Friday, May 25, 2012

About Indian Tribal Confederacies and Government


Iroquois confederacy
A tendency to confederate for mutual defense would very naturally exist among kindred and contiguous tribes. When the advantages of a union had been appreciated by actual experience, the organization, at first a league, would gradually cement into a federal unity. The state of perpetual warfare in which they lived would quicken this natural tendency into action among such tribes as were sufficiently advanced in intelligence and in the arts of life to perceive its benefits. It would be simply a growth from a lower into a higher organization by an extension of the principle which united the gentes in a tribe.
As might have been expected, several confederacies existed in different parts of North America when discovered, some of which were quite remarkable in plan and structure. Among the number may be mentioned the Iroquois Confederacy of five independent tribes, the Creek Confederacy of six, the Ottawa Confederacy of three, the Dakota League of the "Seven Council Fires," the Moki Confederacy in New Mexico of Seven Pueblos, and the Aztec Confederacy of three tribes in the Valley of Mexico. It is probable that the Village Indians in other parts of Mexico, in Central and in South America were quite generally organized in confederacies consisting of two or more kindred tribes. Progress necessarily took this direction from the nature of their institutions and from the law governing their development. Nevertheless the formation of a confederacy out of such materials and with such unstable geographical relations was a difficult undertaking. It was easiest of achievement by the Village Indians from the nearness to each other of their pueblos and from the smallness of their areas; but it was accomplished in occasional instances by tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism, and notably by the Iroquois. Wherever a confederacy was formed it would of itself evince the superior intelligence of the people.
The two highest examples of Indian confederacies in North America were those of the Iroquois and of the Aztecs. From their acknowledged superiority as military powers, and from their geographical positions, these confederacies in both cases produced remarkable results. Our knowledge of the structure and principles of the former is definite and complete, while of the latter it is far from satisfactory. The Aztec Confederacy has been handled in such a manner historically as to leave it doubtful whether it was simply a league of three kindred tribes, offensive and defensive, or a systematic confederacy like that of the Iroquois. That which is true of the latter was probably in a general sense true of the former, so that a knowledge of one will tend to elucidate the other.
The conditions under which confederacies spring into being and the principles on which they are formed are remarkably simple. They grow naturally with time out of pre-existing elements. Where one tribe had divided into several, and these subdivisions occupied independent but contiguous territories, the confederacy reintegrated them in a higher organization on the basis of the common gentes they possessed and of the affiliated dialects they spoke. The sentiment of kin embodied in the gens, the common lineage of the gentes, and their dialects, still mutually intelligible, yielded the material elements for a confederation. The confederacy, therefore, had the gentes for its basis and center, and stock language for its circumference. No one has been found that reached beyond the bounds of the dialects of a common language. If this natural barrier had been crossed it would have forced heterogeneous elements into the organization. Cases have occurred where the remains of a tribe, not cognate in speech, as the Natchez, [Footnote: They were admitted into the Creek Confederacy after their overthrow by the French.] have been admitted into an existing confederacy, but this exception would not invalidate the general proposition. It was impossible for an Indian power to arise upon the American continent through a confederacy of tribes organized in gentes, and advance to a general supremacy, unless their numbers were developed from their own stock. The multitude of stock languages is a standing explanation of the failure. There was no possible way of becoming connected on equal terms with a confederacy excepting through membership in a gens and tribe and a common speech.
The Iroquois have furnished an excellent illustration of the manner in which a confederacy is formed by natural growth assisted by skillful legislation. Originally emigrants from beyond the Mississippi, and possibly a branch of the Dakota stock, they first made their way to the valley of the St. Lawrence and settled themselves near Montreal. Forced to leave this region by the hostility of surrounding tribes, they sought the central region of New York. Coasting the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in canoes, for their numbers were small, they made their first settlement at the mouth of the Oswego River, where, according to their traditions, they remained for a long period of time. They were then in at least three distinct tribes, the Mohawks, the Onondagas, and the Senecas. One tribe subsequently established themselves at the head of the Canandaigua Lake and became the Senecas. Another tribe occupied the Onondaga Valley and became the Onondagas. The third passed eastward and settled first at Oneida, near the site of Utica, from which place the main portion removed to the Mohawk Valley and became the Mohawks. Those who remained became the Oneidas. A portion of the Onondagas or Senecas settled along the eastern shore of the Cayuga Lake and became the Cayugas. New York, before its occupation by the Iroquois, seems to have been a part of the area of the Algonkin tribes. According to Iroquois traditions, they displaced its anterior inhabitants as they gradually extended their settlements eastward to the Hudson and westward to the Genesee. Their traditions further declare that a long period of time elapsed after their settlement in New York before the confederacy was formed, during which they made common cause against their enemies, and thus experienced the advantages of the federal principle both for aggression and defense. They resided in villages, which were usually surrounded with stockades, and subsisted upon fish and game and the products of a limited horticulture. In numbers they did not at any time exceed 20,000 souls, if they ever reached that number. Precarious subsistence and incessant warfare repressed numbers in all the aboriginal tribes, including the Village Indians as well. The Iroquois were enshrouded in the great forests which then overspread New York, against which they had no power to contend. They were first discovered A. D. 1608. About 1675 they attained their culminating point, when their dominion reached over an area remarkably large, covering the greater parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and portions of Canada north of Lake Ontario. [Footnote: About 1651-1655 they expelled their kindred tribes, the Eries, from the region between the Genesee River and Lake Erie, and shortly afterwards the Neutral Nations from the Niagara River, and thus came into possession of the remainder of New York, with the exception of the Lower Hudson and Long Island.]
At the time of their discovery they were the highest representatives of the red race north of New Mexico in intelligence and advancement, though perhaps inferior to some of the Gulf tribes in the arts of life. In the extent and quality of their mental endowments they must be ranked among the highest Indians in America. There are over six thousand Iroquois in New York, besides scattered bands in other parts of the United States, and a still larger number in Canada; thus illustrating the efficiency as well as persistency of the arts of barbarous life in sustaining existence. It is, moreover, now ascertained that they are slowly increasing.
When the confederacy was formed, about A. D. 1400-1450, the conditions previously named were present. [Footnote: The Iroquois claimed that it had existed from one hundred and fifty to two hundred years when they first saw Europeans. The generations of sachems in the history by David Cusick (a Tuscarora) would make it more ancient. Schoolcraft's History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes, 5, p. 631.]
The Iroquois were in five independent tribes, occupied territories contiguous to each other, and spoke dialects of the same language which were mutually intelligible. Beside these facts, certain gentes were common in the several tribes, as has been shown. In their relations to each other, as separated parts of the same gens, these common gentes afforded a natural and enduring basis for a confederacy. With these elements existing, the formation of a confederacy became a question of intelligence and skill. Other tribes in large numbers were standing in precisely the same relations in different parts of the continent without confederating. The fact that the Iroquois tribes accomplished the work affords evidence of their superior capacity. Moreover, as the confederacy was the ultimate stage of organization among the American aborigines, its existence would be expected in the most intelligent tribes only.
It is affirmed by the Iroquois that the confederacy was formed by a council of wise men and chiefs of the five tribes which met for that purpose on the north shore of Onondaga Lake, near the site of Syracuse; and that before its session was concluded the organization was perfected and set in immediate operation. At their periodical councils for raising up sachems they still explain its origin as the result of one protracted effort of legislation. It was probably a consequence of a previous alliance for mutual defense, the advantages of which they had perceived and which they sought to render permanent.
The origin of the plan is ascribed to a mythical, or, at least, traditionary person, Ha-yo-went-ha, the Hiawatha of Longfellow's celebrated poem, who was present at this council and the central person in its management. In his communications with the council he used a wise man of the Onondagas, Da-ga-no-we'-da, as an interpreter and speaker to expound the structure and principles of the proposed confederacy. The same tradition further declares that when the work was accomplished Ha-yo-went-ha miraculously disappeared in a white canoe, which arose with him in the air and bore him out of their sight. Other prodigies, according to this tradition, attended and signalized the formation of the confederacy, which is still celebrated among them as a masterpiece of Indian wisdom. Such in truth it was; and it will remain in history as a monument of their genius in developing gentile institutions. It will also be remembered as an illustration of what tribes of mankind have been able to accomplish in the art of government while in the Lower Status of barbarism, and under the disadvantages this condition implies.
Which of the two persona was the founder of the confederacy it is difficult to determine. The silent Ha-yo-went'-ha was, not unlikely, a real person of Iroquois lineage, but tradition has enveloped his character so completely in the supernatural that he loses his place among them as one of their number. If Hiawatha were a real person, Da-ga-no-we'-da must hold a subordinate place; but if a mythical person invoked for the occasion, then to the latter belongs the credit of planning the confederacy. [Footnote: My friend Horatio Hale, the eminent philologist, came, as he informed me, to this conclusion]
The Iroquois affirm that the confederacy, as formed by this council, with its powers, functions, and mode of administration, has come down to them through many generations to the present time with scarcely a change in its internal organization. When the Tuscaroras were subsequently admitted, their sachems were allowed by courtesy to sit as equals in the general council, but the original number of sachems was not increased, and in strictness those of the Tuscaroras formed no part of the ruling body.
The general features of the Iroquois Confederacy may be summarized in the following propositions:
I. The Confederacy was a union of Five Tribes, composed of common gentes, under one government on the basis of equality; each Tribe remaining independent in all matters pertaining to local self-government.
II. It created a General Council of Sachems, who were limited in number, equal in rank and authority, and invested with supreme powers over all matters pertaining to the Confederacy.
III. Fifty Sachemships were created and named in perpetuity in certain gentes of the several Tribes; with power in these gentes to fill vacancies, as often as they occurred, by election from among their respective members, and with the further power to depose from office for cause; but the right to invest these Sachems with office was reserved to the General Council.
IV. The Sachems of the Confederacy were also Sachems in their respective Tribes, and with the Chiefs of these Tribes formed the Council of each, which was supreme over all matters pertaining to the Tribe exclusively.
V. Unanimity in the Council of the Confederacy was made essential to every public act.
VI. In the General Council the Sachems voted by Tribes, which gave to each Tribe a negative upon the others.
VII. The Council of each Tribe had power to convene the General
Council; but the latter had no power to convene itself.
VIII. The General Council was open to the orators of the people for the discussion of public questions; but the Council alone decided.
IX. The Confederacy had no chief Executive Magistrate or official head.
X. Experiencing the necessity for a General Military Commander, they created the office in a dual form, that one might neutralize the other. The two principal War-chiefs created were made equal in powers.
These several propositions will be considered and illustrated, but without following the precise form or order in which they are stated.