Gendered terms in Kalapuyan

This essay began some years ago when I was working on the Kalapuya lessons project with Esther Stutzman and her family. We discussed in our group the lack of gendered terms in the language. I was thinking perhaps we are just missing something, but even after consulting with Henry Zenk, an anthropological linguist who studies Kalapuyan, it is the case that the Kalapuyans did not use gendered terms. This is very unlike most people’s experiences with languages like French and Spanish, which have gendered articles for terms, and even English that uses pronouns like he and she, and his and hers. The notion that Kalapuyan does not have gendered terms makes some people struggle to realize that native peoples conceptualized their world differently than Europeans, or even other native peoples. This has become a perennial struggle for mainly white people, and those who have grown up in the white world, where everything is genderized. Also, it may be a struggle for gender “activists” today who propose different constructions for genders for many people in our society today, where gendered terms are now a choice and many are working to instill a system of showing people what you would like to be referred by in reference to gender. That single-gender, based on birth sex, is not absolute and that gender is a more fluid association for many people in society. (Forgive me but I am not a gender expert.) So as relearners of Kalapuyan we struggled with this issue in the language, because we knew the issue would arise, and I wrote some about this in three of the Kalapuyan Language lessons from 2018.

Kalapuyan lesson for 2/22/2018 (Santiam base)

Matuq ye kwauk? – Where is he/she?

Kwauk pi __[name]____ – He/she is ________

Kwauk Hasi – He/she is Here

Kwauk Kusi – He/she is There

Kwauk lakayo. – He/she is Far away

(there is no separate word for he or she as far as has been found, the word kwauk is he or she)


Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins 1841, Santiam Kalapuya chief

Kalapuyan lesson for 2/23/2018 (Santiam base)
Ye ponyeklna nishtenfai Miye kus? – Can you tell me who it is? Tumkwat _________ – My name is ______
Kwauk kwat _________ – His/her name is _________
Ma Kwat ______ – Your name is ____________
Kwinnik kwat _______ – Their names are ________
Tiamim – His people
Ta-amim – My people
Tommim – Relatives (my relatives)
Mitmi’imimi – It looks like a person.
Maliwi’ kamini – There are lots of people


Kalapuyan Lesson for 2/25/2018 (Santiam Base)
Sometimes gender can be determined by the activity, generally always men hunted in Kalapuyan culture.
Moki – Deer
Amoki- a deer, the deer
menma- men, people
Amenma- the men
Duma- Home
Gus- to go, went
Gus amenma gumi’ yuwel. – The men went hunting.
Kwauk kumhodn amoki. He/she saw a deer.
Kwamdahai gus amoki. – He/she killed a deer.
Kwamplatsatni tauna antausak tse amoki. – He/she shot an arrow at the deer.
Kwamawuki gus amoki duma – He/she brought the deer home.
Laumde, kwauk duwaqi gumtsakalwana gus amoki -Then his wife dried the venison meat

Above we see men hunting, and women preparing the meat, clearly gendered activities.

We know there are differences between men and women in tribal cultures in the region and even in Kalapuyan there were gendered activities. That woman would more often gather the plant foods and spend time around their homes, and raising children, while men would hunt and fish. In Kalapuyan culture women would set the prairie fires annually. Men would serve as tribal and band leaders. This may confuse many people who have learned that women would be leaders in other tribes and in some places owned the land and directed the males, such as is the case in many Algonkian tribes, but the notion that all native peoples were matriarchal is just not true as the majority of tribes in the region were heavily patriarchal.

This does not amount to male-domination, or misogynism, with men directing women in all things, but instead, there was a different balance with mainly men taking leadership roles. There are lots of figures in our region of women who have taken leadership roles, Sara Winnemucca of the Paiutes, and Indian Mary from the Rogue River tribes of Southern Oregon. But for the main, it is men who were the leaders in name and upfront action. There really was a problem with how history was recorded with males getting the majority of attention from white journalists and scholars, and so in this manner, the roles of the women were diminished. but then these historical ethnographers did not look deeply at the genders of native peoples much less this notion in their own society. Women had their roles too and could carry much power if they came from royal families.

Bride purchase was a thing as well with men generally gathering wealth to purchase women from their family. Women generally would go to the man’s band to live. In some cases this was reversed, such as in the case of the Coos tribe, apparently, men would go to live in Coos Bay because of the wealth of the area. And, the only place where gender was explored in early studies, as far as I am aware, was in the role and character of shamen, or Indian doctors. Many early scholars noted that some Indian doctors were multi-gendered, or of a third gender.

But for at least Kalapuyan, gendered terms were not really a thing. It may be that too that when the language was collected by the linguists, that they only collected from men and so avoided the women’s gender. But this too I discussed this with Henry and he says it is unlikely, particularly the way in which Kalapuyan was collected on Powell’s lists, which includes gendered terms.

I don’t know enough about the neighboring tribal languages to address gender more broadly. This may be an interesting cross-cultural study if some enterprising graduate student wants to research this further.

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