Gender Roles and the Algonquian Women

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In this essay, I will identify the hardships placed upon Algonquian women by the English settler’s concepts of gender roles. I will also describe the women’s responses to the English settlers, and internal divisions between the Indian women and men.

Pre-contact Algonquian peoples “invoked a divine division of labor to explain and justify differences between men’s and women’s roles on earth” (Shoemaker 29). Thus, women were in charge of domestic duties, which included the cultivation of maize and other plant foods. Men’s duties included hunting, warfare, and the clearing of land for cultivation. English settlers were shocked by this division of labor; they regarded the male Indians as lazy for shunning farming and engaging in activities the English associated with the landed aristocracy’s favorite pastimes.

The response to the English settlers by Algonquian men and women reveal internal divisions between the two. Powhatan, chief of the Algonquian confederacy, tried to make the English his allies by supplying them with corn and women, and, at one point, trying to adopt John Smith. On the other hand, the Algonquian women were suspicious of the English. Many of the women refused to have contact with them, and “fled their homes in fear” (Shoemaker 39).

Another response to the Englishmen’s presence was to turn “a female tradition of sexual hospitality into a weapon of war” (Shoemaker 39). The women would lure Englishman to their villages, leaving their weapons behind, where they could be easily captured or killed.


Shoemaker, Nancy. Negotiators of Change: Historical Perspectives on Native American Women. Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1994.

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