James Giago Davies. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

James Giago Davies: We must rebuild our strength by returning power to women

Exploring the depth of an ancient truth

By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Columnist

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or strong its weapons.”
-- Cheyenne proverb

Ancient words, a wise Cheyenne shared with the people long ago. Yet, the wise people of today, although acknowledging the wisdom of those words, seldom explore the depth of their truth.

Applying truth out of historical context leads to misperceptions and distortions, not just of past and present, but to the very nature of how the basic elements of human society best blend together.

Men and women are not the same, and nature made them both externally and internally, distinct. Regardless of how distinctions play out over time, in traditional aboriginal societies, generally before the advent of agriculture, the roles of men and women reflect a fundamental association which probably harkens back to the ancestral environment.

I know best the Lakota tiospaye, so I will reason from that. The tiospaye seldom numbered more than 500 members, so that everyone you knew, knew everyone you knew. There were no strangers traipsing about a tiospaye, not like today, where you can live in an apartment building with dozens of other people, and not only never speak to them, maybe never even meet them.

Were you to have conflict in that apartment complex, the police would become involved, strangers in uniforms, with the power to apply deadly force as they arbitrarily deem necessary. Not in the tiospaye. Women kept order, and they had tools whereby they kept the people at peace. However violent and stressful the outside world, and it was seriously violent and stressful, inside the tiospaye—the bonds were tight, but flexible enough to handle almost any crisis. How did women, and not men, accomplish this?

Through the power of shunning. The structure and day-to-day routine of the tiospaye was controlled by a network of women: sisters, cousins, close friends. A matriarchy using polygamy to create even tighter networks of sister wives. These women had such power, that when a husband married the first wife, he joined her band. This gave women value, and in the reverse of dowry, the prospective husband must pay the father for the hand of the daughter, usually only if she found the suitor to her liking.

Polygamy allowed for one wife, or many wives, and if people were okay with it, one wife and several men. The parameters of propriety were indeed flexible when it came to relationships.

If a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s belongs outside the tipi, and served notice to everyone he was no longer welcome between her blankets. He might take serious objection to that, but there was a tight-knit matriarchy to contend with, if he did.

Let’s just say he did take objection, and let’s just say he was the most formidable Lakota warrior that ever lived, and he pulled her out of the tipi by her hair and beat her unmercifully. The Lakota did not have any laws preventing him from doing this. The Lakota had no laws. A person could do whatever they wanted. Let’s say no men were willing to step in and stop this beating—that doesn’t matter in the long run.

He is shunned. No one will talk to him, not one person, not even his own wives or his parents. If he has sense, he will acquiesce in days, and make things right. If he is stubborn, it might take a couple weeks, but at some point, the shunning will correct his bad behavior. Not by the weapons of a warrior, but by the power of the matriarchs.

If the matriarchy was still in place, women would run everything local—the city council, county commission, school board, hospital board, even the local court system. Men would have say as matters drifted from home. In no system can you undo the physical power of men, or how this power cooperates and unifies men, so that the most powerful men are no longer the most powerful warriors, but have an even greater power—the power to control and direct the actions of the warrior collective.


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Exploring the depth of an ancient truth
James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com

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