Jack Weatherford

The Gifts of the Colonized

What were the cultural contributions of the colonized that shaped the “new world?”  Historian and anthropologist Jack Weatherford provides the following research which documents the contributions fo the Indians of the Americas to the world.

Native Americans Smoking Meat


Political Contributions: The Gift of Democracy

The democratic system which the United States fought two world wars to defend, and one war of independence to invent, owes much of its formation to the Iroquois Confederation.  Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who studies Indian culture and later became the Indian Commissioner of Pennsylvania, implored the Albany Congress of 1754 to construct a model of governance like that of the Iroquois League.  The Iroquois League, initially encompassing five nations—the Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, Onondag, and Cayuga—was composed of five councils of delegates elected as representatives of each tribe.  These councils represented their specific nations but were also formed into one Council of the League which represented the entire League of the Iroquois.  The League governed the territory from New England to the Mississippi River.  “This model of several sovereign units united into one government presented precisely the solution to the problem confronting the writers of the United States Constitution.  Today we call this a ‘federal’ system in which each state retains power over internal affairs and the national government regulates affairs common to all” (Weatherford, 137).

Not all aspects of the Iroquois democratic political process were adopted by the Founding Fathers.  The council delegates elected from each tribe, called sachems, could be recalled or impeached for misconduct or incompetence through the decision of the women of the tribes, who then elected the replacement sachem.  Imagine the development of democracy if women could recall and appoint congressional leaders!

The notion of impeachment was foreign to the Europeans whose monarchs ruled for life.  Moreover, the very notion of elections was foreign to colonists whose conception of government was based on the British Parliament and imitation of the Greek city-states which, according to Weatherford, were considerably less egalitarian than the Indians’ models of democracy.

So fundamental a political process as the caucus was a contribution of the tribes of North America.  The word “caucus,” which comes from the Algonquin language, describes a process of discussion which explores ideas without making a formal decision or voting.  This process was integral to the Indian decision-making process of making a pow-wow and talking through issues affecting the community or councils.