With the passage of several Native American land bills this week, one that rectifies the taking of 120 acres for a town site on reservation land in 1918, we look back at a 2009 TWIC editorial on Native American involvement in creating the democracy and how the reservation lands fared in that process.
Native American Democracy
HJ 40 passed by the House this week, suggesting that Native Americans practiced democracy and heavily influenced the Framers of the Constitution. Native Americans were accepting of the new Republic’s efforts to create a functioning democracy and came to the Constitutional Convention to explain how they accomplished theirs.
The Framers, looking for a form of government that did not emulate the European monarchies, turned to the political structure of indigenous cultures for guidance. The Haudenosaunee Confederation caught the attention of Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and others. Haudenosaunee was later changed to the French word Iroquois and the Confederation is now a combination of six Native American tribes banned together under a common constitution.
While selection of the Confederation’s leaders only from particular families was not what the Founders were after the decision-making process interested them. Decisions made by tribal leaders were the product of the entire community and had to consider three benchmarks; “the effect of their decision on peace; the effect on the natural world; and the effect on seven generations in the future.”
Females, while in the outer tier of Confederation meetings, were given veto power and were responsible for listening closely to decisions made, remembering the details, and passing them on to future generations. As such, an accurate history of the Confederation’s laws was kept intact for centuries.
The Framers struggled with two perspectives described by Anthropologist, J.N.B. Hewitt, “There are two radically distinct methods of regimentation of people found extant in the world . . . these two methods are known as the tribal system and the national system. The tribal system organizes solely on the basis of blood kinship, real or by legal fiction. The national system organizes solely on the basis of territorial units. So that kinship groups or units are found in tribal society, territorial units in national society.”
Ultimately it was private ownership of those territorial units that prevailed. Each Confederation community was a democracy in and of itself and extended geographically by connecting to other communities. Since the land was from where all things necessary came, the size and location of the communities were based on the sustainability of the land on which they lived. No one owned the land.
Early European-Americans saw it differently; permanent housing was the norm and the land–there was so much of it and it could be privately owned– was to be exploited, not subject to stewarding. Rapid geographic expansion of the US boundaries was the tone of the day. The combination of the two left out the possibility of the extended family or community that served the Native Americans and set up a real estate frenzy that ultimately brought on the demise of the Native American lifestyle being practiced on land that someone else wanted.
One wonders what American life would be like if the Framers had a ‘Dances with Wolves’ moment and took the Nation in the direction of the Confederation. But they were representing the hopes of new residents who had been subject to a lifestyle under monarchist oppression that narrowed what they could earn and own. They had a different idea of what the good life required.
For some time the Confederation saw themselves and the new settlers as people in two canoes, both plying the same river in their own way and for their own reasons with respect for each other’s intentions. Eventually, though, that 24,894,080 acres overseen by the Confederation was just too tempting.
Why Do They Hate Us?
By Lee H. Hamilton
“Considering all of the time, money and top policy people we have poured into addressing the problems of the Middle East over decades, why is there such widespread hostility toward us?”
At a public meeting I recently attended, a woman stood up and asked me a question that gave me some pause: Why do the Arabs hate us so much?