A People’s History – Chapter 1, on women in Native American society

Here is Zinn on women’s role in Iroquois society:

Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal. That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives’ families. Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women. The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: “Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society.” (Zinn 20)

And here is Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom  regarding the Native Americans around the Virginia colonies:

House and furniture alike could be put together without heavy labor. Building them was women’s work.

Men provided clothing in the form of skins taken in the hunt. But Indians, like well-to-do Englishmen, apparently regarded hunting as sport. Hunting grounds might be some distance from the village; and when hunting season came round, the whole tribe picked up and moved, the women preceding the men in order to build temporary housing. The hunt itself was a cooperative venture among the men, in which they set fire to an area, enclosing a group of deer or driving them into the water, where they could be killed from canoes. The men were also in charge of fishing, which they did with weirs and nets, as well as with spears and hooks. But the Virginia Indians did not rely on hunting or fishing for most of their food. They relied principally on the nuts and fruits they gathered and on the corn, beans, and squashes or melons that they grew. Tending the crops was also women’s work.

Indeed, nearly any activity that could be designated as work at all was left to the women. They were the principal means of production in Indian Virginia, Having acquired a wife (for whom he may have had to pay a bride price), a man counted on her to support him. He could make canoes, weapons, and weirs without losing his dignity, but the only other labor he ordinarily engaged in was clearing fields for planting, and the method employed made this less than arduous. Clearing consisted merely of girdling the trees and burning brush around them to hasten their death. The next year the women worked the ground between the trees, using a crooked stick as a hoe and planting corn, beans, squash, and melons all together in little hills. (Morgan 51)

Edmund S. Morgan is not some far right wing or some obscure irrelevant historian. He was Emeritus Professor of History at Yale University, where he taught from 1955 to 1986. Additionally, Morgan is directly quoted by Zinn no less than five times through A People’s History of the United States.