The League of Five Nations – A source of inspiration?

Sometime between the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century the Great Peacemaker Deganwidah wanted to see peace between the various Indian tribes. His spokesman, chieftain Hiawatha of the Mohawks,  preached unification.

An interesting fact is that the Iroqouis tribes lived in matriarch-ruled structures, even though the usual roles for men and women were the most common:men hunted, fought and built things while the women gathered berries, wove cloths, took care of small children etc. Nevertheless the tribes were led by  Clan Mothers who administered everything. They decided when to plant, harvest or who would be selected from among the men to represent people as spokesman. Everything a man did had to be reported back to the two Clan Mothers, and when he married he moved in to support his wife and her female relatives. Most Iroqouis villages contained several of these extended family units. Their society was based on equality. No person or organisation was allowed to force someone to do something, which he wouldn’t agree upon. This form of democracy was later used as a model to define the American Constitution.

The fact that the Iroqouis tribes were at war so often, had a damaging and negative effect upon their society. The continous warfare seriously weakened the tribes. The peacemaker Deganwidah made the warior Hiawatha see that. Hiawatha talked to the different tribes and proposed that a league of Iroqouis nations ought to work together. They should work in concert against any threats, not fight each other, but instead co-operate in war and peace. Hiawatha’s suggestion was first met by scepticism and suspicion, but he succeeded in persuading five of the tribes to form a confederacy. A wampum belt was used as sign of unison and agreement. This contract belt was then deposited in the safekeeping of the Onandaga tribe who were named Keepers of the Central Council Fire. This confederacy was named The League of Five Nations or the Iroqouis League and comprised the Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations. These tribes lived east of the Great Lakes towards the Atlantic coast, in the Boston area and up to the vicinity of today’s Montréal. In 1715 a sixth tribe, the Tuscarora, was admitted into the League. There were other Iroqouis tribes that chose to stay out of the League. The Huron had formed a confederacy of their own, and also the Tobacco tribe stayed out of the League. Because of this they fell victim to the Five Nation’s retaliation. The co-operation that nevertheless was a prominent notion within the League, impressed the white European colonists in the region. In 1744 the states of Connecticut and Pensylvania negotiated with the Iroqouis to adjust land claims. Then the constitution of the Five Nations was implemented in the laws of those states. Later on, in 1789, they also became enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.

Anders Moberg, November 29th 2012


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