Home / Views & Opinion / Ten Things You Might Not Know About American Indian Women
Ten Things You Might Not Know About American Indian Women

Ten Things You Might Not Know About American Indian Women

American Indian women are the backbone of many tribes.  They are strong, maybe not necessarily physically strong, but strong emotionally.  However, there is a limit to how much they can withstand emotionally and many who serve in the U. S. military often suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as victims of sexual harassment.

They contribute a lot to their communities, their tribes, and even to the nation, despite all the risks.  Some of their contributions include the military, health care, the arts, and human rights issues, yet they rarely get much recognition for all their struggles to better society and some of the issues tie into the various women and health care issues we cover on this site.

Ms Magazine gives an overview concerning ten things people might not know about American Indian women.

Last year, University of Nebraska, at Lincoln, published a magazine called Native Daughters, in which Journalism students spent 18 months reporting on American Indian women, who are artists, attorneys, doctors/healers, activists, warriors/veterans, and leaders.

Besides those on Native Daughters' website, another example is Rita Coolidge, who uses her talents to help make the public aware of Indian Healthcare issues in the United States.  She is on the board of directors of Sovereign Nations Project, one of which is health care among American Indians.  Some of these same issues caused Yvette Roubideaux to become the first female American Indian director of Health Services.

“I heard a great metaphor for IHS: It’s a really good car. It just needs more gas,” said Dr. Roubideaux, who, in 2009, became the first female Native American director of the Indian Health Service. “The system is so stretched. I was visiting an area office, and everybody who introduced themselves had three or four jobs that normally you’d expect one person to do.”

Eventually, she realized this under funding of services contributed to a higher rate of diabetes, alcoholism, tuberculosis, and suicide among American Indians.

Natives born today have a life expectancy that is 4.6 years less than the general U.S. population, according to IHS (72.3 years to 76.9 years, respectively).

It’s even shorter for those living on rural reservations. There, residents can expect to live only 66 years because care often is delivered by overtaxed medical staff working with outdated equipment in aging buildings.

It’s common knowledge around the rez to “don’t get sick after June,” when federal money often runs out until the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

"If dependency on the Federal Government is so dog gone good, how come things are so bad on reservations?"

He brings up a good point, in that women's issues and health care are a big problem on reservations and among the American Indian population.

Ms Magazine composed a list of ten things about American Indian women was complied and this list is a teaser for what people can learn from the magazine and curriculum.  Here are a few examples from their list:

1. “A lot of people think that us women are not leaders, but we are the heart of the nation, we are the center of our home, and it is us who decide how it will be.”–Philomine Lakota, Lakota language teacher, Red Cloud High School, Pine Ridge, S. D.

2. The art forms Native women practice stand as reminders of cultural endurance.

4. Of nearly 2 million women enlisted in the U.S.armed forces, 18,000 are American Indian women.  Their representation in the military is disproportionately high—and Native women are more likely to be sexually harassed, which increases their chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual violence against Native American women is common even for those not in the military.

More than 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime. A complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions allows perpetrators to rape with impunity and in some cases even encourages assaults.

Sexual violence against Indigenous women in the USA is widespread — and especially brutal. According to US government statistics, Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA.

According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 percent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men.

Tribal law enforcement agencies are chronically under-funded — federal and state governments provide significantly fewer resources for law enforcement on tribal land than are provided for comparable non-Native communities. The lack of appropriate training in all police forces — federal, state and tribal — also undermines survivors' right to justice. Many officers don't have the skills to ensure a full and accurate crime report. Survivors of sexual violence are not guaranteed access to adequate and timely sexual assault forensic examinations which is caused in part by the federal government's severe under-funding of the Indian Health Service.

The list of issues concerning justice for American Indian women are long, but despite a high potential for sexual violence in the military and every day life, they manage to become leaders, as they try to better their communities, tribes, and the nation.

If the Religious Reich and GOP get their way, then issues of rape and incest, women's health care, and serving in the military could be potentially worse for American Indian women.

On a happier note, though not part of the Ms article, I add two Walela videos.  Walela is Cherokee for humming bird. The group consists of Rita Coolidge, her sister Priscilla Coolidge, and Priscilla’s daughter Laura Satterfield, who are part Cherokee, and I think the three women also give another example of the American Indian women this article and course discuss, especially concerning art forms, issues which affect them, and contributions to society.

Cherokee Morning Song/I Am of the Great Spirit is one of my favourites and it shows a spiritual belief that we are all connected and what affects one group of people in our society, eventually affects us all.

Lyrics and translation:

We n' de ya ho, We n' de ya ho,
We n' de ya, We n' de ya Ho ho ho ho,
He ya ho, He ya ho, Ya ya ya
"We n' de ya ho
Freely translated: "A we n'" (I am), "de" (of), "Yauh" –the– (Great Spirit), "Ho" (it is so).
Written as: A we n' de Yauh ho (I am of the Great Spirit, Ho!)."
This language stems from very ancient Cherokee.
Translation by David Michael Wolfe who is an Eastern Virginia Cherokee and a cultural historian.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Wonderful article. The rural Natives are in dire need of help, with many not even having the basics, such as running water.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  • zzzzz

    Mriana, Thank you for this meaningful posting! (The Cherokee Morning Song is finishing as I am writing this.) One of the ways which the U.S. government killed the Indians, and continues to do so, is through the lard, sugar, and white flour diet.

Scroll To Top