Adrienne Brant James
Moccasin Paths: Neither 1492 nor Columbus
To learn in 1987 that Mother's Mohawk people taught immigrants about democracy was contradictory to what I had been taught. "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and discovered America. Europeans had enlightened civilization in this land. That's what I was told, though not true. Democracy already existed across the continent. Specific contributions to the eventual governing structure of the United States came in the form of the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, created in 1100 A.D. We have survived and now endure, ready to contribute more, to promote global democratic survival.
Sovereign Nations, not Colonies
"Trails of tears" for all tribes, not just Cherokees were carried out across Turtle Island, converting Mother Earth to a commodity and individually owned property rather than a respected living partner. Native nations became colonies. The Catholic Pope issued papal bulls in 1455 and 1493 to establish the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism. Occupation was enforced by violence, torture, killing, and submission of all to the pronounced superiority of Christians. Treaties were signed and education became a weapon for both sides. Now, colonization is refuted and rejected as it was against King George.
Boarding School Destruction and Two Worlds
"Kill the Indian to save the man." This watchword and battle cry of the boarding school movement wreaked damage on those who were its targets. Through punitive and degrading practices, family cohesiveness was disrupted and produced intergenerational traumatic history. Students were deprived of the knowledge, wisdom, and cultural and spiritual tribal practices and support which had enabled their relatives to survive. Two worlds were now reinforced. Eurocentric-based governing provided favored status for colonizers, and subservience for the original inhabitants. Yet, many of us adapted to the imposed negatives and found effective voices.
Women's Suffrage was Here Before Europeans Arrived
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women, Seneca and Mohawk were the first real models of independent women to Europeans living among them. These women were decision makers, responsible for tribal wellness, and in control of their own lives. South Dakotan Sally Roesch Wagner documented the significant relationship between indigenous and European women in her book, Sisters in Spirit. Clan mothers selected council chiefs and impeached those who violated tribal codes and norms of conduct. Hiawatha was among those first selected. His name is carried to this day by the chief representing our clan.