John Nieto Southwest Original Art

Native American Matriarchal Societies

Women in Contemporary American Indian Art

“Mama knows best” is a timeless truth. It’s a reality that transcends cultures, racial differences, geographical barriers and speaks to the heart of the human condition. Even within patriarchal societies, women and the influence they operate over their children has been documented and celebrated. Within traditional Native American cultures, there were tribes that recognized the wisdom of women, but continued to keep men as the dominant ruling class and decision makers. However, other tribes like Cherokee and Navajo upheld a matriarchal society where women ruled.

The lineage was traced through the mother. In matriarchal societies, women held high places of honor within the society. Cherokee women for example, owned the homes, garden plots and passed them down to their daughters. The Cherokee Women’s Council also decided the men who were worthy to perform sacred duties and hold political office.

Navajo Indians also traced their lineage back through their mother, and women controlled the hogan that was left to her by her family. She also had total ownership of the children, sheep, livestock, jewelry, the blankets she wove and any income she made from personal trade. The authority of women was upheld and honored within many Native American tribes.

John Nieto paintings

Southwest artist John Nieto represents the prominence and importance women held in traditional Native American tribes in his contemporary American Indian art. Paintings like Turquoise Earring 2, Camille and  elegantly portray the dignity of women within Native American cultures. Each painting displays vibrant colors that clearly depict the strength and boldness of each feminine character. Each picture shows a poised and graceful women, while the rich paint strokes and striking colors characterize the inherent wisdom within each women.

Nieto’s paintings clearly express uplifting Native American concepts of femininity and womanhood. To see other paintings of Native American women from John Nieto, visit John Nieto’s online gallery here:

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