Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anything but Savage

Although John Smith’s early accounts of the Native Americans painted a picture of savage animals, actual history accounts dispute most of his biased findings. One need only read The Constitution of the Five Nations (or The Great Binding Law) to see how civilized the Native Americans were.

Nature was prevalent throughout The Great Binding Law. At times, nature served as a source of symbolism that the Iroquois could draw upon to explain certain aspects of The Constitution of the Five Nations:

“Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace [...] and their nature is Peace and Strength [...] If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations [...] promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.”

One practical role nature played in The Great Binding Law was the opening of each Council meeting. Fire was the representation for the beginning of a meeting:

“When the Lords are assembled the Council Fire shall be kindled, but not with chestnut wood, and Adodarhoh shall formally open the Council.”

In regards to the United States Constitution, the Iroquois system of government was somewhat of an influence. The three branches of government used in the United States was also practiced by the Iroquois:

“The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three parties [...] The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the first and second parties and if an error is made or the proceeding is 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 of the two parties and refer the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision.”
Their democratic system of government impressed such founding fathers as Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, (Iroquois, 2002). When excerpts from Iroquois law were read aloud at the Constitutional Convention, there was one line that was very remarkable, "We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order..." (Mee, 1987, p. 237).


Iroquois. (2007). The constitution of the iroquois nations: the great binding law gayanashagowa. Retrieved on September 30, 2010, from

Mee, L, C. (1987). The Genius of the People. New York: Harper & Row

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