The Indian Reader Studies

Founding Fathers had Indian help

EUGENE, OR-The United States should recognize its Native American roots when celebrating the Constitutional Bicentennial in 1987, said the director of the Indian program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

The Iroquois formed a confederation of nations for the purposes of trade, mutual protection and interaction, two centuries before "that wayward Italian boy (Christopher Columbus) got lost and the Indians discovered him," said Rayna Green, the Smithsonian Indian program director.

"When the Europeans arrived, these people were governed under one law-the Great Law of Peace," Green said.

Recently, there has been a growing awareness among scholars that the "founding fathers" of the American government did not derive their democratic ideals from European thinkers.

Benjamin Franklin was among the most prolific and innovative observer of the time who tried to balance the needs of government with a profound sense of individual liberties and human rights. The six-nation Iroquois confederacy was cited by him as the model for the emerging American Confederation.

The Onondagas, today located just south of Syracuse, are the capital nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, which is made up of Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas, Cayugas and Tuscaroras as well. The Iroquois Confederacy continues to be one of the oldest continuing forms of self-government on earth.
Oren Lyons, an Onondaga chief, points out the similarity of the three-sided Iroquois government and the three-chambered US system. Lyons is also professor at the State University of New York.

“The Constitution is the US government’s treaty with its own citizens,’ according to Lyons. “the founding fathers copied it from our government- but they forgot about the most important part, which tells about the relationship between human beings and the natural world.”


"War or Peace?" This drawing by Kahionhes illustrates the introduction of the "Great Law of Peace" to the Europeans - Reprinted by permission from Cornell University's Indian Studies
Editor’s Note: An excellent informative article about the Iroquois Confederacy, entitled “The Fire That Never Dies,” appears in the September 1987 issue of National Geographic magazine

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