Figure 31. On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as “Brothers” and told of the delegates’ wish that the “friendship” between them would “continue as long as the sun shall shine” and the “waters run.” The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act “as one people, and have but one heart.” After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed “Karanduawn, or the Great Tree.” With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress. Artwork by John Kahionhes Fadden.
By Lara Trace
Did you know that WE THE PEOPLE is a concept the Iroquois Confederacy shared with Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers who drafted the body of the existing governing constitution and democracy in America? It is the Oldest Living Participating Democracy on Earth. Our constitution says WE THE PEOPLE, quite different than “All Hail The Queen” who was placed on her dictatorial throne, decreed by God. I call the Queen’s people the “plant the flag” people. Everywhere they went, they planted their flag and demanded tax and the inherent right to govern and rule.
In 1744 the Iroquois leader Canassatego (drawing in top photo) spoke at the Indian-British assembly in Philadelphia. Dealing with 13 administrations in 13 colonies was impossible, he said. Why didn’t we form an umbrella group? Each colony could keep its sovereignty. Yet the 13 could speak to other nations with one voice.
He offered a model. During Europe’s Middle Ages, Hiawatha had founded the League of Iroquois Nations. The Mohawks, Onondagas, Senecas, Oneidas, Cayugas, and Tuscaroras formed the League. It was the biggest political unit north of the Aztec nation.
Historian Jack Weatherford says few colonists were ready to listen. But one was. Ben Franklin had studied the Indians. Later, he became the Indian Commissioner. As early as 1754 he wanted to try Canassatego’s idea. Later, he and others built that idea into our constitution.
Each Iroquois nation ran its internal affairs with a council of elected delegates. They also sent delegates to a grand council. It ran affairs among nations. It was a pure federal system.
Our constitution has many Iroquois features. Iroquois lawmakers didn’t go to war. Civilian and military rule was separate. That wasn’t how Europe worked.
The Iroquois had no royalty — no hereditary rule. Their nations could naturalize new citizens. The League didn’t just conquer other nations. It could also admit them to membership.
We use Iroquois ideas to smooth our deliberations. Unlike Europe’s senates, we use the Iroquois method of holding silence while each delegate speaks. Like the Iroquois, our delegates give up their personal names. Ted Kennedy becomes “The Senior Senator from Massachusetts,” and so on. We use the caucus, or pow-wow, to iron things out before we take the floor.
We didn’t adopt the Iroquois unicameral system. They had only one council. Franklin fought for that. Because he lost, we have both the senate and the house.
Franklin also wanted to let soldiers elect their own officers. That’s what the Iroquois did. He lost on that one, too.
Like the Iroquois, we allowed for impeachment. But only Iroquois women were empowered to impeach. Only Iroquois women could replace an impeached leader. We didn’t copy that feature.
Still, our constitution is a fine piece of engineering design. We looked at the European kingdoms we’d left behind. And we looked at these people who’d governed themselves so well for so long.
In the end Canassatego and the Iroquois tipped the scales in shaping our way of life. And we can be very glad they did. SOURCE
Faithkeeper Oren Lyons, an Onondaga, states The Great Law of Peace includes “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, [and] the right of women to participate in government. Separation of power in government and checks and balances within government are traceable to our Iroquois constitution—ideas learned by colonists.” READ MORE HERE