Leadership in Public Arenas

Men appeared to be band leaders and principal chiefs of band alliances. To what degree this can be attributed to European observers' expectations, traders' selection of spokesmen, and conquering governments' appointment of spokesmen at treaties and on reservations, cannot be evaluated. Wissler remarked that when a White man stepped into the Indian's world. . .it was a red man who met him at the threshold because it was his habit to stand between his women and the stranger. Two or more centuries of experience had convinced him that the white man rarely looked upon an Indian woman disinterestedly and he had accordingly built up a set of rules and regulations which forbade his women to speak to a strange man. (Wissler, 1938/1971, p. 205)

In another passage, Wissler described an elder couple, both of them leaders:

Wolf Chief [the husband] had a methodical mind [and was]. . .a keen questioner. . .possessed of a superior mind. . ."Mother-of-all" was [his wife's] real name, and appropriate. . .the finest of women.

Her countenance was feminine, but with the stamp of leadership. Her carriage was graceful but always expressing dignity. . . . Though always dignified and high-minded had a sense of humor. . . . Wolf Chief also had a sense of humor. . . [He] was obviously proud of his wife, but like many a man married to a genius, was not always comfortable when she held the center of the stage . . . [At a feast for two girls of prominent families] Mother-of-all whose presence had been conspicuous during the proceedings of the morning . . . standing to one side upon a little eminence, leaning upon a long staff. She wore an elk-skin dress, decorated with elk teeth, the prized jewelry of her culture. . . . Apparently she was wrapped in meditation and about to begin a harangue . . . it was expected that some one, preferably an old woman, address the assembly at this time. . . . She began, speaking slowly and in well-formed sentences . . . on the level of oratory. (Wissler, 1938/1971, pp. 277-289)

It seems that the principle of respect for personal autonomy allowed both men and women of ability and self-confidence to act as leaders in appropriate situations. Demonstrated knowledge and skill, self-disciplined dignity, restraint, and generosity, and what Wissler termed a mind keen to grasp and analyze, were qualities of leaders, man or woman.

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