ABOUT THE IROQUOIS CONSTITUTION

Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300)

During the bi-centennial year of The Constitution of the United States, a number of books were written concerning the origin of that long-revered document. One of these, The Genius of the People, alleged that after the many weeks of debate a committee sat to combine the many agreements into one formal document. The chairman of the committee was John Rutledge of South Carolina. He had served in an earlier time, along with Ben Franklin and others, at the Stamp Act Congress, held in Albany, New York. This Committee of Detail was having trouble deciding just how to formalize the many items of discussion into one document that would satisfy one and all. Rutledge proposed they model the new government they were forming into something along the lines of the Iroquois League of Nations, which had been functioning as a democratic government for hundreds of years, and which he had observed in Albany.

While there were many desirable, as well as undesirable, models from ancient and modern histories in Europe and what we know now as the Middle East, only the Iroquois had a system that seemed to meet most of the demands espoused by the many parties to the debates. The Genius of the People alleged that the Iroquois had a Constitution which began:
"We the people, to form a union. . ."

That one sentence was enough to light a fire under me, and cause me to do some deep research into ancient Iroquoian lore. I never did find that one sentence backed up in what writings there are concerning the ancient Iroquois. But I DID find sufficient data and evidence to convince me that the Iroquois most certainly did have a considerable influence on the drafting of our own Constitution, and we present-day Americans owe them a very large debt. At the time of the founding of the Iroquois League of Nations, no written language existed; we have only the early stories which were passed down from generation to generation, until such time as there was a written language, and interpreters available, to record that early history. One such document is listed below.

There are several other documents now available in various places which refer to the original founding of the Iroquois, and they seem to substantiate this document as probably truthful and accurate. This version was prepared by Arthur C. Parker, Archeologist of the State Museum in New York in 1915, and published by the University of the State of New York as Bulletin 184 on April 1, 1916. It is entitled: The Constitution of the Five Nations - or - The Iroquois Book of the Great Law. In it, you will find close parallels to our Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches of government as originally described in our U. S. Constitution.

You will find it very difficult to keep in mind that it survives after some 500 or 600 years, and was originated by people that our ancestors mistakenly considered as "savages". Some sources place the origin of the Five Nation Confederacy as early as 1390 AD, but others insist it was prepared about 1450-1500 AD; in any case, it was well before any possible contamination by European invaders. Early explorers and colonists found the Iroquois well established, as they had been for many generations: with a democratic government; with a form of religion that acknowledged a Creator in heaven; with a strong sense of family which was based on, and controlled by, their women; and many other surprises you will soon discover.

It must also be pointed out that this document refers to to the "Five" Nations, while other references to the Confederacy speak of the "Six" nations. From the inception, there were the Five Nations discussed in this Constitution. In about 1715, the Tuscarora Nation, once part of the Iroquois peoples in a much earlier period of their history, moved up from North Carolina to avoid warfare with the invading white settlers, and were adopted into the Confederacy. At this point in time, the Iroquois controlled many parts of our now eastern states from their homelands in what is now New York state. The original Five Nations were:

  • Mohawk: People Possessors of the Flint
  • Onondaga: People on the Hills
  • Seneca: Great Hill People
  • Oneida: Granite People
  • Cayuga: People at the Mucky Land
  • Tuscarora: Shirt Wearing People became the Sixth Nation

The founder of the Confederacy of the Five Nations is generally acknowledged to be Dekanawida, born near the Bay of Quinte, in southeastern Ontario, Canada. During his travels, he associated himself with a Mohawk tribal lord in what is now New York, and named him Hahyonhwatha (Hiawatha) (He who has misplaced something, but knows where to find it). Hiawatha left his family and friends, and joined Dekanawida in his travels, becoming his chief spokesman. One legend has it that Dekanawida, while brilliant, had a speech impediment, and depended on Hiawatha to do his public speaking for him. Together, they traveled the length and breadth of the lands on the south shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as the river to the sea, now known as the St. Lawrence. These were the homelands of tribes with a common heritage, but who had been warring with one another for many years. Dekanawida united them into a League of Nations that we now call the Iroquois League. Centuries later, Longfellow "borrowed" the name of Hiawatha to be his hero in a fictional legend; there is no other connection between the two Hiawathas nor their stories.

Here is their original Constitution, as best it can be recontructed from legend and spoken history. Read it and be amazed...keep in mind it is over 500 years old!

Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300) Distributed by the Cybercasting Services Division of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN).

To page 1 of Iroquois Constitution

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