In the early days of the Europeans settling of this “new land,” there were more peaceful interactions than conflicts. These new settlers would not have survived had it not been for Squanto, a Wampanoag who was kidnapped and brought to England in 1664.
While in Europe, Squanto learned English which was a key factor in helping the Pilgrims in 1620 when he returned to his native land. The Pilgrims learned to plant and use many of the Indian ways of life for survival in this new land. The Indian clothing and diet including corn and potatoes was introduced to the colonists.
The use of the forest trails, water ways, snow shoes, sleds, kayaks and canoes, herbal medicines, new foods — sweet potatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, different kinds of beans and the cooking of turkey are only a few of the kinds of things that the colonies found to benefit their new way of life.
The Indians did not purposely teach these new-comers, but the habits and ways of life of the Indian proved to be very useful for the survival of the white man in this incredibly new and strange environment of forests and natural resources. Our language has adopted many Indian words and names. Looking at the history of many states, there is overwhelming evidence of the influence of the Indians’ usage of words.
The way of life of the Indian in their own society to maintain their individual rights and freedoms, and to distribute powers has had a profound influence on our own Constitution, yet very little of this is mentioned in our history books.
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE INDIANS
Indian families joined together creating bands. Band size depended on the number of families in a local area.
This could range anywhere from 20 to 300 people. Each band would choose either an older person that had great wisdom to be a leader or they would choose different leaders of different abilities to handle different kinds of problems. Bands that were in the same general location would group together as a tribe.
Each tribe had one leader as a chief or there would be two chiefs, one for war time and another during peace time. Decisions effecting the tribe were made only after there was a meeting of the council — older members of the band who were considered to have great wisdom. Different tribes would join together to make a Confederacy a unique union of basic principles that are presently held in high regard within our own Constitution.
The Iroquois League is believed to have been the largest Indian Federation in the New World. The League was made up of five tribes: the Cayugas, the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Senecas, and the Onondagas.
It is believed that a Huron mystic, Deganawidah, and his follower, Hiawatha (Onondaga) organized a Federation in the 1500s. Deganawidah dreamed of a mighty tree of “Great Peace.” This tree had the support of roots of the five Indian tribes. Unity among all tribes was promoted. They were governed by a council that had an oral constitution with democracy, even in its simplest form, based on high principles. Each tribe took care cl its own individual concerns. Yet what affected all of the league, the Council decided. Each nation (or tribe) had a council of delegates called sachems who were elected to the Geats of the council. The five tribal nations had a total of 50 sachems, with Onondaga having the most seats — fourteen.
The grand Council discussed issues of common concern and after much oratory and diplomacy which was a v I cd process. Power and responsibility spread throughout the council as the individual councils of each nation dealt with the individual matters with unanimous decisions.
Since there were no courts of law, the chiefs from the five nations settled disputes. Women had much power, power to choose chiefs and to depose them. Women could also nominate tribal council members and remove them from their positions if there was any misbehavior. Women had the final decisions as to what happened to captives.
Thus, women were active “behind the scenes.” The tribes lived as far north as what is now known as Ontario, as far south a: what is now known as Virginia and as west as what is now known as Michigan and Illinois. Later, in the 1700s, a tribe came north after being forced out of the Carolinas. This was the Tuscarora tribe — the sixth tribe. The League forged a long-lasting peace among the six tribes and formed an effective political single government which we hold high in our system of politics.
The distrust for established authority or the penchant of helping those in need was strong in the roots of the Indian culture. Universal suffrage for both men and women, and the right of states/tribes are strong in the Indian traditions. That chiefs became servants of the people they served rather than masters and that the tribe must respect differences within the tribes are concepts that existed long before Columbus.
So who learned from whom? Benjamin Franklin marveled at the effectiveness of the Iroquois Federation:
“It would be a very strange thing if six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable: of forming a scheme for such a Union… and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English Colonies, to whom it is more necessary.”
THE TRANSLATIONS OF PORTIONS OF THE “GREAT LAW OF PEACE” OF THE SIX NATION LEAGUE
The Iroquois Confederacy was formed with great ideas and principles which were not translated into English until about the 1800s.
The originator of the idea of a federal union with lasting peace among all kinds of tribes was Deganawidah, a Huron who lived in what is now eastern Ontario. He stuttered so badly that it was hard for him to express his ideas to the tribes as he wandered around. In tribes where oratory was greatly treasured and used, Deganawidah could hardly talk to share his great ideas.
Meeting Hiawatha changed this frustration An Indian leader, Hiawatha was willing to do the speaking and to conduct long negotiations with the Indian tribal nations. He shared Deganawidah’s vision, translated as THE GREAT LAW OF PEACE. Untranslated: KAIANEREKOWA. The Great Law of Peace uses the metaphor of a great white pine. The roots and the branches become the unity of the league.
The tree and the main council fire of the confederacy were located on the Onondaga Nation (now Syracuse, New York). The text of the Great Law holds some of the same concepts the founding fathers had for the U.S. Constitution: “Roots have spread out…one to the north, one to the west, one to the east and one to the south.
These are the Great White Roots and their nature is peace and strength. If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and shall make this known to the statesmen of the League, they may trace; back the roots to the tree. If their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Council of the League, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.” This opening statement established the basis for the confederacy.
What in U.S. history parallels this with the thirteen colonists?
The following describes procedures for the confederacy’s complex system of checks and balances:
“The counsel of the Mohawks shall be divided into three parties …the first party shall listen only to the discussion of the second and third parties and if an error is made, or the proceeding irregular, they are to call attention to it, and when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties, they shall confirm the decision and refer the case to the Seneca statesmen…. When the Seneca… have decided in accord with the Mohawk statesmen, the case.., shall be referred to the Cayuga and Oneida statesmen on the opposite side of the house.”
The Great Law ensured that nothing would be acted upon by the Council of the League without all five represented nations, each dismissing the matter by itself first, each nation having a specific role, much like that of the two-house U.S. Congress.
One portion of the Great Law provides for change:
“If the conditions which arise at any future time call for an addition to or a change of this law, the case shall be carefully considered and if a new beam seems necessary or beneficial, the proposed change shall be decided upon and, is adopted, shall be called ‘added to the rafters.”
What is the analogy used in this paragraph? How does this relate to the United States Constitution? One of the major portions of the GREAT LAW OF PEACE was a section on murder, considered one of the most serious offenses among the nations.
A chief found guilty of murder would not only lose his title but be banished from the confederacy:
“If a chief of the League of Five Nations should commit murder, the other chiefs of the nation shall assemble at the place where the corpse lies and prepare to depose the criminal chief. If it is impossible to meet at the scene of the crime the chiefs shall discuss the matter at the next council of their nation and request their war chief to depose the chief guilty of the crime, to ‘bury’ his women relative and to transfer the chieftainship title to a sister family.”
The following describes the role of chiefs:
“The chiefs of the League of Five Nations shall be mentors of the people fnr all time. The thickness of their skins shall be se…, spans, which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive action and criticism. ‘Their hearts shall be full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the League. With endless patience, they shall carry out their duty. Their firmness shall be empowered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodging in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.”
What kind of traits would a leader in the Iroquois Confederacy have to have? Where in the United States Constitution are the descriptions of the qualifications of leaders given? What are they?
Compare the U.S Preamble with the following excerpts from the Great Law of Peace and the Preamble to the United Nations Constitution:
“I am Dekanawidah, and with the Five Nations confederate lords I plant the tree of the Great Peace…. Roots have spread out from the Tree… and the name of these Roots is the Great White Roots of Peace… they may trace the Roots to their source… an they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree….”
“We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,., and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.., and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for law can be maintained.., do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.”