In my first class in college in 2014, one of my assignments was the final essay. I chose at first to write about the Preamble to the Constitution. As I started to research I came across articles on the Iroquois Confederacy and how they contributed to the U.S. Constitution. As this was an exploratory essay I wanted to find and write as much on the subject as I could while maintaining the guidelines set forth by my professor. I could have written so much more, as I found much to be studied and much to be understanding. I decided to dedicate my writing to the Subject of the Iroquois Confederacy and the U.S. Constitution. I also made a promise to talk about the Native Americans and there place in U.S. History as much as I could, and to urge people to understand, to read, to advocate for better accounts of their role in it. I have learned much since then about the Native Americans and still learn everyday.
I have to say there were a few misunderstandings on my part when it came to government documents. As I did not know that these resolutions had not been passed. (My lack of knowledge in Studies in U.S. Government). Someday when I get the chance I will do more research into this. Anyway, I learned a lot and I wanted to share..
The Iroquois Indian and the History of the US Constitution
A civilization of the American Indians, the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, developed a constitution, The Great Law of Peace of the Six Nations. According to David Yarrow, they established a democracy known to be one of the oldest democracies in the world. America formed a democracy which resembled the Iroquois democratic government in many ways. Just as our forefathers gathered to write the constitution and to form a government that worked, the Iroquois were already unwritten contributors (Yarrow). Many people do not know about the history of the American Indian, their influences, and contributions. There is so much that has not been told. This makes American History incomplete. This essay will provide information and attempt to come to a conclusion on the following questions. First, should the important contributions of the American Indian be officially recorded in history, for all time, as in the case of the Iroquois Indians, since they had greatly influenced and contributed to The US Constitution? Second, who would be responsible for making this history available for educational learning in the public schools? Finally, what effect can an incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of history have on our country? It will also attempt to find how a large part of American history left out people of this old civilization, the same people who helped them with so much.
From the time that people from Europe traveled and settled on this land, the American Indian was beginning to befriend the settlers and teach them about resources. These settlers lived amidst the native people. The settlers survived the first years with the help of the American Indian. These two peoples lived together, in peace, at least in the beginning. As time went on and the colonies formed, the settlers acquired much from the American Indian. They taught the settlers agriculture with food such as corn, squash, potatoes, and more. They also showed them where to fish, how to tan animal skins, and other skills (“Native American Contributions” Number 2). Another was allowing the colonists to observe how they managed to have a democratic government that worked (Yarrow). Even after all they had done to help the colonists, the lives of the American Indian would begin to be changed forever. The American Indian was losing most of their population. Battles, broken promises, and broken treaties attributed to bringing on this change. Massive plagues brought on by Indians not being immune to the diseases of the European settlers, killed a mass population of Indians (“Native American disease and epidemics”). Assimilation and incidents of genocide, and ethnic cleansing, referred to as “The Trail of Tears” (“Trail of Tears”), would prove to be disastrous to their population. As more time went by, the history of the American Indian was being interpreted by many who may not have had the best intentions. The American Indian, among them the Iroquois, seem to have become the forsaken people, in their own land.
The Iroquois Indians didn’t have a written language. Through the spoken word, they handed down their stories by telling them generation after generation. American colonists, on the other hand, recorded on paper, books, letters, and documents. Some might say because the Iroquois history wasn’t written down, they couldn’t trust the stories. People tended to believe the written word. The unwritten words of the Iroquois were the same over time. One could say that this was ample reason that one should be able to believe the stories and history of these people. The papers or books written and read by people who oppose this history, say that influence of the Iroquois on the US Constitution could not have happened. Daniel H.Usner, Author of the book, “A Savage Feast They Made of It” may have part of the answer to why some people oppose this history. He writes, “John Adams himself did not make it easy for historians to answer these questions—-devoting relatively little writing to the subject of American Indians, even less than he did to the subject of slavery” (608). Usner says that Adams thought it was a waste of time to learn about the American Indian (612). Usner goes on later to tell about Adam’s childhood, and experiences with the American Indian and how Adams remembers them spreading much terror, which was frequent in his family state of Massachusetts (612). My view about Usner, is that he believed that John Adams deliberately wanted American Indians to disappear from history, and as a result not be able to connect the Iroquois to the US Constitution.
Furthermore, I see Usner reviewing and coming to a conclusion on John Adam’s motives, as well as America’s thoughts on this. Usner explains, “The selective appearance of information, about Indians in rhetoric centered on non-Indian subjects—-like the best system of government for U.S. citizens—-has already become a major current in American thought and culture. And John Adams contributed to its flow on behalf of his infamous obsession with achieving balance between aristocracy and democracy” (613). He sees a pattern and way of thinking toward the American Indian that gets handed down through the years.
It seems that many people went to great lengths to gather information and to form a conclusion on the subject of the Iroquois and their influence on the US Constitution. Elisabeth Tooker writes, “A number of writers have suggested that the League of the Iroquois provided the model for the Unites States Constitution and the ideas embodied in it” (Absract). She goes on to state that after reviewing documents, she sees nothing to support this claim (Abstract). She questions how much the founding fathers knew about Iroquois political ideas (311). This makes me wonder if she knew about John Adams. Tooker also points out differences in the Iroquois League and the Constitution, and flaws in other’s research (321). My view on Tooker is that she differs in her views on most everything. She did research on this subject, but in conclusion didn’t see any evidence that the Iroquois had any influence on the US Constitution. I believe that even with the information she had she didn’t want to believe it. She makes it clear that after reviewing documents, she finds nothing to support the opposing view.
From another perspective, Bruce E. Johansen goes into a deep story of how as he says indigenous threads were woven into our revolutionary tapestry (280). His writings were also a subject of dispute by Tooker (279). I found something interesting as I did my research. Many articles I read did not state where I could see, that they ever asked the Iroquois. It mirrors the problem, which is leaving out the Indians. What a revelation. Throughout history the American Indian was put through almost total annihilation, as approximately 80 to 90 percent of the American Indian population had been wiped out. They had suffered irreparable damage. As a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, many American Indians were victims of inadequate food supply as well as disease and being in the elements with not enough clothing, and were suffering from exposure (“Trail of Tears”). A website called American Indian History As Told By The American Indians, has over 100 history articles, as well as other history sources. They do contribute to getting more of the history of the American Indian into the public eye.
In 1988 the United States Government (H.CON.RES.331) acknowledged the contributions of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations, to the development of the United States Constitution, as well as other important contributions. In 2005 (S. J. RES. 15) is a resolution that issued an apology for the United States treatment of the American Indian. The following in an excerpt from S. J. RES. 15. Whereas this Nation should address the broken treaties and many of the more ill-conceived Federal policies that followed, such as extermination, termination, forced removal and relocation ( S. J. RES. 15)… As we see, because many people did not value them as equal human beings, there is not a lot written about them.
In conclusion, we could ask ourselves the following question. Is incomplete history acceptable? I think many would say, not for the American Indian. Also, I think some might say, not for the student. The textbook companies would need to incorporate the American Indian into the American History books. I contacted McGraw and Hill, as well as Follet, two textbook companies, but got no useful information from them. I spoke with a teacher at a local high school, and she said teachers would not have the time to fit it in the curriculum. She stated that one teacher had taught some of this history to his AP class. It seems some people see the incomplete history of America and are trying to teach it. On the other hand, if some people see no evidence that the Iroquois ever influenced the founding fathers, they would probably say the way things are written in history is good enough.
The people, who for reasons of research, believe the Iroquois had contributed, might say this incomplete history needs to be filled in. It needs to be seen as an important part of American history, as much as the European settlers, who landed here and formed the colonies. It needs to be as much a part of history as the already recorded history that the textbooks have taught us throughout our lives. I believe that the textbook companies, as well as the school departments, the schools, and teachers, have a responsibility to teach this history about the Iroquois, and all American Indians. Not accurately portraying history can have catastrophic effects on our country, and our people. The poet and philosopher George Santayana said,” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If people decide that this history should never be taught, there is always the chance inhumane treatment of people could happen to others, in the name of patriotism, or when people are not viewed as equals. Suppress the information, and it will not be found. Go at it with an open mind, and find more than you ever imagined. What the answer will be remains to be seen, but new ways of teaching, a more complete education in US History, is on the horizon, and already begun.
There has been an effort by the Syracuse school district, to teach children about the American Indian, and especially the Iroquois (Syracuse City School District 2). Also, the NYC Department of Education has Native Americans in their 4th Grade curriculum (NYC Department of Education). These are just two examples of public schools teaching about the American Indian. If this is to happen everywhere, the textbooks need to be revised, and in the meantime supplemental materials need to be incorporated into US History in the public schools. As I go through my own life, I will probably learn more US History in school, reading, television, and so on. There is a book called Apologies To The Iroquois by Edmund Wilson. I plan to read it when I get the chance. I believe that in life, whether one has a traditional education, or no formal education, it is every person’s responsibility to learn history as accurately as they can, and to use as many sources as needed to get it. Our children, all peoples of this land, and our country, depend on it. Therefore they deserve a complete and accurate account of American History.
“HISTORY AS TOLD BY AMERICAN INDIANS.” HISTORY AS TOLD BY AMERICAN INDIANS. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May. 2014.
United States. Cong. Select Committee on Indian Affairs. H. CON. RES. 331. 100th Cong., 2nd sess. Cong Res. 331. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF file.
Johansen, Bruce E. “Commentary On The Iroquois And The U.S. Costitution.” Ethnohistory 37.3
1990) 279. Academic Search Premier. Web.28 May. 2014.
Native American Contributions. Number 2. PDF file.
NYC Department of Education. Office of Curriculum and Professional Development.
Department of Social Studies. Field Edition. 1-148. 2008. PDF file.
S. J. RES. 15. Text. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June. 2014.
Syracuse City School District. Social Studies Curriculum. 1-59. 2014. PDF file.
Tooker, Elisabeth. “The United States Constitution And The Iroquois League.” Ethnohistory 35:4 (1988): Abstract. Web.
Usner, Daniel H. “A Savage Feast They Made Of It.” Journal of the Early Republic 33.4 (2013): 607-641. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 May. 2014.
Wikipedia contributors. “Native American disease and epidemics.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 May. 2014. Web. 19 May. 2014.
Wikipedia contributors. “Trail of Tears.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Jun. 2014. Web. 19 May. 2014.
Yarrow, David. “The Great Law of Peace.” 1987. HTML file.
I would also like to recommend 2 books ..
Great Speeches by Native Americans – Robert Blaisdell
An Indigenous People’s’ History of the United States – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz