Indigenous Basis of the United States Constitution

Periodically, the issue of sources or influences underpinning the United States Constitution re-emerges.  The most recent driver is the issue of immigration (and immigrants and Steve Bannon’s inability to form a complete sentence when confronted).  The indisputable truth is that, unless you are a Native American (i.e. indigenous), you or your ancestors belong to that group.  You are an immigrant.  And, most Native Americans would call you an illegal immigrant since you removed them from their lands by treaty (broken), trickery or force.

While the Constitution and even the Declaration of Independence are usually assumed to be based on Western traditions, especially the British Magna Carta (see Wikipedia excerpt below), in reality these ideas came for the traditions of indigenous peoples.

Excerpt:  The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1787, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States.[c] Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities, Lord Denning describing it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.[4]

For those especially interested in all the contributions to American culture by the “Indians of the Americas,” please check out the following books by Jack Weatherford:

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World
Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America

In reality, the US Constitution and its focus on individuals rights is strongly based on the Iroquois who have “absorbed many other peoples into their cultures as a result of warfare, adoption of captives, and by offering shelter to displaced peoples.”  This description of the Iroquois from Wikipedia could easily be applied to the functioning and founding of the United States.

Each nation within the Iroquoian family had a distinct language, territory and function in the allied with the whole governed by a Grand Council, an assembly of fifty chiefs or sachems, each representing one of the clans of one of the nations. “The Iroquois remained a politically unique, undivided, large Native American polity up until the American Revolution. The League kept its treaty promises to the British Crown. But when the British were defeated, they ceded the Iroquois territory without consultation; many Iroquois had to abandon their lands in the Mohawk Valley and elsewhere and relocate in the northern lands retained by the British [i.e. Canada].”

You can find the specifics of the formation, history and current status of the Six Nations on their Wikipedia page and elsewhere.  I remain convinced that the United States could easily be called the Iroquois Nation (except, of course, for our poor integration of those original peoples).  While it is impossible to predict the outcome of delayed European discovery of the Americas, I remain appalled by the chicanery and genocide brought to bear against indigenous peoples and believe we continue to owe them both better treatment and reparations.

 

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