The Progressive Iroquois

The Iroquois Great Law of Peace liberated Native American women centuries ahead of Christianity

Here in America, from the north and even unto the east, men now control women’s rights through a series of punitive common laws and entanglements. But that hasn’t always been the case.

“The Iroquois”, according to former U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs’ John Collier,
“wrought out a social institution, a system of greatness of human relationships, a system for evoking maximum genius and for socializing it, and a role of women in society which well may stand today as the most brilliant creation in the record of man. Then from a world unknown, a ravenous race swept in a dark age for the native life which was hurled into the pit by cannon, by rum, by money, by unconscionable intrigue.”

“If the tenets of equality that so pervaded the Iroquois Great Law had been adopted by the American legal system or overlaid onto the existing common law framework, the status of women in colonial America would have been radically altered”.

Beaver tail Wampum Belt

Under the English common law system embraced by the colonies, women were not considered “persons” or “citizens.” ‘Correspondingly, women were disenfranchised and thereby precluded from directly changing their conditions. I wonder what the root of that is…


It has been noted that the subjugation of women in early common law was not entirely dissimilar from the way slaves were treated. Unlike the co-equal status of women in the Iroquois society, women under Anglo-American common law were, as noted by feminist legal authority Sylvia Law, relegated merely to roles of production, reproduction, maintenance, consumption, and acculturation in the home. Home and family – the core social unit upon which [Anglo-American] constitutional, political, economic [and common law] arrangements are built—are constructed on the premise that women are not active citizens or people free to pursue the full range of common occupations and callings.


At common law (as developed from Blackstone’s Commentaries) a woman merged her legal identity into that of her husband when she married. She could not sue, be sued, enter into contracts, make wills, keep her own earnings, or control her own property. Married women were civilly dead. This concept of coverture (legal status of a married woman), or femme covert, meant that upon marriage, a woman became quite literally “veiled”; clouded, covered by her husband.


Correspondingly at common law, a man could chastise his wife, restrain her freedom, beat, and rape her. The husband gained control and management of his wife’s real property and complete ownership of her personal property, including a woman’s clothes. AMERICAN INDIAN LAW REVIEW [Vol. 16]The Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution: How the Founding Fathers Ignored the Clan Mothers

The Great Law not only elevated and embraced the status of women, but also secured the natural rights of the people as a whole. Among the admirable aspects of the Iroquois system was the Council’s system of checks and balances, which resulted in unanimous decision making. Disputes were remanded for solutions. An issue would be debated by the Mohawks and Senecas, then referred to the Oneidas and Cayugas, establishing a process of’checks, although the legislative council was unicameral.

It also insured women’s rights as sole controllers of the reproductive lines. But we settled for Christianity, in spite of its massive shortcomings—and kept women as baby makers under the control of men embracing a second rate religion. So much for the debunking the noble savage, Tildeb. All this was done by oral tradition and a shell record in a wampum belt, coupled with superior intellect, of course.

“The Iroquois Confederacy, founded by the Great Peacemaker in 1142 is the oldest living participatory democracy on earth” ARTICLE

Author: jim-

One minute info blogs escaping the faith trap.

19 thoughts on “The Progressive Iroquois”

  1. Speaking of the Iroquois Confederacy and today’s mandatory idiocy about recognizing the local tribe’s supposed ‘ancient’ land rights, I came across the supposed ‘Iroquois’ ossuary in Toronto (burial mound at Taber Hill) used to indicate a ‘holy site’ for claiming land. That sounds like a good idea, eh?

    The problem – sleight as it may be to those steeped in fictional lore – is that the ossuary is Huron because moving the burial grounds was not an Iroquois but a Huron practice. Of course, the peace-loving and oh-so-enlightened Iroquois and tribal allies drove the Huron from their ‘ancestral’ lands and claimed it for themselves. The Huron, in turn, drove the next local tribe from their ‘ancestral’ lands who, in turn drove their neighbours away by military force to the extent that today’s local indigenous populations reveal genetics related to burial remains literally hundreds and in some cases a thousand of miles away!

    This notion of ancestral lands and peaceful humans occupying it for millennia is a fairytale, a fiction, a modern invention to suit the vilification of only Western colonialization and occupation while excusing all others regardless of how brutal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment sounds like an exposé on the holy land. Just change the names around.
      Humanity can be brutal as any other specie, no doubt. Propping up peace with war these past 150 years we now rule every resource and save every life until “boom!” It will be quite a show. The Iroquois were ahead of our time regarding the equality of women (which is the theme of the post) and the founders adopted much for our law, but left that out intentionally.

      Like

      1. Women held positions of tribal authority (and still do) because they determined bloodlines. It’s easy to know who is giving birth and not so easy figuring out who the father might be. So the notion of women’s equality as we think of it regarding the legal notion of equivalent rights doesn’t compare; rather, power in different tribal areas of concern (like lineage) was equivalently valued. In other words, it’s a role thing when we’re talking tribal hierarchy and not a rights thing when we’re talking about the Constitution and so this equivalency in roles would not fit with legal rights established at the founding of the US.

        Like

  2. Of course, being steeped in history, I’m well aware of the deplorable plight of married women in this country. Even read many of those legal terms you used in a book today. I am not going to go along with Iroquois necessarily having superior intellect. They had a very different culture than our Anglo-European ancestors. That they could recognize the advantage to parity of the sexes is a testament to an understanding that what is good for one segment of a society is improved when shared by all members of that society. A patriarchal system is bent on accruing and maintaining all benefits to one particular portion of society, the male portion.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am very pleased Jim that you’ve brought this otherwise LITTLE KNOWN aspect of U.S. governing history—not taught in U.S. classrooms—and rich Native American history going back to 1142. Thank you for doing this post Jim! 👏🏻

    I first learned of this shocking history/influence in 2016-2017. I’m still amazed by it today; bring it up every single chance I get in conversation on American politics. This must get included in our primary & secondary public school curriculums! However for me locally, the way I see our Red Texas Congress & Board of Education (Austin) REWRITING our own state history the last 3-4 years—i.e. Texas’ 1836 Project—my intuition based on Texas politics the last 20-25 yrs, implementing this unknown Iroquois influence on our U.S. democracy would sadly start (violent?) political riots from the radical GOP here in Euro-Anglo sectors and transgenerational Antebellum sectors. I guarantee it. (SMH)

    If anyone is interested, I found this excellent PBS program, “Native Voices: How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy” to be very revealing of how white (male) Euro-America dominated and still dominates the world’s four of the six inhabitable continents. This extreme (caucasian) arrogance MUST change, especially in the U.S. Period. Particularly in regards of equality and these women’s rights Jim.

    Thanks again for this post Sir. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To introduce it for what it truly was, would mean liberating women completely and exposing the subjugated woman to the prospect of polyandry as well as positions of power and great wisdom. It was the mother, wise matriarch of the clan that had the final word and decision after the council.
      Another thing that interests me is how the natural man—in evolutionary terms may have had his battles and struggles in the course of life, but the system as a whole was a stable platform of life and death to operate on planet earth, our mother sustained these cultures for thousands of years with little impact on the environment in the long run. Us—not so much.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Us—not so much.

        HAH! 😆 I love your profound understating there Jim! 😉 Spot on Sir! I often find myself apologizing to women on behalf of our (white) male evolutionary genetics. Sometimes it’s effin exhausting that the still present genome(s) of violence, impulsivity, paranoid(?) behaviors rear their ugly heads today, huh? According to Dr. Richard Wrangham* of Michigan and Harvard Universities, we’ve supposedly become MORE tame because our earlier sub-species have “killed off [other] violent male [species].” BWAAAAA!

        So by being and manifesting those horrible violent, oppressing behaviors over 50,000–70,000 years ago eliminating those other sub-species, have WE made ourselves more civilized, more tolerant, understanding and peaceful? Has millenia over millenia of evolution fully removed those genomes/DNA from us males today? Is there sufficient evidence to corroborate this theory?

        When I’m out in public I STILL see signs of impulsive, paranoid, Neanderthal ape-like behaviors. Hmmm, I don’t know Dr. Wrangham. Some thirteen other species on Earth have been exhibiting superb eusociality and Superorganism unity for millions of years—e.g. the late Dr. E.O. Wilson’s (Harvard) lifetime work clearly shows that in many/several sociocultural behaviors, modern MALE Homo sapiens STILL rank pretty damn low compared to other species. 😉

        With present day DE-evolution occurring—especially evidenced toward women’s rights in Texas!—rather than progressive evolution, male Homo sapiens still have a long, LONG ways to go! YO! Let’s just start with day-to-day humility! 🤦‍♂️🤭

        ———————
        * Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/03/how-humans-tamed-themselves/580447/

        Liked by 2 people

      2. And Jim, I don’t mean in the least to appear or sound humorously frivolous or indifferent toward women’s massive roles in human society and their struggle today. Hope I wasn’t coming across that way. That said…

        It has become glaringly obvious (to me) that the largest PROBLEM we modern humans and progressive civilizations face today, particularly inside the U.S., is truly one specific demographic, ethnicity, and race that has been relatively(?) in charge, or more dominate, stifling in all key sectors of global societies. This has to change and NOT because of fear, but because of survival of our species in the long term. This planet, universe and Cosmos are immeasurably more powerful, more unforgiving NOT to work together equally to avoid total extinction!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. The reference I made about the ‘Noble Savage’ was to the belief you demonstrated (popularized by Rousseau and the ‘natural’ state of man) in the ‘noble’ savage, a false notion about some natural state of peace-loving and cooperative indigenous people who, uncorrupted by today’s versions of ‘civilization’, was used as if an example of humanity’s innate goodness. Surprising perhaps only to the naïve, we find indigenous people historically act just like everyone else when it comes to conflict and resource competition with other tribes.

    So, the Iroquois Confederacy was indeed a powerful Indian alliance that really did – and rightfully, I think – impress Franklin with many of its enlightened political practices. But that’s not the point (the term ‘savage’ at that time was not meant as the term is used today as if brutal but rather ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’ by social class convention). The alliance’s effectiveness certainly impressed both the French and the English who worked closely with and against this alliance. (I would argue it stayed closely allied in large part because of many of shared values you mention in the OP – and a shared common enemy – and which impressed Franklin for its cohesiveness over time.) But it was its war making ability – either driving out or killing off competing tribes like the Erie, Piedmont, Tionontati, and the the Andaste to name but a few – that kept this Confederacy relevant. That’s not peace loving. And yes, many captured by the tribes of the Confederacy were used in many ways by the various tribes of the Confederacy that did not respect the ‘rights’ of individuals laid down in the American Constitution and Amendments. But, like every other tribe European or not, competition for resources through conquest and destruction and violence was just as central to this ‘civilization’ as it was in any other and not some pie in the sky version the peaceful Nobel Savage you represented of happy and cooperative agrarian people of Shangri La.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you mostly here, that that doesn’t seem to be the peaceful ideal we would strive for, but in that struggle (which is very human and typical) the women were not subjects of the men and their laws (dominance) but held equal, in not elevated position and partnership among the confederacy. This was dutifully ignored by the founders while at the same time were amazed by it.
      Long estimates submit The Great Law was going on since about 1200, that this had been a stable society of equality for hundreds of years, that puts them far and above any western society in the ideal of any feminism movement.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t access the article. This is more about womens rights than slavery. From my understanding Native American slavery was more like working your prisoners of war scenario. They could be exchanged back and forth.
      So imagine you have a prisoner of war in the typical sense, and all of the sudden the French show up and offer to buy them. At that point what was a long standing course of local business put the American Indian into the global slave trade.
      I am not arguing there was no injustice prior to European contact, because those things are part of the struggle. It did change the nature of slavery as thousands were taken away.
      Captives experienced enslavement by 17th-century Europeans in a much different way than enslavement by another Indian tribe. If a Native person was made captive by a rival tribe, a set of relatively predictable traditions governed his or her treatment. But after a Native captor sold a captive to a European, the person was swept into a global system. She, or he, was now a commodity.

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/01/native_american_slavery_historians_uncover_a_chilling_chapter_in_u_s_history.html

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You Stated — “From my understanding Native American slavery was more like working your prisoners of war scenario. They could be exchanged back and forth.”

        My Response — I think it’s safe to take your word on this for the men.

        But for the women being “traded” I would say they are in a special category no matter if it’s Indians or Europeans. They tend to just get repeatedly raped by men once under the control of one who is unchecked.

        Clearly what the Europeans did was a higher level of evil but I just wanted to point out that neither side is clean.

        You know me… I find any aspect of a story less spoken more interesting

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Granted the natural course of things is in line with evolution and the balance of the earths ecosystems. Violence is a part of the balancing act. Without it, the world will be overrun with “civilized” people so pent up in the clutter—the final scene will be one for the ages.
          It is hard to judge, but the natives we got to know were a post apocalyptic scattered bunch, somewhere between 80-90% had been devastated by contact with the Europeans. Granted the Iroquois and others had their battles all along, but the democracy of the 6 nations provided superior equality for women as is laid out by the great law of peace.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. But we were savages, so they could not learn social niceties from us. But they could murder us without penalty. In some cases, they made money for our scslps. And they called themselves civilized? I beg to differ!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All while borrowing key tenets for our own constitution and claiming it as inspiration from god.
      It appears the Mormon founder who lived among them as well, lifted quite a chunk of the Book of Mormon from the longhouse ceremonies and from the locals.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: