Many of us will prioritize honoring and celebrating Indigenous People’s Day this Monday, October 12, in preference to Columbus Day. The sailing achievement of Columbus and crew may still seem important in Spain or Italy. But in recent years researchers have raised to our attention the horrific consequent suffering and losses of indigenous people in these their native lands – 90% of the estimated 60 million people here before the conquistadors arrived in 1492 died in the next several generations from European diseases, massacres and enslavement.
The numerous legacies of these peoples, nonetheless, are fundamental to the democracy of today, beginning with the American experiment. For example, much of the structure and spirit of our U.S. Constitution derives from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation, a confederation of six Iroquois-speaking peoples.
At least one of those peoples, the Mohawks, had noteworthy standards for choosing their legislature and leaders. The women owned the land (being a matrilineal society). The power of the women was executive veto power if the legislative action would possibly lead to war. The Mohawk women were also key in selecting their governmental leader – overseeing the requirement that he be married, have children, be of “good mind,” and cared for the whole people as a family.
I lived in a matrilineal society while in the Peace Corps and had a strong sense of its humanizing, influence for the good of the people and their neighbors. How good it would be, I think, if we applied similar criteria for the selection of our president and legislators.
We have less than a month to our election, one of the most important national votes in U.S. history. What criteria will you bring to it?