Steve Russell: Cherokees learned discrimination from colonists

The late Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected to the position of principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Photo from All Things Cherokee

Judge and professor Steve Russell says the matriarchal Cherokee Nation were taught sex discrimination from outsiders:
In this as in everything, the history of my Cherokee Nation influences my opinion. Cherokees learned sex discrimination from the colonists.

The colonists did not want any females signing treaties, regardless of their representative status. Early marry-ins were shocked to find family and property customs stacked against the idea from England that man and wife, upon marriage, became one—and he was the one. From the cultural norm that daughters could aspire to anything we wanted for sons, from a maternal clan identity, Cherokees “reformed” as a patriarchy. Wilma Mankiller’s service as Principal Chief was not an innovation but rather a return to traditions older than the United States.

I cannot speak to anybody else’s tribal traditions, but I can say that equal regard for mothers and sisters and wives and daughters before the law is in my DNA as well as in my professional commitments. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the Equal Rights Amendment defeated by frivolous arguments, equal pay for women attached to civil rights legislation to kill it, and continuing vitality for the argument that men need to get paid more than women because men are family breadwinners and women only work for pin money.

What does it take, I wonder, to elevate women to enough equal regard under the law that the next time Oscar has a Sacheen Littlefeather moment, it’s no longer necessary to demand equality for half the population?

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Steve Russell: Oscars Protest for Equal Pay for Women Was Long Overdue (Indian Country Today 2/25)

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