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Why Do Tribes Have Matrilineal Societies?

Sonny Skyhawk addresses the tradition of matrilineal governance of Native American societies

Women have always played a significant role in the existence and administrations of tribal nations. They have been instrumental due to their innate ability to reason and dispense wisdom. They also were characterized as wise because they originated the teachings for the children. The men were allowed to articulate, enforce and deliver these teachings, but it was the women who monitored and allowed them to speak. They were the faith keepers and, for Eastern tribes, the originators of the Longhouse system of government, whereby they designated who amongst the men was to articulate the laws.

As a Lakota, I experienced matrilineal authority early on. My mother ran everything. She paid the bills, bought the groceries, and decided when and where we would go. She settled all arguments and her word was law in our family. I don?t know if that qualifies as having matrilineal authority, but she clearly possessed it. My grandmother was also the same way. She took no guff, and you had better not roll your eyes at her either. She was strict but fair in all her decisions. She could swing a mean ax when it came to chopping wood too. All the women that I came in contact with as a young man were strong women. They had to be, because they were experiencing tough times.

Today's Indian women are no different. They have to face some of the same challenges, only in a different time. Today, we have different issues and concerns, but, our women still have the majority vote when it comes to making the important decisions. What impresses me these days is how educated they are and how willing they are to take the lead when it comes to the welfare of their people.

Matrilineal societies existed amongst the Eastern tribes for sure, but they also existed in other tribes, like the plains tribes, but the women were behind the scenes. They made the decisions, but allowed the men to articulate them—how smart was that?

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We have always had deep respect and love for our women, for the unique Creator-given ability to procreate and a host of other reasons. Modern times, assimilation and the cultural and lifestyle changes we have gone through as a people, have somewhat clouded the standing and reverence we once had for our women, and that is not a good thing. My only hope is that the new generations will come to the realization that our women—our mothers, and our grandmas—are the ultimate reason we are still here, and a viable people, today.