Native American Healing Music Update: The Role of Women

My research has led me to explore the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. I’ve listened to most of the available recorded music that they have from Folkway Festivals and ethnographer field work. While listening to this music and looking through field notes, I began to note a pattern in Native American Healing and Ceremonial Music. Much of the music that is available consists of male vocalists and instrumentalists. However, the more late the date of the recording, say the 1990’s versus the 1920’s, the more female vocalists are featured within the repertoire. After noticing this phenomenon I also happened upon an article published by the Smithsonian that focused on the ways in which women have been largely ignored over history in the recording and research of Native American Music. This concept is interesting to me, as I am someone who is quite supportive of women’s empowerment and advancement, so I want to follow this pattern of information and see where it takes me in regards to learning about how and why Native American women have gained more ground in music in the recent years.


Unfortunately, the interview contacts I made earlier in the year for this project have not gotten back to me. I still hope to be able to conduct a few interviews before the summer is over, but with the work I am doing, I do not think it will make or break the project. As I have gotten deeper into the project, I have realized my methodology changing from what I originally thought it would be. I have been doing heavy archival work which has provided a substantive amount of information. Research has taught me that you must be flexible, because the ways in which you think you are going to seek information in the beginning of the project often change.


As the goal of this summer research is to assist me with my Honors Thesis, I have realized I’m not going to have the entire thesis topic fleshed out by the end of the summer because it is an ever changing project. Therefore, I have decided to focus on either a particular ethnographer in the field that capitalized on women in Native American Music or a Native American woman that changed the way music is sung, played, etc. That is what I will present on September. I am hoping to select that person by next week (stay tuned for that exciting update!) The person I chose could end up being a large part of my Honors Thesis topic, but only time can tell that.


  1. Simran Rohatgi says:

    This sounds like really interesting research! Do you have any idea whether the lack of female vocalists in older recordings shows that females didn’t play as big of a role in Native American music during this time, or that the preservation of the music as recordings was biased toward males for some reason?

  2. This is quite interesting. Is it possible to tell if any of the instrumentalist pieces were played by woman? Or are there ‘gendered’ songs to speak that only woman or only men sing?

  3. ngaiyueng says:

    The research topic sounds amazing. I’m curious about the music performer’s social roles. It’s natural to think about the music as a part of the medical treatment from what it is called. Is the music performed by the “doctors” or Shaman? Can performers’ roles explain the lack of female vocalists?