Of all of the different approaches and attitudes towards menstruation, the Native Americans had it right in so many ways – well, in my opinion. Unlike the European American Christians who ultimately drove Native Americans off of their lands, and largely away from their rituals, menstruation was by no means a biblical curse to the Indians. (In those early American Christian fundamentalist sects, if a woman wasn’t pregnant in, she wasn’t in her natural state.)
In fact, in many North American native tribes, menstruation involved a strong oral tradition, rituals, ceremonies and more. While women might have been restricted from cooking or sleeping with men during her period, this had nothing to do with shame. In fact, many Native American women were treated with an amazing amount of reverence when they were menstruating.
As I mentioned in my other post about ancient menstrual rites, a lot of the belief in a woman’s capacity for other worldly powers stemmed from her ability to bleed, oftentimes profusely, without dropping dead. Some tribes actually believed that women were the embodiment of a holy person during their periods. Others believed that women’s bodies were purifying themselves during this time.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, is that many tribes believed women were more powerful, spiritually, during their periods – and that they even had special intuitive powers. Some Native American tribe members would call upon menstruating women for their advice, insight, guidance, or to connect them to higher powers.
Menstrual huts were also big amongst the Native American tribes. During the heaviest four days of their period, wives would leave their homes and go to this separate menstrual lodge to commune with other women. Since women tend to mense together, these lodges were often quite full and the women inside we encouraged to engage in some serious “girl time” by discussing female issues and indulging in creative pursuits like storytelling and arts and crafts.
Plus, when a girl would hit puberty in a Native American tribe, it was nothing like the shame and secrecy we experience today. Native American puberty rituals were big celebratory events for a village. Early European settlers noted that the Cheyenne and Apache tribes were particularly open about menstruation – often announcing a girl’s first period to the entire village with pride. Imagine if your dad broadcast your first period all over Facebook. How different we are!