First Advisor

Patricia A. Schechter

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Colonialism, Sexuality, Oppositional conformity, Paiute, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins -- 1844?-1891 -- Political activity, Indian women -- North America -- Social conditions, Imperialism -- Social aspects -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 142 pages)


Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute Indian born around the year 1844, crossed cultural boundaries and became an influential voice within both white and Indian societies. This thesis employs a settler colonial framework that places the sexuality and rape of native women at the center of colonial relations in the settlement of the Americas. Viewed through this lens I perform an in-depth analysis of Winnemucca's gendered critique of colonialism that focused on sexual violence. Rather than the unstable, mixed messages of native resistance and assimilation emphasized by earlier scholars, I argue that Winnemucca purposefully employed a strategy of oppositional conformity to publicize an unwavering political message that championed Paiute sovereignty, exposed white cruelty, and re-wrote the dominant gendered, racial, political and cultural constructs that bound Native American women's identity. The introduction begins with a brief history of Winnemucca's life and accomplishments. In the introduction I also address the authenticity of Winnemucca's published narrative, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883) and identify the constraints of the settler colonial lens through which I view Winnemucca's public voice. In chapter one I argue that Winnemucca's narrative employs the gendered moral rhetoric of the colonizer to cultivate white audience receptiveness, while simultaneously criticizing whites for their brutality against Indians. In chapter two I assert that Winnemucca employed multiple political strategies to cut away at Euro-American settlers' moral justifications for colonialism, and that she articulated a unique vision of Paiute citizenship that rejected complete Indian assimilation. In chapter three I highlight the ways in which Winnemucca used her public voice to articulate rape and the sexuality of Indian women as a foundational part of colonialism hidden from view in the media coverage of the Indian wars of the late nineteenth century. Unlike her biographers, who mostly overlook Winnemucca's public challenge to the negative sexual stereotypes that plagued Indian women during Winnemucca's lifetime, I argue that Indian women's sexuality was a foundational theme in Winnemucca's public discourse. Winnemucca grasped and resisted the gendered dimensions of colonialism and her consistent focus on this theme echoed in her lived reality. Finally, I conclude that ultimately personal accusations as well as her inability to escape the heathen identity forced on Indians by Christian reformers thwarted the success of Winnemucca's political message.


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Portland State University. Dept. of History

Persistent Identifier