Sarah Winnemucca born in the Nevada State Territory in 1844 represented not only the struggles of Native American Women in her work but also that of Native Americans as a whole. As a member of the Piute tribe and the daughter of the War Chief she had a very unique opportunity to observe many aspects of the treatment of Native Americans by pale face. In her work “Life among the Piutes” she felt it was her duty to stand up for her people. She says “I mean to fight for my down-trodden race while life lasts."
Sarah Winnemucca wrote a letter to Ely Samuel Parker in 1870 in which she explains to him the conditions in which her people had already endured on the Truckee Reservation. She says “If this is the kind of civilization waiting for us on the reserve, God grant that we may never be compelled to go on one." This speaks to the seriousness of the mistreatment of her people that was experienced there. Even in this letter she shows the strength of a Native American woman in a time when militancy was not encouraged in any woman. Sarah stood up and fought hard for what she believed. It was not until her “Life among the Piutes” was published did you get a full understanding of the endurance and strength of the women of her tribe.
The Native American Woman
In her story she speaks of the women’s hard work “the women went to work gathering wild seed, which they grind between rocks.” She shows their strength in taking care of their families. Sarah speaks of the courage her mother mustered trying to get them away from the white people who they believed were trying to kill them. Her aunt came up with the idea to save Sarah and her cousin saying to their mother “Let us bury our girls, or we shall all be killed and eaten up." In her story she puts women almost on equal footing with the men. Sarah shows that their role in the family is a very important one. They seem to be the backbone of their tribes much like women of our day. The old women in her story showed great faith in their chief. After he speaks to them about a dream he has about the death and destruction of many of his people; he tells them they all need to flee to the mountains. The old women say “It is true what our great chief has said, for it was shown to him by a higher power. It is not a dream. Oh, surely it will come to pass." This shows that they followed their leader and knowingly did as directed. They gossiped and spread their beliefs throughout the tribe so that everyone knew what was coming. This represents the power of elder women that she viewed.
Young Native American Women
When she speaks of young women in the story she talks about how they are not allowed to talk to any young man that is not their cousin. They courted in the spring much like the days of yesteryear for us. They are portrayed as very respectable women who knew their place. They knew the correct way to find love and have relationships. These were all things taught to them by their parents.
The flower dance is a ritual where they meet with their hearts delight. It seems like a time for all girls to be filled with happiness and peace. Sarah shows that even though there are struggles to come that life is still enjoyable. She goes on to talk about meetings of the council and once again the women are shown as intelligent people. They are able to bring something to the meetings. They are asked for their advice in important matters. They are also never far away when war arises. If they need to carry their husbands off if they are wounded are killed they do and even go into the front ranks to cheer them on. She even speaks of one woman who takes her uncle’s place in the war and is just as brave as any man.
During the “Yakima Affair” she speaks with Maj Cochran about taking her people to Yakima reservation. Sarah knows the fate that awaits them if they try to move them in the winter cold. She says “What! In this cold winter and in all this snow and my people have so many little children? Why, they will all die." Sarah has portrayed throughout this body of work the strength and purpose of the Native American woman.