In the debacle of Donald Trumps refusal to concede power, American families ponder on whether to meet to celebrate Thanksgiving in the current pandemic. The date might provide a meaningful opportunity to consider what has been gained and what lost since 1776. When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth in 1620 fleeing religous persecution, the only Americans were the indigenous peoples. The first Dutch fur traders who had arrived in Albany in 1613 had been welcomed by native Americans who stated “We have a canoe, you have a boat,” suggesting they link the two vessels and ‘float down the river of Life together.’ The predictable difficulty arose when some wanted one foot in the canoe and one in the boat.
Benjamin Franklin attended the Lancaster Treaty of 1744, inviting the chiefs of 6 Indian nations to attend. Mr. Franklin was intrigued with the governmental structure of the Iroquois’ League of the Six Nations, six Indian tribes under one ruling government. They discussed good governance, representation, peaceful transfer of power, 2 political houses – and the power of the people. The Indians advised colonial leaders on how to create a government modelled after the Iroquois League of nations. On 17th Dec 1988, the U.S. Senate paid tribute with a resolution that said: “The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was inﬂuenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”
THE PEACE MAKER
Native American tradition holds that mankind is subject to a higher authority and that people and all Creation are intertwined. In an unknown time of great conflict many hundreds of years ago, a spiritual being arrived to teach the tribes the ways of Peace through an observance of Natural Law. The formula was Peace-Equity-Power of the Good Mind. He warned them “Do not challenge the laws – you will not prevail… When you become weak, afraid, the spiritual law will stiffen your spine, then you will survive…“Be fair to the people – Justice comes with fairness” He taught Unity, that everyone must be of the same mind. This became the Iroquois Confederacy.
Great Turtle Island is the name give to the continent of America by the indigenous people. The Tree of Peace was planted by the Peacemaker, a symbol of The Great Spiritual Law with an eagle, a sacred symbol to the Iroquois people, placed above the tree. The fifty chiefs buried their weapons beneath it, a marker that fighting was over. Peacemaker then took one arrow from a quiver and snapped it easily, then three, then five; putting several arrows together he showed it was impossible to break them, that together the tribes too would be unbreakable.
Peacemaker said “You shall know your nation through your women. Because the Earth is female the women will be working with the earth” he chose a woman as clan leader and made women clan mothers. Society followed matrilineal form, land was vested in the women, when a girl was born she was a land holder, women held the dwellings, horses and farmed land, and a woman’s property before marriage stayed in her possession. Every child born had a nation, a name, an identity and inheritance.
IF A LEADER DOES NOT PROVE SOUND, BECOMES CORUPT OR DOES NOT LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE, CLAN MOTHERS HAVE THE POWER TO TO STRIP HIM OF HIS LEADERSHIP AND HE IS REMOVED BY THE PEOPLE.
Animal names were given to the original 50 chiefs and Clan Mother, Chief, Sub Chief and a Faithkeeper were appointed. On the death of a tribal chief it is Clan Mother who chooses the next leader, this must be agreed upon by concensus. Clans gather at an appointed time to judge the man, who must be a family man in good standing, honest, courageous, patient and tolerant. In this lengthy process all the laws are recited as a reminder, if he passes scrutiny he is appointed. The people are then asked “Does anyone know a reason why this man should not be appointed”. A Grand Council, an assembly of fifty chiefs or sachems, each representing one of the clans of one of the nations is the governing body. Chiefs are accountable to the current 7th generation and to future generations.They are instructed “not to let your generation be the one to fail.”.
An English colonists observed: “such absolute notions of Liberty that they allow no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories”
On April 4th 1744, Chief Canassatego gave a speech urging the contentious 13 colonies to unite, as the Iroquois had. Benjamin Franklin printed his speech: “We heartily recommend Union and a good Agreement between you our Brethren,” Canassatego had said. “Never disagree, but preserve a strict Friendship for one another, thereby you, as well as we, will become the stronger. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighbouring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and, by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire such strength and power. Therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another” He referenced the teaching that many arrows cannot be broken as easily as one. Native Americans believe this inspired the bundle of 13 arrows held by an eagle incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States
“They took an ember and lighted their own fire … they said they wanted peace – a great light of peace at that time but the embers died down”
Thanksgiving was part of native culture, to give thanks for what has been received from a higher plane, this was adopted by the Pilgrims as a celebration of their new life. There were however two major differences in the cultures, the Iroquois Confederacy honoured community and freedom through mutual support, common land and common water; European settlers coming from a patriarchal society were reluctant to accept matrilineal kinship. The American Constitution did not therefore reflect The Great Law. Like much of the world, America fell prey to corporate greed and materialism, seduced by secularism and technology, Capitalism like Communism is bereft of spirituality, the law is transgressed when profit is elevated beyond sharing.
The emphasis on personal freedom, so much a mark of American identity, is perhaps seen today in the refusal to place the wellbeing of others first, as millions of Americans prepare to travel to meet family and friends despite appeals to defer Thanksgiving dinners for the greater good. We might use this day to pray that the empty chairs at next years table will be few.