Iroquois chief Oren Lyons explained the Indian vision of democracy at the recent Bioneers Conference in California.
‘We came to our lands a thousand years ago, long before the white man. However, because we were fighting amongst ourselves the Peacemaker came. There is a great epic story about how he brought peace. He assembled the leaders of the five original nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga and the Seneca, all of whom spoke Iroquoian languages. And when they were seated peacefully next to one another, he laid down the laws. He laid down our confederacy, the constitution of the Five Nations. Later on it was joined by the Tuscarora and it became the constitution of the Six Nations. The Peacemaker said: ‘I am going to base this constitution on three principles. The first principle is peace. The second principle is equity for all people as there is no justice without equity. The third principle is the power of good minds, which means being able to live in unity, being of one mind.’
Then he spoke to the leaders and asked them: ‘How shall you know your nation?’ And he answered: ‘you shall know your nation by the women. They will carry the line because the earth is female. The women will work with the earth. And the earth will belong to them.’ So when a girl was born you had a landholder. When a boy was born you had a lacrosse player, a good singer, or a dancer. And maybe even a chief. And so he gave a great deal of responsibility to women. He made them the clan mothers and he made them responsible for choosing their leaders. He gave us a system of raising leaders that did not involve politics. Which means that at the end of the day you have a leader and not a politician.
So, how does the process of our democracy work? How do our leaders come to power? First the clan mother selects the leader of her choice either from her clan or a related clan. Agreement on this then has to be reached by consensus of the clan. If this does not happen she must find somebody else. If there is a consensuses she may present her choice to the chief’s council who also has the right of veto. If they do not agree she has to start again. But if they do agree you have a real candidate for this title of chief. Once the leader has been chosen runners are sent to all the Six Nations announcing the news and we all assemble at an appointed time.
At the appointed time the Great Council judges this man again. It takes a whole day as it is a weighty matter. The candidate is put to the test as a man of good health, courage, a family man, responsible and honest. He must succeed.
And so at the end of the day we bring forth the candidate and turn to the people. Then we ask: ‘Does anyone have a reason why this man should not be here?’ The final word is that of the people. Our leaders are chosen by the people. They are there by the will of the people. And if they do not perform the will of the people they are removed. And that is democracy.’
This is an abridged version of the speech Oren Lyons gave at the Bioneers Conference, San Rafael, California, 17 October 2003.
More information: www.bioneers.org