“She’s the Center of My Life, the One That Keeps My Heart Open”: Roles and Expectations of Native American Women

Jessica L. Liddell, Catherine E. McKinley, Hannah Knipp, Jenn Miller Scarnato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Historically, Native American (NA) mothers have proven essential to the survival of their families and communities, yet scant research has examined their roles today. Current gender roles in NA communities are influenced by historical oppression (both historic and contemporary forms) that acted to reverse matrilineal gender norms in favor of patriarchy. The present study sought to explore norms and expectations for women among two NA tribes located in the southeastern region of the United States. The framework of Historical Oppression, Resilience and Transcendence (FHORT), Hill-Collins’s concept of “motherwork,” and a framework of reproductive justice were used to frame the study and interpret findings. This critical ethnography included data from field notes, semistructured interviews, and focus groups. Reconstructive analysis, a specific type of thematic qualitative analysis for critical ethnographies, was used to interpret data. Participants from both tribes described themes related to the expectations and roles of mothers. These expectations included themes of (a) mothers as caretakers, (b) mothers as the centers of family and role models, (c) women to prioritize family over economic and educational aspirations, and (d) decolonizing norms for mothers. While historical oppression and patriarchal norms have constrained and regulated expectations for motherhood and the domestic roles of NA women, these findings also highlight how women decolonize these norms and find ways to reclaim their power through their roles as mothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-375
Number of pages19
JournalAffilia - Journal of Women and Social Work
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Indigenous
  • Native American
  • gender/sex
  • mothering
  • resilience


Dive into the research topics of '“She’s the Center of My Life, the One That Keeps My Heart Open”: Roles and Expectations of Native American Women'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this