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Former Navajo tribal chairman Peter Mac Donald explains Navajo polygyny this way: “A man would marry a woman, then work hard for his family.
If she had a sister who was not married, and if the man proved to be caring, a good provider, and a good husband, he would be gifted with his wife’s sister, marrying her as well.” Among many of the tribes a widow often married her deceased husband’s brother – a practice which anthropologists call the levirate.
There were in traditional societies male and female homosexuals and transvestites who played important spiritual and ceremonial roles.
These individuals were seen as being an important part of the community.
Traditional Native American cultures tended to be egalitarian: all people were equal.
This is one of the things that bothered many of the early Christian Missionaries, particularly the Jesuits in New France, as they viewed marriage as a relationship in which the woman subjugated herself to the man. Polygyny-the marriage of one man to more than one woman at the same time-was fairly common throughout North America.
Indian societies were not organized on the patriarchal, monogamous norms of European society.
There was not an either/or concept of being heterosexual or homosexual.
While sex was a part of traditional Native American marriage, marriage was not about sex.
Prior to marriage, young people were expected to engage in sexual activities. The Europeans, and particularly the missionaries, had a great deal of difficulty in understanding that women had power in Indian society and that they had the right to sexual freedom.
In some cases a man would marry sisters – a practice that anthropologists call sororal polygyny.
In general, sisters tended to get along better than unrelated co-wives as sisters usually did not fight.