Encountering Patriarchy in the Heartland: Indigenous Women's Strategies

Endorsed by the Midwestern History Association, Western History Association, and Women and Social Movements in the United States,1600–2000

Friday, April 1, 2022, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Lightning Round

Tags: Borderlands; Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples; Women's History


This session will include six scholars whose work touches on the strategies of Native and mixed-ancestry women in the borderlands of the U.S. settler society, as patriarchal governance and institutions grew in power. Their scholarship explores the ways women negotiated politics and utilized kinship networks, business relationships, traditional knowledge and voluntary organizations in developing creative responses to individual, family, and community challenges and injustices.

Papers Presented

Gendered Politics and the Miami National Council

Traditionally, Myaamiaki (Miami Indians) organized themselves politically around gendered leadership roles, in which men engaged with international issues primarily through forming alliances and warfare, while female leaders coordinated the village's internal operations, including agricultural practices and the production of goods. When Myaamia leaders formed a centralized government in the early 1800s, called the Miami National Council, they protected their gendered political order. While the original National Council consolidated male village leadership to combat American aggression, female village leaders’ political roles remained unaffected by this development and continued to regulate their village’s internal affairs.

Presented By
John Bickers, Ohio State University

Wyandot Women’s Motherwork Across Time and Space

This presentation connects the motherwork of three Wyandot/Wyandotte women: Mary McKee (1838–1922), Eliza Burton Conely Jr. (1869–1946), and Jane Zane Gordon (1871–1963). McKee won the right to maintain property in Detroit despite government threats to ignore Wyandot claims and their tradition of matriarchal authority over land. Conely addressed colonial threats concerning Wyandot sacred spaces through protests, petitions, and legal action in Kansas City, KS. Finally, Gordon was an author, playwright, and activist, granting her an audience with President Harding. Together, these women demonstrate how Wyandot women have called upon matricentric traditions to counter the patriarchal policies of the U.S.

Presented By
Kathryn M. Labelle, University of Saskatchewan

Multiple identities - Unique Sense of Belonging: The Cadotte Family within the Great Lakes watershed fur trade

The originality of the French-Anishinaabeg, Cadotte family stems not from any distinctiveness from its French-Canadian and Anishinaabeg neighbours, but rather from its very successful embeddedness within both populations. By the early nineteenth century, this family operated within dual kinship networks: a Lake Superior Anishinaabeg-centred one through grandmothers, mothers, and spouses; and a French-Catholic one emerging out of the St. Lawrence valley through various family members’ participation in the Montréal-centred fur trade. Through the Cadotte’s multi-generational co-membership in two well-established societies, various family members were able to become both influential and prosperous within a Great Lakes-St. Lawrence fur trade world. This was an effective adaptation to an enduring peltry economy straddling vast geographies and a variety of essential occupational roles.

Presented By
Nicole Jeanne St-Onge, University of Ottawa

Coping with Patriarchy in the 19th Century Great Lakes Region

By the early nineteenth century, U.S. settler society brought harsh changes to Native and fur trade families and communities in the Great Lakes region, introducing epidemic diseases, economic disruption, and increasingly institutionalized patriarchal governance. Native-descended women who had long served their communities watched the needs of poor, ill, and dislocated people increase, and added more strategies to their efforts. While sexist laws denied them rights, women in Michigan and Wisconsin formed charity and prayer groups and sought ways to use church and state connections in creative ways to serve others, address their own and others’ suffering, and maintain relationships.

Presented By
Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, Ohio State University

Ozagushkodanay-kway’s Ledger: Patriarchs, Traders, and Ojibwe Women

My presentation will be a quick look at a ledger book kept by Susan Johnston (Ozagushkodanay-kway). Only one ledger remains in the National Archives. But from 1819 to 1821 she worked in her Irish husband’s store and kept very careful records. Those records open a small window into the Michigan borderlands in the early 19th-century. Reading carefully, we can how this Ojibwe woman worked as a fur trader, store owner, and wife. Her story and the women she traded for and with offer a glimpse of how Ojibwe, French-Canadian, and Anglo- American women managed life and business in a trade dominated by men, but also a world in which men were absent much of the year.

Presented By
Anne F. Hyde, University of Oklahoma

The Importance of Indigenous Women’s Land-Based Knowledge in Navigating Patriarchal Encounters

Matilda Aitken Warren Fontaine, a woman of Ojibwe, French and Scots heritages, directly experienced the disadvantaged status of women in the patriarchal Anglo American marriage institution. First, her family was made homeless when her husband was summarily fired as US Government interpreter; a second partner deserted her shortly after their child was born. In each instance, she relied upon land-based knowledge learned from her Ojibwe mother to resolve the situation. In particular, she drew upon her knowledge of waterways, waterborne travel, and generalized geographic knowledge of western Great Lakes landscapes to transport herself and her children to safety.

Presented By
Rebecca Kugel, University of California, Riverside

Session Participants

Chair: Brenda Macdougall, University of Ottawa, Canada
Director of the Institute for Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa, Brenda was recently appointed a University Research Chair in Metis Family and Community Traditions after serving as the Chair of Métis Research for ten years. She holds a PhD in Native Studies from the University of Saskatchewan and an MA in American history from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is an expert in the history of Metis communities and works closely with traditional knowledge keepers to understand the cultural values and contexts that have shaped the Metis world. Her first book was One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth Century Northwestern Saskatchewan (2010) and she was co-editor Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History and is both co-and single author on a number of well-regarded historical and theoretically oriented articles. She has developed a public profile with pieces in national newspapers and online forums including Shekon Neechie, an Indigenous history site that she founded with several colleagues. In her role as a research chair, Brenda has built a strong program of research in the connections between Metis families across the Metis homeland and most recently, she and her colleagues created the Digital Archives Database Project, an online archive of transcribed historical records, with the support of the Métis and Non-Status Indian Relations Directorate.

Presenter: John Bickers, Ohio State University
John Bickers is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Ohio State University and a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. His research interests include 19th and early 20th century Native American history, with a focus on nation-building in Indian Country. John’s dissertation is a political history of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma examining how it created a centralized national government in the early 1800s and traces it through the early 20th century when they ratified their first constitution in 1939. Prior to attending OSU, John served on the Board of Directors for the Myaamia Heritage Museum & Archive, in Miami, Oklahoma. Most recently, he is a recipient of the 2020 Phillips Fund Grants for Native American Research given by the American Philosophical Society.

Presenter: Anne F. Hyde, University of Oklahoma
Anne Hyde studies the history of the North American West. Born in St. Louis and raised in Reno, Nevada, she specializes in indigenous history, race, and family history. Her 2012 book, Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 won the Bancroft Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She is professor of History and Editor of the Western Historical Quarterly at the University of Oklahoma. Prior to coming to Oklahoma, she taught at Colorado College for two decades, and directed the Race and Ethnic Studies program, the Hulbert Center for Southwest Studies, and the Crown Faculty Development Center. She has served as President of the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association, Faculty Director of the AHA’s Tuning Project, and has been a Distinguished Lecturer for the OAH since 2011. Her most recent books are Shaped By the West: A History of North America (University of California Press, 2018) and An American Tale: Mixing Blood and the Making of the West, 1600-1940 (Norton, 2021).

Presenter: Rebecca Kugel, University of California, Riverside
Rebecca Kugel teaches Native American history at the University of California, Riverside. Her research focuses on the history of Ojibwe communities in Minnesota, with emphasis on Ojibwe leadership in the nineteenth century. Her first work explored the challenges Ojibwe leaders faced in dealing with the growing appropriative presence of the United States. Additional work has sought to identify Ojibwe women’s forms of leadership and consider how new Native-centered methodologies can uncover Native women’s historical experiences. She is the author of To Be The Main Leaders of Our People: A History of Minnesota Ojibwe Politics, 1820-1898 (1998) and co-editor, with Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, of Native Women’s History in Eastern North America before 1900: A Guide to Research and Writing (2007). Her current research investigates how Great Lakes Native peoples employed expansive Indigenous constructions of kinship as vehicles for expressing and enacting political power.

Presenter: Kathryn M. Labelle, University of Saskatchewan
Dr. Kathryn Labelle is an Associate Professor of Indigenous history at the University of Saskatchewan. She received her BA and MA in history at the University of Ottawa and her PhD in History from The Ohio State University in 2011.
Labelle won the New Researcher Award (University of Saskatchewan) in 2019. Her work centres on the Wendat/Wyandot/Huron communities of North America. In addition to publishing articles on Wendat child-rearing, witchcraft, warfare, and leadership, Labelle is the author of Dispersed, But Not Destroyed (University of British Columbia Press, 2013) and the co-editor of From Huronia to Wendake(s) (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016). Her current research is a collaborative project with the Wendat Women’s Advisory Council and is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. One result of this project is her forthcoming book Daughters of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen’s Press -March 2021) and an art exhibit at Crawford Lake Conservation Area and Museum (September 2021).

Presenter: Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, Ohio State University
Lucy Eldersveld Murphy is Professor of History at the Ohio State University, Newark. Her research focuses on intercultural, interracial, and gender relations on Midwestern American borderlands. Her book, Great Lakes Creoles: A French-Indian Community on the Northern Borderlands, Prairie du Chien, 1750 – 1860, is a case study of a fur-trade town in transition (2014) and her book, A Gathering of Rivers: Indians, Métis, and Mining in the Western Great Lakes, 1737-1832 (2000) examined a century of social and economic transformations in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. With Rebecca Kugel, she edited Native Women's History in Eastern North America before 1900: A Guide to Research and Writing (2007). She is co-editor with Wendy Hamand Venet of the essay collection Midwestern Women: Work, Community, and Leadership at the Crossroads (1997). In addition, she co-edited with Mary Elise Antoine Frenchtown Chronicles of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin by Albert Coryer (2016). Furthermore, she edited the document collection, “Selma Sully Walker and Native Women's Leadership in Ohio, 1975-2011,” for the online database, “Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires since 1820,” edited by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin (2017). Prof. Murphy helped to create Ohio State's American Indian Studies Program and the Ohio State Newark Earthworks Center and serves on their Advisory Councils.

Presenter: Nicole Jeanne St-Onge, University of Ottawa
Nicole St-Onge is a professor of History at the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on 19th century Great Plains bison-hunting Métis, the Great Lakes watershed fur trade, and on the Montréal area French-Canadian voyageurs hired by the American Fur Trade Company from 1817-1840. Some of her recent English-language publications include "He was neither a soldier or a slave, he was under control of no man: Kahnawake Mohawks in the Northwest Fur Trade, 1790-1850," Canadian Journal of History, Volume 51, No. 1 (2016), "Family Foes?: French Sioux Families and Plains Metis Brigades in the 19th Century," American Indian Quarterly, (2015) and Brenda Macdougall & Nicole St-Onge, “Kinscapes and the Buffalo Chase: The Genesis of Nineteenth-Century Plains Métis Hunting Brigade” in The Greater Plains (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021)