ratitor's corner

november 24, 1996

november's beaver or frosty full moon, 8:09pm, PST

Today is november's full moon. quoting from Guy Ottewell's marvelous Astronomical Calendar, "The full moon of November [for the northern hemisphere] is called the Frosty Moon, or Beaver Moon, probably because beavers are active in preparation for winter." Emulating Beaver's industriousness, we are extremely honored and excited to be launching today a new subtree of materials focusing on

The Six Nations

Haudenosaunee Council

Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth

The people of the Six Nations, also known by the French term, Iroquois Confederacy, call themselves the Haudenosaunee (ho dee noe sho nee) or People of the Longhouse. The system of governance inaugurated in the United States in 1776 was representative in nature. True, a big step along the road from a monarchial structure. Still, in the U.S., another person represents one's interests -- there's that "once removed" character that is the basis of representative authority. In contrast, the Haudenosaunee have engaged in a participatory form of governance -- where everyone participates in the decisions being made, with the seventh generation yet unborn as the primary consideration for all such deliberations -- for as much as 900-plus years.

Today's post-industrial world needs stories to live and be nourished by more than ever before. "News", parading as objective reportage, is little more than morbid fascination entertainment. Such entertainment increases the deep-rooted feeling of "living on the Titanic" felt most keenly amongst young people who sense their own birthright of a long and full life has been stolen from them.

The story of the Haudenosaunee contains much that can inspire and engage all of us to reach down inside ourselves and re-connect with an ageless wisdom of sustainable human activity and participation in the manifestation of the good mind.

Amongst the new materials in The Six Nations subtree is the complete 1982 book, Forgotten Founders, Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution, by Bruce E. Johansen, Professor of Communication and Native American Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha. A companion to this is a "living document" form of his monumental and ongoing work, Native American Political Systems and the Evolution of Democracy: An Annotated Bibliography.

Both of these books are part of the story about how the european founders of the United States were fascinated with and influenced by a Confederacy of Nations existent in the northeastern part of North America long before Columbus mistook the Bahamas for India. In the Introduction of Forgotten Founders Bruce writes,

By arguing that American Indians (principally the Iroquois) played a major role in shaping the ideas of Franklin (and thus, the American Revolution) I do not mean to demean or denigrate European influences. I mean not to subtract from the existing record, but to add an indigenous aspect, to show how America has been a creation of all its peoples.

As one might expect, there has been a vociferous challenge to this endeavor "to show how America has been a creation of all its peoples" by some of the descendants of the victors in the war with Indigenous America which swung into high gear after the American Revolution of 1776 was completed. At the close of the second-to-final chapter, Bruce writes,

Meeting in Paris to settle accounts during 1783, the diplomats who redrew the maps sliced the Iroquois Confederacy in half, throwing a piece to the United States, and another to British Canada. The heirs to some of the Great Law of Peace's most precious principles ignored the Iroquois' protestations that they, too, were sovereign nations, deserving independence and self-determination. A century of learning was coming to a close. A century and more of forgetting -- of calling history into service to rationalize conquest -- was beginning.

i submit that the story of that "century of learning" is exceedingly relevant to our own time and offers access to something we can be engaged by and re-centered anew with in this day and age: the experience of seeing wholistically. To see more of "the whole," in the infinitude that consciousness provides us the capabilities for, is something that can indeed liberate our selves and our world; our singularly precious, irreplaceable planetary home.

There is much resorting to use of the vacuous term "political correctness" by those not able to see the fact of the unity of all humanity and recognition through our instinctual intelligence that ALL my relations constitutes the only family all of us were ever truly born into within our human overcoats. The Annotated Bibliography provides a rich "mother lode" of the discussion now joined in full measure within the scholastic and pundit, mind-shaper communities of our society. At the end of the Preface, Bruce touches upon how this debate "is an example of how our notions of history have been changing" as more people's experiences and stories are given voice in this "melting pot" community we are all members of and participants in:

Despite its caricature as a horror story of "political correctness" and the jarring nature of some of the debate over the issue, the idea that Native American confederacies are an important early form of democracy has become established in general discourse. History is made in many ways, by many people; the spread of the idea that Native American confederacies (especially the Haudenosaunee Confederacy) helped shape the intellectual development of democracy in the United States and Europe is an example of how our notions of history have been changing with the infusion of multicultural voices. It is fascinating to watch the change in all its forms -- and the debate over the issue in all its cacophonous variety. This bibliography comprises the "field notes" of my journey.

At the present time the Haudenosaunee themselves are struggling with the same issues of sustainability and being of one mind, of the good mind, that all like my european-descended self are facing. In the coming weeks we will be including articles about the Haudenosaunee Environmental Action Plan -- which in 1995 produced "The Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration, An Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability", a document compiled and edited for presentation to the United Nations Environmental Program -- as well as other stories about the culture and present-day activities of the Haudenosaunee acting for the protection of Mother Earth and always thinking seven generations in the future.

Oren Lyons, the faithkeeper of the Onondaga, speaking in a 1992 interview, summed up his sense of our place in time here on our Mother Earth with the words,

As long as there's one to sing and one to dance,
one to speak and one to listen, life will go on.

May we all be open to exploring being of one mind, of the good mind, as the Haudenosaunee have continued attempting to do since they were changed and united by the coming of Deganawidah, called "The Peacemaker" who, working with Aionwantha (or Hiawatha) and a woman, Jingosaseh, who insisted on gender balance in the Iroquois constitution, together transformed these nations of peoples, who had been trapped in a terrible cycle of blood feud, and established a peace that has existed between and amongst them from that time to now. As Bruce writes in Chapter Four, Such an Union of Forgotten Founders,

Franklin then asked why the colonists found it so difficult to unite in common defense, around common interests, when the Iroquois had done so long ago. In context, his use of the term "ignorant savages" seems almost like a backhanded slap at the colonists, who may have thought themselves superior to the Indians but who, in Franklin's opinion, could learn something from the Six Nations about political unity:

It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of Ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.

i go past a van every morning during my walk leading up to the dawn with the bumper sticker, "There's no government like no government". Until we succeed is establishing that form of such an authentic and exemplary civilization -- that champions and reveres ALL life -- we would do well to become familiar with an existent form of governance -- to replace the one-dollar-one-vote government of, by, and for the corpses we now "enjoy" -- where all of life may truly enjoy liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a way akin to the happiness Jefferson envisioned over 200 years ago:

          Jefferson believed that freedom to exercise restraint on their leaders, and an egalitarian distribution of property secured for Indians in general a greater degree of happiness than that to be found among the superintended sheep at the bottom of European class structures. Jefferson thought a great deal of "happiness," a word which in the eighteenth century carried connotations of a sense of personal and societal security and well-being that it has since lost. Jefferson thought enough of happiness to make its pursuit a natural right, along with life and liberty. In so doing, he dropped "property," the third member of the natural rights trilogy generally used by followers of John Locke.

          Jefferson's writings made it evident that he, like Franklin, saw accumulation of property beyond that needed to satisfy one's natural requirements as an impediment to liberty. To place "property" in the same trilogy with life and liberty, against the backdrop of Jefferson's views regarding the social nature of property, would have been a contradiction, Jefferson composed some of his most trenchant rhetoric in opposition to the erection of a European-like aristocracy on American soil. To Jefferson, the pursuit of happiness appears to have involved neither the accumulation of property beyond basic need, nor the sheer pursuit of mirth. It meant freedom from tyranny, and from want, things not much in abundance in the Europe from which many of Jefferson's countrymen had so recently fled. Jefferson's writings often characterized Europe as a place from which to escape -- a corrupt place, where wolves consumed sheep regularly, and any uncalled for bleating by the sheep was answered with a firm blow to the head.

          Using the example of the man who left his estate to return to the simplicity of nature, carrying only his rifle and matchcoat with him, Franklin indicated that the accumulation of property brought perils as well as benefits. Franklin argued that the state's power should not be used to skew the distribution of wealth, using Indian society, where "hunting is free for all," as an exemplar:

Private property . . . is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public Exingencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just Debt.

"The important ends of Civil Society, and the personal Securities of Life and Liberty, these remain the same in every Member of the Society," Franklin continued. He concluded: "The poorest continues to have an equal Claim to them with the most opulent, whatever Difference Time, Chance or Industry may occasion in their Circumstances."

--from CHAPTER SIX Self-Evident Truths

Finally, in the AFTERWORD, a description is laid out of how learning about the Six Nations provides a liberation and an opening of the mind in that, "it gives us the opportunity of studying the organization of a society which, as yet, knows no state." To the tragically numb state of so many people's "cynical composure", worn as a bulwark against the overwhemling sense of sadness over the divorce of our eons-old marriage by right of birth with Mom Nature, statements such as "Everything runs smoothly without soldiers, gendarmes, or police, without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those concerned. . . ." are simply tossed off as so much utopian, sci-fi hi-falutin' dreaming and romanticization of past events. Such out-of-hand rejection of our collective experience here in this place is an indication of the depth of psychic impoverishment our innner landscape has sustained. Such responses are yet one more feeble attempt to minimalize and hide from that still small voice of the heart crying out from within for a re-uniting of one's own being with universe and all of one's relationships with everything in universe.

          Two contemporaries of Buffalo Bill, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, about the time of the Custer Battle were drawing on the Indian models to support their theories of social evolution. As had Franklin and Jefferson a century before, Marx and Engels paid particular attention to the lack of state-induced coercion and the communal role of property that operated in the Iroquois Confederacy.

          Marx read Lewis Henry Morgan's Ancient Society, which had been published in 1877, between December 1880 and March 1881, taking at least ninety-eight pages of handwritten notes. Ancient Society was Morgan's last major work; his first book-length study had been The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois (1851). Morgan was a close friend of the Seneca Ely Parker, a high-ranking Civil War officer. Like Johnson, Weiser, Colden, and others, Morgan was an adopted Iroquois. When Marx read Morgan's Ancient Society, he and Engels were studying the important anthropologists of their time. Morgan was one of them.

          Marx's notes on Ancient Society adhere closely to the text, with little extraneous comment. What particularly intrigued Marx about the Iroquois was their democratic political organization, and how it was meshed with a communal economic system -- how, in short, economic leveling was achieved without coercion.

          During the late 1870s and early 1880s, Marx remained an insatiable reader, but a life of poverty and attendant health problems had eroded his ability to organize and synthesize what he had read. After Marx died, Engels inherited his notes and, in 1884, published The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, subtitled In Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan. The book sold well; it had gone through four editions in German by 1891. Engels called the book a "bequest to Marx." He wrote that Morgan's account of the Iroquois Confederacy "substantiated the view that classless communist societies had existed among primitive peoples," and that these societies had been free of some of the evils, such as class stratification, that he associated with industrial capitalism. Jefferson had been driven by similar evils to depict Europe in metaphors of wolves and sheep, hammer and anvil.

          To Engels, Morgan's description of the Iroquois was important because "it gives us the opportunity of studying the organization of a society which, as yet, knows no state." Jefferson had also been interested in the Iroquois' ability to maintain social consensus without a large state apparatus, as had Franklin. Engels described the Iroquoian state in much the same way that American revolutionaries had a century earlier:

Everything runs smoothly without soldiers, gendarmes, or police, without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those concerned. . . . The household is run communistically by a number of families; the land is tribal property, only the small gardens being temporarily assigned to the households -- still, not a bit of our extensive and complicated machinery of administration is required. . . . There are no poor and needy. The communistic household and the gens know their responsibility toward the aged, the sick and the disabled in war. All are free and equal -- including the women.

          Concern for the depredations of human rights by state power is no less evident in our time than in the eighteenth century. American Indians, some of the earliest exemplars of those rights, today often petition the United Nations for redress of abuses committed by the United States government, whose founding declarations often ring hollow in ears so long calloused by the thundering horsehooves of Manifest Destiny and its modern equivalents. One may ask what the United Nations' declarations of human rights owe to the Iroquois and other Indian nations. Take the following excerpts from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted December 10, 1948), and place them next to the Great Law of Peace, and the statements Franklin and other American national fathers adapted from experience with American Indian nations:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1)

Every person has a right to life, liberty and security of person. (Article 3)

Everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. (Article 18)

Everyone has the right of freedom of opinion and religion. (Article 19)

. . . The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments . . . (Article 21)

          Looking across the frontier, as well as across the Atlantic, looking at Indian peace as well as Indian wars, history poses many tantalizing questions. The thesis that American Indian thought played an important role in shaping the mind of European America, and of Europe itself, is bound to incite controversy, a healthy state of intellectual affairs at any time in history, our own included. The argument around which this book is centered is only one part of a broader effort not to rewrite history, but to expand it, to broaden our knowledge beyond the intellectual strait jacket of ethnocentricism that tells us that we teach, but we do not learn from, peoples and cultures markedly different from our own.

          Fortunately, there are fresh winds stirring. Dr. Jeffry Goodman has started what one reviewer called a "civil war" in archaeology. Dr. Henry Dobyns's mathematically derived estimate that 90 million Indians lived in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus has also stirred debate. There is a sense that we are only beginning to grasp the true dimensions of American history to which Europeans have been personal witness only a few short centuries. The Europeans who migrated here are still learning the history of their adopted land, and that of the peoples who flourished here (and who themselves are today rediscovering their own magnificent pasts). In a very large sense we are only now beginning to rediscover the history that has been passed down in tantalizing shreds, mostly through the oral histories of Indian nations that have survived despite the best efforts of some Euro-Americans to snuff out Indian languages, cultures, and the land base that gives all sustenance. History in its very essence is rediscovery, and we are now relearning some of the things that Benjamin Franklin and others of our ancestors had a chance to see, feel, remark at, and integrate into their view of the world.

          The United States was born during an era of Enlightenment that recognized the universality of humankind, a time in which minds and borders were opened to the new, the wondrous, and the unexpected. It was a time when the creators of a nation fused the traditions of Europe and America, appreciating things that many people are only now rediscovering -- the value of imagery and tradition shaped by oral cultures that honed memory and emphasized eloquence, that made practical realities of democratic principles that were still the substance of debate (and, to some, heresy) in Europe. In its zest for discovery, the Enlightenment mind absorbed Indian traditions and myth, and refashioned it, just as Indians adopted the ways of European man. In this sense, we are all heirs to America's rich Indian heritage.

          Like the eighteenth-century explorers who looked westward from the crests of the Appalachians, we too stand at the edge of a frontier of another kind, wondering with all the curiosity that the human mind can summon what we will find over the crest of the hill in the distance, or around the bend in the river we have yet to see for the first time. What will America teach us next?

--from the AFTERWORD

To be open to the limitless unknown possibilities of existence and its manifestation within through consciousness is what it's all about. Nothing else occupies this pre-eminent position and imperative in our lives and our being. This is the gift we ALL possess for the entirety of our lives. It is always "here" with us, ready to join with our awareness as we chose to be open to it in the moment.


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