Ending Heteropatriarchy in Pueblo communities.
By: Jennifer Marley
Reflecting the National demographic, women make up more than half of the total population in my community. With a population just under 800, The Pueblo of San Ildefonso remains one of the eight Northern Pueblos esteemed for its preservation of cultural practices, yet obvious societal and political ailments continue to plague the citizens of my Pueblo. The impacts of ongoing colonial violence are felt by all Native communities; among these impacts is disproportionate violence against Woman and LBGTQ2+. Although the violence clearly directed at femininity remains rampant, we are constantly told “woman are the backbone” of our traditional world.
I seek to attain a deeper understanding of gendered violence amongst Pueblo people, my upbringing left me with unanswered questions about the stark inconsistencies that I and my loved ones have experienced. Coming from a family of mostly woman who had been scarred by domestic violence, yet always participated in ceremonial activities, I found solace in ceremonial life, yet also witnessed the undermining of the Woman and two-spirit voices in these spaces. I want to explore the unique and contradictory ways in which gendered violence has manifested in Pueblo societies and the way it lead to the racialization and gendering of Pueblo identity.
All Pueblo societies were once “Matrilineal”, with the inheritance of clans and property always coming from the mother’s side. The primary creator deity, to which all medicine societies hold in highest regard, is simply referred to as “The Mother”. These aspects of our once matrilineal societies are still present along with many other practices upholding the sacredness of femininity, yet they are juxtaposed by the now male dominate governance structures. Imposed stigmas on Woman and Queer Individuals, and norms and expectations informed by heteropatriarchy are now normalized.
The instillation of violent patriarchal norms and attitudes can be traced back to the double conquest that Pueblo people—unlike many other Indigenous peoples in the North Americas, experienced. For Pueblo people, surviving Spanish conquest and US occupation has required acculturation in ways that almost always centered our relationship to land, governance and gender. Spanish settlement depended on the dissolving of Indigenous governance structures to assert the authority of the Spanish crown. A vast majority of the Indigenous Nations that Spaniards encountered based their governance structures on Matriarchal or bi-lateral systems. It is for this reason that violence upon queer and feminine bodies was used a primary tactic for the obliteration of Indigenous governance structures.
The targeting of woman continued to serve as a tool of conquest, as lore and legacies justifying conquest and Machismo culture progressed. Pueblo gender norms can be seen as a massive project spanning throughout Mexico and South America. In the book Native hubs, the author explains that Indigenous woman became sexualized to create a narrative of settler Nation building. This trope of Indigenous woman reduced them to a personified union of cultures, Ignorant, and contacted to rural spaces. One icon associated with the “union of cultures” is La Malinche, the Indigenous girl kidnapped and raped by Hernan Cortez, used as an infiltrator to aid in further conquest. La Malinche is revered here in the Pueblos with many communities still performing the Matachina dance; a reenactment of the Marriage of the Malinche and Cortez. La Malinche is often referred to as “The Mexican Pocahontas”, author Renya Ramirez describes this as an attempt to “place woman in a second-class category as submissive to the dominant European male, who stalks them in accordance to male norms of conquest.”
The aspiration to Europeanization was a struggle for power for the Pueblo man in the aftermath of the Pueblo revolt. The Industry of sex slavery became the basis for most of Northern New Mexico’s economy. The selling and trading of Native woman was something that Pueblo men themselves engaged in as a means of asserting agency and acquiring wealth. This history remains deeply coveted and taboo, as it was not something that was done enthusiastically, however such instances are inextricably linked to the restructuring of Pueblo governments by Spanish colonial law. The displacement of Women and Two-spirit people from positions of power was something non-negotiable in order for Tribes to assert any kind of autonomy when interacting with Spanish settlers. Conquistadores refused to acknowledge any leader that was not a man, and they also refused to speak to councils and collectives forcing a hierarchy of power.
The acquisition of land via the bodies of Native woman has been the lynchpin for the both the Spanish and US colonial projects. The Infamous Indian killer Andrew Jackson suggested that the intermarriage between white settlers and Native Woman would result in the assimilation of Native peoples and thus the assimilation of Native lands. This differed from the logic that backed the Mestizo identity because rather than putting forth the idea of a “blend of cultures”, Jackson asserted that Indigenous peoples could be bred white. The idea that whiteness could somehow overpower or dilute Indigeneity on a biological level is what lead to the creation of the blood quantum system, a system also crafted to place Indigenous people on an inevitable trajectory toward total disappearance. The idea that one could become distanced from indigeneity by having a non-Indian father was completely invalid to most Indigenous Nations.
Kinship was the primary indicator of belonging in Pueblo societies, and this kinship was traced through the maternal clan. Although many Pueblo people had long been a product of relations between Indigenous people and Spaniards— including the revolutionary PoPay— “mixed” children where never seen as “less Pueblo” in essence. Only when the legitimacy of tribal sovereignty, National identity, and the possibility of loss of federal recognition became dependent on blood quantum, did Pueblo people begin to cling to it a primary identity marker. This coupled with the patriarchal structure that has been instilled into Pueblo governance, both traditional and non-traditional, resulted in a stigma toward woman who bore children with a non-Indian father or who simply bore a child outside of a Catholic marriage.
Along with cultural participation, conservative Catholic values are conflated with representing one’s self as “essentially pueblo”, for Women this means a suppression of leadership, intellect, sexuality, and autonomy. If we seek to uphold our sacred way of life we must acknowledge that hostile and demining attitudes toward women and two spirt individuals are attitudes instilled by conquest that have been living through our own people and practices, continuing a cycle of violence.
I believe that in order to combat the political and social strife that remains rampant in Pueblo communities we must be critical of heteropatriarchy and the hierarchies it upholds at all levels of Pueblo society. The presence of Heteropatriarchy not only obstructs our understanding of identity and ourselves, it also continues to permeate the most sacred knowledge and practices that Pueblo people so deeply pride themselves in retaining. When old stories stop being told and ceremonies are lost in the pursuit of erasing powerful feminine and two-spirit deities, historical figures, and contemporary leaders we all lose what grounds us in our creation narratives, kinship, and sense of belonging by pre-colonial standards.
· Forbes, J. D. (2000). Blood quantum: A relic of racism and termination. The People’s Voice, 1-2.
· Jacobsen, K. M. (2017). The sound of Navajo country: music, language, and Diné belonging. NC: University of North Carolina Press.
· Norcini, M. (2005). The Political Process of Factionalism and Self-Governance at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 149(4), 544-590.
· McQuade, L. (2008). Reframing reproductive oppression: medical research into mortality at San Juan Pueblo. UCLA Center for the Study of Women.
· Ramirez, R. K. (2007). Native hubs: Culture, community, and belonging in Silicon Valley and beyond. Duke University Press.
· Sturm, C. (2002). Blood politics: Race, culture, and identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Univ of California Press.