Sunday, June 11, 2017

Iroquois and the Founding Fathers

Senator Mark Lee recently released a book entitled "Written Out of History." This book tells the story of eight individuals who helped found our nation but are never spoken or written about. The lost founders include an assortment of men and women.

One of the forgotten contributors to our founding was a Native American. This person was Canasatego, leader of the Onondaga nation and spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation.



The website Teachinghistory.org has this to say about Canasatego and the Five Nations that contributed to our beginnings:

Question - Did any Native American group influence the men who drafted the United States governing documents?

Answer - In 1744, Canasatego, leader of the Onondaga nation and spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation, advised the British colonists:

". . . We heartily recommend Union and a Good Agreement between you our Brethren. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations. We are a Powerfull confederacy, and by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power."

Canasatego’s admonition and other evidence has led some scholars to believe that Native American, particularly Iroquois, governments served as models for the new nation’s government. Others refute that theory and argue that the framers of the United States Constitution and other documents did not need the example of Indian governments because they could refer to numerous English and Continental European political theories for their ideas.

The Iroquois Confederation is the oldest association of its kind in North America. Although some scholars believe that the Five Nations (Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Seneca) formed their Iroquois League in the 12th century, the most popular theory holds that the confederation was created around 1450, before Columbus’ “discovery” of America. These five nations bore common linguistic and cultural characteristics, and they formed the alliance to protect themselves from invasion and to deliberate on common causes. In the 18th century, the Tuscarora joined the league to increase the membership to six nations.

Those who support the theory that the First Peoples influenced the drafting of the founding documents point to the words of founders such as Benjamin Franklin, who in 1751 wrote to his printer colleague James Parker that “It would be a 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 that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.”

Native American Studies Professor Bruce Johansen and American Studies Professor Donald Grinde, among others, argue that American colonists, in Johansen’s words, “drew freely on the image of the American Indian as an exemplar of the spirit of liberty they so cherished.” These scholars argue that the framers of American governments understood and admired Native American government structures, and they borrowed certain indigenous concepts for their own governments.