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Top 5 Takeaways: The Iroquois Nation

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In our search for more sustainable practices and a new collective mindset, it can only be helpful to cast our eyes around at how other countries and cultures manage themselves (and their environment).

Today, we take a quick look at the intensely interesting beliefs and practices of the Iroquois Nation; an indigenous northeast Native American confederacy, more commonly known as “Six Nations” (the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations).

1. Farming smarter, not harder

The main crops of the Iroquois are corn, beans and squash. I know what you’re thinking – Thanks a bunch, that is about as intensely interesting as a dead fish.

What IS cool is the strategic manner they grow their crops! First, the corn stalks grow, providing a structure for the bean plants to climb, while the squash grows underneath. This system inhibits weeds and keeps the soil moist under the shade of the broad leaves. Using this dream team combination (known as ‘the three sisters’), the soil remains fertile for decades.

Using nature to get the most out of nature – Pretty clever, huh?

2. Creating a cultural mixed bag

Now you can’t tell me this one isn’t interesting!

A simple wikipedia search tells us: ‘The Iroquois have absorbed many other peoples into their cultures…’  

Yay! How lovely! What a stand up bunch! 

‘…as a result of warfare….’ 

Wait, what? 

‘…and by offering shelter to displaced nations…’ 

Oh, yay again! I think.

According to Iroquois traditions, the dead could be symbolically replaced through captives taken during raids known as ‘mourning wars’. Captives were then adopted by grieving families to be raised and educated as one of their own. This bizarre tradition meant the Iroquois Nation consisted largely of naturalised members of other cultures.

Not too sure about that assimilation process, but it’s definitely a, uh… novel way to ensure a rich and culturally diverse society. Ahem. Moving right along…

3. It’s a her-archy

The Iroquois run under a matriarchal system of ownership and governance. Clan Mothers are held in the highest regard and are therefore charged with appointing and dismissing leaders as they see fit.

No person is entitled to ‘own’ land, however it is believed that the Creator appointed women as stewards of the land.

Women hold the property, livestock and farmed land, and hereditary leadership pass through their lines. At marriage, the newlyweds live with the wife’s family and a woman choosing to divorce is able to ask her crappy husband to leave and take his possessions with him, whilst the children stay with Mum.

The chief of a clan can be removed at anytime by that clan’s women elders. The ex-chief’s sister is then in charge of nominating a new chief.

The Iroquois were also well-known by both American and European settlers as a strong, well-organised and politically influential mob… #justsayin

4. Accepting the good with the bad

Detail on the creation beliefs of the Iroquois are hard to come by, however one such story revolves around the first person to walk the earth known as Aientsik or ‘Skywoman’, whose daughter (immaculate conception – a central theme to creationism!) gave birth to twins: Tawiskaron, who created vicious animals and disease, and Okwiraseh, who created game animals and all that is pure and beautiful. 

Saraydar (1990) suggests the Iroquois did not see the twins as polar opposites but understood their relationship to be more complex, noting “Perfection is not to be found in gods or humans or the worlds they inhabit.”

5. Thinking ahead

The Iroquois are credited with the ‘Seventh Generation’ principle, referring to the concept that the current generation must live sustainably and all decisions should be made in the best interests of the seventh generation into the future (roughly 140 years ahead).

The first written mention of this principle concept dates back to around 1500 AD. Imagine if the entire world had been operating under this mindset ever since…

“The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans — which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism.   Your heart shall be filled with peace and good will and your mind filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy.  With endless patience you shall carry out your duty and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people.  Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in your mind and all your words and actions shall be marked with calm deliberation.  In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

– The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (The Great Binding Law)

This article is part of a new series where we investigate key beliefs and practices of other societies and see how they balance themselves with their environment. 



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