Book Review: Excerpt, Ch. 5 IROQUOIS WOMEN AND SOCIETY. IROQUOIS WOMEN ARE A CENTRAL PART OF GOVERNMENT
Doug George-Kanentiio wrote in Iroquois Women in Society: “In our society, women are the center of all things. Nature, we believe, has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function....We traced our clans through women; a child born into the world assumed the clan membership of its mother. Our young women were expected to be physically strong....The young women received formal instruction in traditional planting....Since the Iroquois were absolutely dependent upon the crops they grew, whoever controlled this vital activity wielded great power within our communities. It was our belief that since women were the givers of life they naturally regulated the feeding of our people....In all countries, real wealth stems from the control of land and its resources. Our Iroquois philosophers knew this as well as we knew natural law. To us it made sense for women to control the land since they were far more sensitive to the rhythms of the Mother Earth. We did not own the land but were custodians of it. Our women decided any and all issues involving territory, including where a community was to be built and how land was to be used....In our political system, we mandated full equality. Our leaders were selected by a caucus of women before the appointments were subject to popular review....Our traditional governments are composed of an equal number of men and women. The men are chiefs and the women clan-mothers....As leaders, the women closely monitor the actions of the men and retain the right to veto any law they deem inappropriate....Our women not only hold the reigns of political and economic power, they also have the right to determine all issues involving the taking of human life. Declarations of war had to be approved by the women, while treaties of peace were subject to their deliberations.” Doug George-Kanentiio, in his chapter on the Iroquois family subtitled, (2000)
LEARNING FROM THE MATRIACHIAL SOCIETY OF THE IROQUOIS
"Women are the Center of Iroquois Life" Iroquois Clan Mothers
Doug George explains: “The Peace Maker selected Chiefs and Clan Mothers to represent the clans. The oldest woman of the clan is called the Clan Mother. The clan mother, whose position is hereditary, is responsible for the welfare of the clan. She names all the people of the clan; she holds a position in nominating, installing and removing the male chief, called Hoyaneh, meaning Caretakers of the Peace. They are considered the life givers. Not only did they appoint the tribal chief but they also watched them during all meetings judging them fairly to make sure they were not voting for themselves, but the whole tribe. If one did not meet these expectations, he would immediately get thrown out of power and the clan mother would choose a new chief. The Clan Mother's title rests within the clan and it is usually passed on to her female relatives, looking first at her eldest sisters, other sisters, then her eldest daughter and other daughters to find the one deemed most appropriate to become the next Clan Mother”. Doug George-Kanentiio,
The word for clan mother, Oiá:ner, translates to English as "righteous" or "she is good".
IROQUOIS INFLUENCE ON EARLY EQUAL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and early women suffragists may have had a vision of Equality based on the concepts of Iroquois culture and Law established long before the arrival of European and American society. My Aunt Helen Dawley (Tracy) was a member of the Suffragists in Syracuse, NY and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She wrote and gave speeches on the rights of all people to enjoy, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, as well as “Faith, Hope and Love”, fighting for Equality among all human beings, that included American Indians. I believe that she realized at the time, in Iroquois culture, women were treated equally and given a place of Honor by the founder of their form of government referred to as “the Peacemaker” realizing American women didn’t have the right to participate in government or church and didn’t own their home, that they and their children were treated as property by patriarchal fathers and they enjoyed no equality under white man’s laws even though the Declaration declared that all people are created Equal.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was called a heretic for advocating divorce laws that would allow women to leave dangerous marriages and admired the model of divorce Iroquois style: "No matter how many children or whatever goods he might have in the house," Stanton informed the National council of women convention in 1891, the "luckless husband or lover who was too shiftless to do his share of the providing" in an Iroquois marriage "might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge; and after such an order it would not be healthful for him to attempt to disobey."
How did the suffragists and my Aunt come to a vision of a world completely transformed that shared Equal Rights for everyone? While sitting with Clan mother, Audrey Shenandoah at her home on the Onondaga Nation, she said, “Iroquois women enjoyed an honored role in government and in relationship with their families, friends and fellow human beings. The Clan Mother system was formed by the Peacemaker as a result of his meeting a woman on the pathway to spreading the Message of the Great Peace to the 5 nations who were warring. Because the woman embraced his message, and the possibility of peace, he referred to her as the Mother of Nations, naming the Clan System”. Audrey said, “In the Iroquois community, women were the keepers of culture, responsible for defining the political, social, spiritual and economic system. Iroquois society was matrilineal, meaning descent was traced through the mother rather than through the father, as it was in Colonial society. While Iroquois Chiefs and leaders were men, women nominated them for their leadership positions and made sure they fulfilled their responsibilities. The Clan Mother of the Chief could remove his antlers of authority if he committed four crimes against Creator’s Law.
Besides performing the normal household functions of producing, preserving and preparing food and clothing for the family and taking care of the children, Iroquois women participated in many activities commonly reserved for men. They belonged to Medicine Societies and spiritual associations, and participated in political and spiritual ceremonies. The Iroquois were an agricultural people and it was the women who owned the land and tended the crops. After marriage, an Iroquois man moved into the longhouse to live with the Clan of his wife. The children followed the lineage of their Mother, adopting her clan. It was a refreshing change to see how Native American men treated women with such respect referring to her as “the giver of Life”. An Onondaga friend who traveled with me to the Algonquin Forest Reserve spoke very frankly as he said, “you are the earth, you are woman, a man always treats a woman with great respect.” I found this to be true of all the Iroquois men I have met over the many years. To learn more please order from www.createspace.com/books or www. amazon.com and leave a review if you have read my book. Thank you. Walk in Peace, Caroline