Getting your first period is a big deal for girls. Imagine if your entire community knew about it?
Some of us grew up in a world of privacy and shame around menstruation – and puberty in general – while others celebrate this life-changing event with friends and family.
This relatively simple doll, made of cotton and dressed in buckskin and beads, was used by the Apache to teach girls about the rite of passage to womanhood. This is typically marked by a celebration the summer after a girl’s first period.
Called the Na’ii’ees, or the Sunrise Ceremony, girls go through a rigorous four day journey of spiritual and social awakening to prepare them for their role in the community as a woman and potential wife and mother. They dance, run, sing, and perform rituals.
It is noteworthy that this ceremony, like all Native gatherings, was banned by the US government for over 70 years. The Apache were only allowed to congregate in early July to celebrate US Independence Day.
Enabling young people, especially girls, to be strong and powerful in their beliefs is as important now as it was when performed over 100 years ago. However, due to centuries of oppression, the poverty that many Native Americans live in has taken its toll on these ceremonies. So many girl combine their Sunrise Ceremonies to share costs, or forgo the experience altogether. The loss of ceremonies like these, which bind girls to their spiritual pasts and to their present families and communities, has taken its toll on Native cultures. This doll is a legacy both of strong girl power and the stripping of that power by others.
-Ashley E. Remer
Girl Museum Inc.
This post is part of our 52 Objects in the History of Girlhood exhibition. Each week during 2017, we explore a historical object and its relation to girls’ history. Stay tuned to discover the incredible history of girls, and be sure to visit the complete exhibition to discover the integral role girls have played since the dawn of time.