Native American Political Systems
and the Evolution of Democracy:
An Annotated Bibliography
Bruce E. Johansen
Professor of Communication and
Native American Studies
University of Nebraska at Omaha
1988Books, Scholarly, and Specialty Journals
Allen, Paula Gunn. "Who is Your Mother? Red Roots of White Feminism." in Rick Simonson and Scott Walker, The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy. St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1988, pp. 13-27.
In work that is in some ways similar to that of Sally Roesch Wagner, Paula Gunn Allen traces native influences on the evolution of feminist thought. "The root of oppression is the loss of memory" (p. 18), Allen writes, particularly, in this case, when the lost memory involves the influence of the Native American intellect in history. "Neither Greece nor Rome had the kind of pluralistic democracy as that concept has been understood in the United States since Andrew Jackson, but the tribes, especially the gynarchial tribal confederacies, did." (p. 23)Axtell, James. After Columbus: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Page 252: Indians invented scalping, but democracy -- no way! "Another myth, which floated up once again at Kahnawake and is very much before us during the bicentennial, is that the United States Constitution was closely patterned upon the League of the Iroquois. Each myth [this one, and the purported European invention of scalping] contains just enough truth to be plausible, but they are logically and historically fallacious. Should the scholar risk the displeasure of the disabused by constantly and forcefully saying so?" To empower his logic, and his ability to discern historical validity, Axtell footnotes this assertion with two of his own works, an article in the New York Times, [see 1987], Tooker's "U.S. Constitution and the Iroquois League" in draft, and an M.A. thesis by a student in his department.Barreiro, Jose, ed. Indian Roots of American Democracy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell American Indian Program, 1988.
Printed proceedings of the September, 1987 conference "Cultural Encounter: The Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution." The conference, the first on the subject, brought together traditional Iroquois, scholars, and others to examine the Great Law, its history, and its impact on subsequent political events.Barreiro, Jose. "Commentary." Northeast Indian Quarterly, Fall, 1988, pp. 4, 52.
Barreiro, editor of NEIQ, describes opposition to the Haudenosaunee curriculum, then surveys the debate over the "influence thesis," giving it that name for the first time. Summarizing the results of the 1987 Cornell conference on the subject, Barreiro compares the controversy to that aroused by Martin Bernal's Black Athena. He concludes: "It would be most valuable now to have proponents and opponents of the influence thesis present their conclusions at a public forum." (p. 52)Burton, Bruce A. "A Call to Classroom Consciousness: Reflections on Teaching American History." Turtle Quarterly Winter, 1988, pp. 6-10.
Advocates revision of school curricula to include the "influence thesis."Fresia, Jerry. Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions. Boston: South End Press, 1988.
Fresia brings the Iroquois Great Law of Peace into his discussion of the U.S. Constitution's ideological shortcomings. On pages 75 and 76, he writes: "For the Iroquois, the concept of 'the people' meant something very different from what the Framers had in mind. Their law and custom provided for the relatively equitable distribution of wealth, universal suffrage, and a confederation of states similar to the one described in the Articles [of Confederation]." Fresia quotes Cadwallader Colden (in 1727) on Iroquois notions of liberty, treatment of leaders as servants of the people, etc., referencing Forgotten Founders [1982, 1987].Johansen, "Vox Americana." Northeast Indian Quarterly, Fall, 1988, pp. 18-25.
Survey of native confederate models in eastern North America, as well as early European-Americans' descriptions of them, with an emphasis on their relationship to liberty. From an early draft of Exemplar of Liberty , chapter of the same name.Johansen, "Democracy and a Constitution: Indian Influences on the United States." Turtle Quarterly, Winter, 1988, pp. 2-5.
Survey of the Indian image in revolutionary American thought, describing events between Cannassatego's 1744 speech at Lancaster, through the Albany Plan (1754) and the years of the revolution.Simonson, Rick and Scott Walker. Multicultural Literacy. Minneapolis: Gray Wolf Press, 1988.
This book, widely used as a multicultural textbook, contains Paula Gunn Allen's essay "Red Roots of White Feminism."Smith, Lisa M. "Working Pictures Signs Blume..." Back Stage, February 5, 1988.
This article says that the film company Working Pictures is planning to "draw the board and shoot the series of four public-service announcements exploring the origins of the Constitution and its roots in the Iroquois Confederacy."Tooker, Elisabeth. "The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League." Ethnohistory 35:4(Fall, 1988), pp. 305-336.
This was the first detailed rebuttal in a scholarly journal in reaction to assertion of the "influence thesis" during the 1980s. Tooker reviews some of the evidence advanced to support the thesis, but alleges that proponents believe that the Founders "copied" the Constitution from the Iroquois League. This is obviously not the case, Tooker finds, because U.S. government is based on majority rule, not unanimous consensus, and U.S. senators are not nominated by their clan mothers. Tooker believes that the Founders were almost entirely ignorant of Iroquois and other native political systems. "Not until Lewis H. Morgan made it a special subject of study and published his findings did an account of the Iroquois form of government become available." (p. 311) Tooker does quote a passage in Morgan's Houses and House-life of the American Aborigines (1881) in which the founder of American anthropology says that the Iroquois "commended to our forefathers a union of colonies as early as 1755." (p. 324), but she seems historically oblivious to the copious (but not "systematic") observations of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Adams, and others during the founding of the United States. The "influence thesis" is "a myth," according to Tooker. (p. 321), started by a press release issued on Smithsonian letterhead on March 26, 1936 by ethnologist J.N.B. Hewitt. In footnote 2 (p. 330), Tooker says that while she "relied heavily" on Forgotten Founders for her historiography of statements attributing political influence to the Iroquois, "I attempt here no consideration of all the questionable interpretations of the data such authors as Johansen and Grinde make..."Wagner, Sally Roesch. "The Iroquois Confederacy: A Native American Model for Non-sexist Men." Changing Men, Spring-summer, 1988, p. 32-33.
A concise survey of Iroquois governance from a feminist perspective.Weatherford, Jack. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. New York: Crown, 1988.
Three chapters of this trade book delve into Native American political practices; two of them quote liberally (with citations) from Forgotten Founders [1982, 1987]. Johansen and Weatherford began corresponding and exchanging manuscripts in 1988; Johansen edited an early draft of his sequel Native Roots. Johansen also supplied Weatherford with an early draft of Exemplar of Liberty , which is cited as a reference in Native Roots.
Newspapers and Magazines
__________. "Smithsonian Official Talks of Indians' Historic Role." [United Press International] October 9, 1988.
Rayna Green, director of the American Indian Program at the Smithsonian, is speaking in Eugene, Oregon. The so-called 'Founding Fathers' were backed up by others, 'forgotten founders,'" she said. She mentions the role of Benjamin Franklin.__________. "Northeast Wisconsin News Briefs." [United Press International] May 19, 1988.
In Oneida, Wisconsin, the Oneida Tribe of Indians will observe the bicentennial of the signing of the United States Constitution to call attention to contributions of Native Americans toward the writing of the document. The tribe will hold a Great Tree of Peace ceremony at the Norbert Hill Center in Oneida.__________. "Philippine Minister Challenges North on Democracy." [Interpress Service] May 5, 1988.
Raul Manglapus, Philippine Foreign Secretary, is challenging the industrial world's assumptions about its primacy in the theory of democracy at a ministerial meeting of the 21-nation Council of Europe at its headquarters in Strasborg, Germany. "The democratic value that is the heart of the constitution of the Council of Europe is indigenous not only to the northern societies, but to all human cultures..." Manglapus said, according to this account, "citing democratic republics like Licchavis, developed on the Indian subcontinent 600 years before Christ, [and] the Iroquois Confederacy that preceded the United States Constitution..."_________. "Pow Wow Opens in Baltimore." [United Press International], August 26, 1988.
More than 29,000 people are expected in Baltimore today for one of the largest pow-wows on the East Coast. Barry Richardson, chairman of the pow-wow committee, "said American Indians also celebrate the formation of the U.S. Constitution, which, he said, contains Indian principles such as initiative, recall, referendum, and equal suffrage."Banks, Gail. "Indian Givers." Boston Magazine, November, 1988, pp. 140, 143-145.
Review of four books on Native American topics, two of which are Forgotten Founders, and Paula Gunn Allen's The Sacred Hoop.Barreiro, Jose. "The Iroquois Influence: Cornell Conference Showed Ties to U.S. Constitution, Syracuse Post-Standard, Oct. 12, 1988, p. A-11.
This op-ed piece is similar in some ways to Barreiro's "Commentary," above, tailored as a response to James Axtell's comments in Farrell, below.Binder, David and Martin Tolchin. "Washington Talk, Briefing: The First Constitution." New York Times, September 12, 1988.
Announcement of an Iroquois gathering at Constitution Park to plant a white pine and observe, as the authors put it, that "the Iroquois constitution [was] woven into the United States Constitution."Boslet, Mark. "Contributions of Indians Told at Columbus Day Event." Waterbury Republican [Waterbury, Conn.] October 11, 1988, pp. B-1, B-2.
Bruce Burton, English professor at Castleton State College, Vermont, describes Native American contributions to the trans-Atlantic flow of ideas.Dougherty, Philip H. "American Indian Group Sponsors Ad Campaign." New York Times, July 27, 1988, p. D-18 [Financial desk].
"Although it is still considered a controversial theory in educational circles, the idea that our Founding Fathers were inspired in creating our Constitution by the ancient Iroquois Confederacy is presented as fact in a new public-service advertising campaign..."Farrell, Marybeth. [Untitled; Dispatch from States News Service] October 4, 1988.
New York State education officials say that passage of a resolution citing the Iroquois Confederacy's contributions to democracy by the U.S. House of Representatives will not impact the rewriting of the state's curriculum for history. P. Alistair MacKinnon, the New York State Education Department's co-ordinator of federal education, said the resolution, which has no legal force, "would not sway the department's assessment of whether the confederacy's constitution...was the model for the U.S. Constitution, as some members of the Confederacy have said."Farrell, Marybeth. [Untitled; dispatch from States News Service] September 30, 1988.
This account details views related to a resolution observing Iroquois contributions to American democracy in the U.S. Senate. The effort is said to be spearheaded by Oren Lyons with the help of Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Evans, who are chair and vice-chair respectively of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. Francis Jennings, director emeritus of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, says that the resolution "destroys my faith in the historical literacy of the Senate." The article quotes Donald Grinde in support of "influence," and a number of historians against the idea.Farrell, Marybeth. [Untitled] States News Service, October 26, 1988.
Datelined Washington,D.C., this news article says that Gerald F. Heath, an owner of New Day Productions (a film company) is trying to get President Reagan to endorse a project "to teach students of all ages about the Iroquois Confederacy of Nation's [sic] influence on the U.S. Constitution." [Files contain a letter to this effect; Johansen's personal files contain copious correspondence with a half-dozen other film makers who have expressed an interest in the the idea since 1985.] The article also refers to the resolutions supporting this idea passed by the U.S. Senate and House.Farrell, Marybeth. "Historians Debunk Iroquois Influence on the Constitution," States News Service in Syracuse Post-Standard, September 24, 1988, p. A-3.
"They just swallowed a public-relations effort by one small faction of the Iroquois folks," says James Axtell, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary [and incoming president of the American Society for Ethnohistory] of a resolution passed by the U.S. Senate attributing the origins of American political thought in part to the Iroquois Confederacy. The article also quotes Ben Nighthorse Campbell, representative from Colorado, in support of the influence idea, which is expressed in a resolution he is sponsoring in the House of Representatives. [Campbell was elected to the U.S. Senate from Colorado in 1992.]Farrell, Marybeth. [Untitled, States News Service] September 17, 1988. In LEXIS.
Report on the tree-planting at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that ignited Michael Newman's condescension in The New Republic. [below]. This article is more balanced than Newman's, quoting Oren Lyons, Onondaga faithkeeper, and Grinde in support of the "influence thesis," and Walter F. Berns, Georgetown University professor and author, against.Grinde, Donald A., Jr. [Letter to the editor], Washington Post, April 30, 1988.
Reply regarding Charles Krauthammer's piece [below] "bemoaning the fact that Stanford emasculated its core curriculum in Western civilization...[in favor of]...'cultural diversity'..." Grinde cites the debt of American government to Iroquois precedents.Johansen. "President's Remarks Showed Ignorance of the Past." Alliance [Nebraska] Times-Herald, June 20, 1988.
In this reprint of an Omaha World-Herald op-ed piece, Johansen takes issue with remarks on American Indians made by President Ronald Reagan at Moscow University. Reagan had said that the United States "humored" Indians with treaties and reservations. The article asserts that Indian influences are woven into the United States national character, and that Reagan is ignorant of most of them. The original op-ed piece was published by the Omaha Wold-Herald June 16, 1988, p. 19.(*) Johansen, Bruce E. "American Indian History" [Letter to the Editor]. The New Republic, December 19, 1988, p. 4.
Replying to Michael Newman's dismissal of the "influence" idea in The New Republic's November 7, 1988 issue, Johansen writes that the "good news" for Newman is that the Founders did not "copy" the Constitution from the Iroquois. The bad news for him is that "American Indian confederacies did help shape the thoughts of our founders, most notably Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson." The biggest historical myth of all, writes Johansen, is that "our 'new republic' was cut entirely from European cloth."Kahn, Daniel. "Agency Takes Up Challenge for Free." Newsday, August 1, 1988, p. 5.
In this business-section story, Kahn describes the efforts Drossman, Lehmann Marino, a New York City advertising agency, on behalf of Amerinda, a Native American advocacy group. These efforts include creation of a print advertisement and poster that show an Iroquois wampum belt over the headline "You're Looking at the First Draft of the Constitution." The agency also is said to have produced a public-service video spot on the same theme. The story noted that the agency, which usually accepts only multi-million dollar accounts from corporate clients, created this public-service campaign on a budget of $10,000.Krauthammer, Charles. "A Battle Lost at Stanford." Washington Post, April 22, 1988.
Bill King, a student leader of a protest at Stanford, is reported by Krauthammer to have said, among other things, that established college curricula ignore the fact that "the Iroquois Indians in America had a representative democracy which served as a model for the American system." Krauthammer is making a case against reforms in curricula such as those adopted in the late 1980s at Stanford.Newman, Michael. "the Iroquois and the Constitution: Founding Feathers." New Republic, November 7, 1988, pp. 17-18.
Newman ridicules a gathering of American Indians to plant a symbolic Iroquois tree of peace on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., calling their ceremonies "hokey" and assertions of Indian influence on the Constitution a "myth [that] isn't just silly. It's destructive." Newman then lectures American Indians, asserting that they should shelve philosophical debates and concentrate on their present-day economic problems. [Files contain unpublished letters from Grinde and Johansen (and one signed by both) to Newman and the editors of the New Republic.]Peck, Ira. "The People of the Longhouse." Junior Scholastic, October 21, 1988, pp. 12-14.
Briefly describes Iroquois governance, and its effect on the colonists, especially Benjamin Franklin.Tewkesbury, Don. "NW[Northwest] Tribes Angry at Reagan's Remark." Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 1988, p. A-9.
Joe de la Cruz, president of the Quinault Nation Council, says that when President Reagan told students at Moscow University that the United States "humored" American Indians by providing reservations for them, he was ignoring the debt that U. S. institutions owe native precedents. "The president is like a lot of Americans who do not understand the United States' own Constitution and the reason for the treaties, which are part of the law of the land. That is because American history does not teach the part that the Indians played in the formation of the U.S. Constitution."Venables, Robert W. "Reagan Remarks Insult Native Americans." [Letter to the editor] New York Times, June 23, 1988, p. A-22.
Venables, a visiting associate professor in Cornell University's American Indian Program, rebuts assertions by President Ronald Reagan at Moscow University that the United States "humored" "primitive" Indians by establishing reservations. "As a label derogating an entire race," writes Venables, "'primitive' could hardly be applied to the Mayas of Mesoamerica, the builders of the Chaco Canyon complex in New Mexico, or the political democracy of the Iroquois in the Northeast, who recognized women's political and economic rights centuries before Europe and the United States."
Scholarly Conferences and Public Events
- Program, "The Living Constitution," University of South Dakota, Vermillion, October 5-6, 1988. Johansen delivered a presentation at this event, which was later published. [Akwesasne Notes, 1991]. He also met briefly with Warren Burger, retired Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court and Chairman of the U.S. Bicentennial Commission, who was the conference's keynote speaker.
- Program, "We Desire to Sit Under the Same Tree of Peace..." Philadelphia, Penn., April 29-May 2, 1988. Organized by Toni Truesdale and the United Indians of Delaware Valley, et. al., this was the first of several events in Philadelphia which provided a forum for the "influence thesis." Truesdale had attended the Cornell conference , and it was at her house that Grinde and Johansen first came to know each other, personally and decided to collaborate on Exemplar of Liberty .
- Gail Landsman, "Portrayals of the Iroquois in the Woman Suffrage Movement," Paper presented at the annual Conference on Iroquois Research, Rensselaerville, New York, October 8, 1988.Other Materials
- "The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the Colonists and the U.S. Constitution," project assembled by Mrs. Heacock's third-grade class, Weller Elementary School, Fairbanks, Alaska.
- Collection of letters regarding Haudenosaunee: Past, Present, Future, from critics of the guide, as well as Grinde, Johansen, et. al. This package also contains the text of a statement debunking the "influence thesis" signed by Axtell, Fenton, Jennings, Tooker, et. al. This statement was submitted to the New York Times as an op-ed piece, but was not published.
- "You're Looking at the First Draft of the Constitution," Public service advertisement for American Indian Arts and Amerinda, New York City. Created by Drossman Lehman Marino Advertising Agency, New York City. This ad, which ran in People and Newsweek, depicts an Iroquois wampum belt and discusses Franklin and Jefferson's views on native governance. Copy from Advertising Age, "Global Gallery: Creative Advertising From Around the World," October 10, 1988.
- Personal letter and attachment to Johansen from Eleanor M. Herbert, Independence Park, Philadelphia, May 9, 1988. Ms. Herbert, a park ranger, waged a campaign to have Native American contributions to democracy observed at the national urban park in Philadelphia which includes Independence Hall. She also sought to have Forgotten Founders sold in the park bookstore, and succeeded, for a time, until her superiors ordered the book removed.
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