk leaders that the virgin enclaves were disbanded.”11 It is possible the memory of this incident contributed to the Mohawk’s anger at Tekakwitha when she vowed to remain a virgin.
She plunged into her new life by embracing self-sacrificing habits. Her abuse of eating little, flogging herself and praying in the snow took its toil on her and she died at the age of twenty-four. It was claimed that upon her death, her pock-marks disappeared and she became beautiful.12
Reports of her conversion and pious life lead to her grave being visited by many people who prayed to her and soon miracles were attributed to her. In 1943, the Catholic Church declared her venerable and in 1980 she was blessed, the two steps before Sainthood. Though ridiculed by her own tribe, Tekakwitha may well become the first Native American saint of the Roman Catholic Church.13
2 Liz Sonneborn, “Cockacoeske, Queen of the Pamunkey ,” A to Z of Native American Women, 31.
3 Bacon’s Rebellion – a power struggle between Virginia Gov. Sir William Berkeley, and Nathaniel Bacon, Jr. in 1676.
4 A feudal lord over other kings or leaders.
5 “What was the Treaty of Middle Plantation?,” The Mariners’ Museum: Chesapeake Bay, Native Americans website.
6 “How a 1677 treaty could snag reservoir in court”, Virginia Indians.
8 “King Philips’s War” ¶ 3.
9 Liz Sonnebon, “Weetamoo, Wampanoag Tribal Leader”Liz Sonneborn,” A to Z of Native American Women, 193.
10 Liz Sonneborn, “Tekakwitha, Kateri (Catherine, Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks)” A to Z of Native American Women, 173.
11 Liz Sonneborn,“Tekakwitha, Kateri (Catherine, Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks),” 174.
12 Liz Sonneborn, “Tekckwitha, Katreri (Catharine, Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks),” 174.
13 Liz Sonnebon, “Tekakwitha, Kateri (Catherine, Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks), A to Z of Native American Women, 175