The debate over marriage in American society and the fears expressed by some conservatives that allowing diversity will somehow destroy the institution of marriage has been interesting at some times amusing to watch. While there appear to be some who feel that there is only one kind of marriage, in reality there are many options regarding marriage. In order to provide some additional depth to an understanding of the complexity of human marriage, I would like to discuss traditional Native American marriage. First, however, a caution: at the beginning of the European invasion there were several hundred separate and distinct Indian cultures, each with their own view of marriage. In American society, part of the discussion about marriage is really about sex. While sex was a part of traditional Native American marriage, marriage was not about sex. Prior to marriage, young people were expected to engage in sexual activities. Sex was not confined to marriage. One of the things that upset many of the early Christian missionaries was the fact that Indian women were allowed to express their sexuality and to choose their own sexual partners. Among some contemporary American commentators, there is a view that there are only two genders: male and female.
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The Wendat Huron are an Aboriginal people whose descendants live in four communities across North America — in Quebec, Michigan, Kansas and Oklahoma — and separately across the continent. Their ancestors of the 17 th century became well-known in Europe because of the writings of Jesuit missionaries who lived with them. Obviously, a Catholic order of men sworn to celibacy might not seem the best source for talking about the sex life of an entire people, but the Jesuit drive for encyclopedic knowledge about their mission charges has made them a good source on this topic, nonetheless. The Wendat formed a loose confederacy of four smaller nations or tribes: the Bear, Cord, Rock and Deer. They were a horticultural people, growing corn, beans and squash, which probably made up over two-thirds of their diet, the rest comprising fish, fruit and meat, fundamentally in that order. Most of the work of their horticulture — the planting, weeding, harvesting and grinding — was done by women. The most important social unit was the clan, a unit determined matrilineally.
More sex. More violence. And even a plethora of sexually-transmitted diseases. While the rest of America observes the Corps of Discovery's Bicentennial with scale model keelboats and Sacajawea dolls, a handful of historians and Native Americans are taking note of the seamier aspects of this historical odyssey. These tales are likely to be drowned out by the steady rumble of million tourists tracking the explorer's trail between Monticello and Puget Sound, but they have persisted for the last two centuries. And before one thinks it's all a scandalous hoax perpetrated by revisionists, its best to take the stories back to the source: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The Corps of Discovery's inventory also suggests the men were prepared to do more than share peace medals and trinkets with the natives. Penis syringes, salves, and other items were taken to treat syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She says the Corps of Discovery's crew were mostly men in their 20s and 30s. They had to be full of passion," she says.
The debate over marriage in American society and the fears expressed by some conservatives that allowing diversity will somehow destroy the institution of marriage is ever evolving. While there appears to be some who feel that there is only one kind of marriage, in reality there are many options regarding marriage. Traditional Native American marriage is one of the unique types that is interesting to explore.