Native American Women

Native American history in indeed unique in its own right.  It is a collective culture of deep spirituality and beautiful art.  What is important to note is that Native Americans are one of the most important facets of American history.  Sacagawea and Pocahontas are two Native American women whose impact on American history lives on.

Sacagawea

Sacagawea was from the Shoshone tribe.  Although the exact origins of her name are unknown, some people believe it to have meant “bird woman,” citing a story that a flock of white birds had been flying overhead when she was born. 

During the late 1700s-early 1800s, it was common for Native American women to marry traders to promote commerce between these men and the respective tribes of these Native American women.  Thus, at just sixteen years old, Sacagawea was married to a French trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau.  They had two children, Jean Baptiste, and Lisette.

Explorers Lewis and Clark found her of much importance during their 1804-1806 expedition of the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.  In order to make it through the expedition, they would need an interpreter.  Toussaint Charbonneau was originally slated to be the interpreter, but they found that his Hidatsa was not all that good, and so Sacagawea became their interpreter as well as of importance in relating information about various geographical areas.  In addition when other Native American tribes saw that Lewis and Clark were traveling with a woman and small child (he son Jean Baptiste), they took the group as being peaceful, which led to safer traveling. 

Pocahontas

When one thinks of Pocahontas (which was a nickname -- her real name was Matoaka, which she later changed to Rebecca), one generally thinks of the supposed love affair with John Smith, but this is not necessarily true.  What is known is that she and John Smith were friends, and this friendship helped to clarify the fact that Native Americans were not barbarians.  Indeed, after her marriage to tobacco planter John Rolfe, Pocahontas was a very important link between the New World and England.  She was accepted with honor at the court of King James, and her efforts to ensure peace between the Virginia settlers and her people made her a legend, even after her early death (she was in her early twenties) in 1617.

Sacagawea and Pocahontas were two truly exceptional Native American women.  Their resourcefulness and intelligence promoted peace between two different cultures who may not have considered such a notions otherwise.  They also educated people in the ways of their cultures.  Indeed, Sacagawea and Pocahontas will forever be important to both American History and their respective Native American cultures.

Joseph Paige 2006

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