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social sciences

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Native Americans  
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Female Berdaches

Some characteristics of male berdache roles are paralleled in similar roles for females--in particular, mixed-gender activities, religious associations, and sexuality. However, a broader frame of reference is needed to appreciate the diversity of women's lives in the native North America. At least three patterns of role variation can be identified, of which a named, alternative gender identity is just one.

Throughout the region from New England to the Southeast that was occupied by Algonkian-speakers, women sometimes became chiefs through kinship or marital connections. The Spaniards and English referred to them as "queens." In New England, Algonkian queens, or sunksquaw, were key figures in native uprising known as King Philip's War from 1675-1676. They were not, however, reported to have cross-dressed, and they married men.

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A second pattern of native women's gender difference can be seen in the informal but widespread participation of women in hunting and warfare. In the strife-torn Plains, women's participation in war parties--and their frequent success--was such that distinct societies existed for women who had counted "coup" (killed or otherwise bested an enemy). Some Plains women, such as Running Eagle, or Pitamakan, of the Piegan, and Woman Chief of the Crows, who led war parties and married four women, earned places of honor in tribal memory.

In the East and Plains, only the Algonkian-speaking Illinois and Cheyenne are known to have had female berdaches, called ickoue ne kioussa among the former (women, according to a French report, who "will not hear of a husband, through a principle of debauchery"), and hetanemane'o, among the latter. It is in the Far West--the Columbian Plateau, Great Basin, Southwest, and California--that female berdaches were most common.

Alternative gender females, women chiefs, and women warriors were prominent figures in some tribes. Qánqon, the Kutenai female berdache, or títqattek, was a mysterious but central player in the opening of the Northwest to the fur trade at a time when the British and Americans vied for control of the region.

The Apache woman warrior and shaman Lozen, and her female lover, fought with Geronimo's band in the 1880s in an episode of armed resistance to colonialism in North America. As Eve Ball reported her brother Victorio as saying, "Strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy, Lozen is a shield to her people."

Woman Chief, Running Eagle, Qánqon, along with male berdaches like Hastíín Klah and Osch-Tisch, all hold similar places in tribal memory. These berdaches represent an enduring cultural legacy of native North America.

Will Roscoe

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Jacobs, Sue-Ellen, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang, eds. Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Roscoe, Will. The Zuni Man-Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.

_____. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Roscoe, Will  
    Entry Title: Native Americans  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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