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