Lessons from the Iroquois

Malick article picture

By Malick Nythern Doucoure

At a time of relative electoral and democratic controversy surrounding President Donald J. Trump – (who won the US Presidency without a popular majority) – a quick and simple review of Native American traditions could in fact pave the way to not only restoring the guiding principle of bipartisanship, but also to restoring the concept of American democracy to its former international greatness.

The Iroquois Confederacy – a former great nation comprising of six major native American tribes (The Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas and the Tuscaroras) – has been said to be the “oldest participatory democracy on earth”; and is likely only to have been surpassed by the likes of the Ancient Greeks and the Classical Romans. In fact, it has even been suggested that the United States’ founding fathers themselves were inspired by and drew lessons from the Iroquois and their methods of democracy.

Before anything, we must take into account the Iroquois’ notably positive, forgiving and understanding attitude to life. Despite having been repeatedly forced out of their lands, murdered and harassed by European frontiersmen hell bent on colonial crusades; Iroquois chiefs still referred to the European-American delegates of the Continental Congress as their ‘brothers’. The Iroquois chiefs even went as far as to tell the delegates present that “the friendship between them would continue as long as the sun shall shine and the waters run”. If the Iroquois are capable of adopting this forgiving and productive attitude towards people whose effect on their lives was indescribable, why can’t we see a return of the very same bipartisanship to the present-day United States that achieved so much positive change for so many?

Although it’s fair to say that the Iroquois Confederacy was largely formed out of the desire – or out of the need – to unite and defend themselves against increasing threats and invasions from European colonists, these tribes were able to put their deep, entrenched disputes and differences aside for the greater good. The United States needs to follow this example and realise the almost sky-less limit they would face if only their deep, entrenched, ideological disputes and differences could be put aside for the greater good.

This is, as always, easier said than done. But, if the Iroquois could act with only unanimous decisions, (each tribe had one vote and all actions had to be taken unanimously; effectively giving everybody a veto), then it’s safe to say that achieving positive change with a 60% majority shouldn’t seem impossible. Thus, the recent United States government shutdown should be seen as nothing less than a failure for democracy – but also, more importantly, as a sad and striking failure for compromise.

The Iroquois Confederacy saw the beginning of its end when a schism emerged at the start of the American Revolution. The Oneida and Tuscarora tribes sided with the Americans, whilst the rest sided with the British. Almost ironically, standing united against their colonial enemies strengthened them, but the minute they disagreed and aligned with opposing sides was the very moment that the Iroquois confederacy signed its death warrant. This, out of all of the history, all the knowledge and all the wisdom we can possibly take from the Iroquois, is the most important lesson of them all:

Together and united we are strong; but as soon as we stand against one another, we as human beings lose all of our strength.

It’s time to put the ‘United’ back into the ‘United States of America’.




Forgotten Founders, Benjamin Franklin, The Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolutions, complete 1982 book.

Exemplar of Liberty, Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, complete 1990 book.

Reaching the Grassroots: https://ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/#RGR  (April 2002).



Reaching the Grassroots: https://ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/#RGR  (April 2002).




It’s time to put the ‘United’ back into the ‘United States of America’.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s