Rejecting Eve: Reception of Christianity Among Cherokee and Iroquois Women


  • Emily Matta Wichita State University


Native American women, Cherokee, Iroquois, Christianity, Christian missionaries, Degonwadonti, Molly Brant, Nanyehi, Nancy Ward


Christianity and the values it espoused were antithetical to traditional Iroquoian and Cherokee values. Women experienced similar social, economic, political, and religious authority within their respective societies. Their experiences in regard to Christianity, however, differed, although acceptance of missionaries in both societies was more for political and economic reasons rather than a genuine interest in Christianity. Iroquois women were profoundly suspicious of missionaries and consistently rejected Christianity. Huron and Algonquian adoptees with prior experience in established missions warned their new brethren that the presence of missionaries served as a prelude to European expansion, disease, and war. Cherokee women perceived Christianity and the civilization mission it carried with it as a validation of the work in which they already engaged. They remained outwardly more receptive but maintained aspects of their traditional spirituality. Both societies combatted Christianity’s attempt to subjugate women and struggled to maintain the gender balance so central to their cultures. These traditional powers held by women, and their resistance to a forced transition to patriarchy, are exemplified by two Native women: Degonwadonti, or Molly Brant (Mohawk), and Nanyehi, or Nancy Ward (Cherokee).