The article was written by professor and curator Robin Beck, along with colleagues Rachel Briggs, Christopher Rodning, and David Moore.


Native women in Indigenous-Western colonial entanglements are often portrayed as passive agents with little transformative social power in an otherwise dynamic landscape. However, Native women throughout the European colonial world many times controlled the most important resource required by European colonists: the knowledge and materials necessary to transform raw materials into “food.” Their control over this invaluable resource provided Native women with avenues of power both within their own societies and in European colonies. Here, we explore constructions and perceptions of Native women's power during the period of sixteenth-century Spanish expeditions into the Carolina Piedmont and mountains by reviewing documentary data from entradas led by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo, as well as archaeological data from the Indigenous town of Joara and the Spanish colonial outpost of Cuenca and Fort San Juan at the Berry site (31BK22), located near Morganton, North Carolina. Employing an Indigenous feminist framework, we argue that the power vested in Native women through their own societies, as well as by Spaniards through their dependence on them for survival, provided Native women with far greater agency and power in entanglements with Spanish colonists, and interactions with European colonists more broadly, than previously recognized.

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