Shirts Powdered Red: Iroquois Women And The Politics Of Consumer Civility, 1614-1860

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Female consumers seem familiar to the point of stereotype, but the shopping Indian is unexpected. Consumer culture has been constructed as antithetical to the pre-modern, natural and fictional idealized Indian. Iroquois women in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries purchased many of the same clothes and fabrics as contemporary non-indigenous consumers, but transformed them in evolving ways that asserted indigenous sovereignty, traditional values and cultural strength. In the nineteenth century reservation period, both nonindigenous "reformers" and Iroquois leaders focused on women's labor and purchasing choices as the heart of Iroquois self-definition: to change women's work was to change the nation. I argue that Iroquois women's consumer choices played a pivotal role in shaping their nations' engagement with expanding colonial settlements, in preserving distinct tribal identities in the face of religious and political pressure, and in crafting a modern indigenous community with traditional values. This project begins with a shirt and ends with a dress-the shirt bought in the seventeenth century by a woman who minimized her daily work load by purchasing clothing rather than making it, and the dress made two hundred years later by a woman who attended college and argued that the best way for Iroquois people to preserve the remainder of their lands was to show Americans how modern Iroquois traditions were. Iroquois spatial mobility and control of their territories made sources of trade goods easily accessible without allowing European traders unsupervised access to Iroquois homelands. Unlike many other eastern Native groups, the Iroquois were able to maintain the integrity of their home territories well into the eighteenth century and negated settler attempts to coerce change in their communities through education and conversion, instead strategically inviting and directing change in ways to help maintain their sovereignty.

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Native American; gender; consumer history


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Union Local


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Parmenter, Jon W

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Jordan, Kurt Anders
Norton, Mary Beth
Weil, Rachel Judith

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Ph. D., History

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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