"Where License Reigns With All Impunity"
An Anarchist Study of the Rotinonshón:ni Polity

by Stephen Arthur

The traditional society of the Rotinonshón:ni (Iroquois), "The People of the Longhouse," was a densely settled, matrilineal, communal, and extensively horticultural society. The Rotinonshón:ni formed a confederacy of five nations. Generations before historical contact with Europeans, these nations united through the Kaianere'kó:wa into the same polity and ended blood feuding without economic exploitation, stratification, or the formation of a centralized state.


"Their Policy in this is very wise, and has nothing Barbarous in it. For, since their preservation depends upon their union, and since it is hardly possible that among peoples where license reigns with all impunity -- and, above all, among young people -- there should not happen some event capable of causing a rupture, and disuniting their minds, -- for these reasons, they hold every year a general assembly in Onnontaé. There all the Deputies from the different Nations are present, to make their complaints and receive the necessary satisfaction in mutual gifts, -- by means of which they maintain a good understanding with one another."
– François le Mercier, 1668 (1)

Some historical materialists claim a densely settled, agricultural population will inevitably develop into a hierarchically stratified society, with a centralized state and an exploitative economic redistribution system, in order avoid warfare while resolving blood feuds among its members.(2) While this is a common occurence, it is not the only way these issues have been resolved. Located along the southern banks of Kaniatarí:io (Lake Ontario), the traditional society of the Rotinonshón:ni (Iroquois),(3) "The People of the Longhouse," was a densely settled, matrilineal, communal, and extensively horticultural society. The Rotinonshón:ni formed a confederacy initially of five nations: Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk), Oneniote'á:ka (Onedia), Ononta'kehá:ka (Onondaga), Kaion'kehá:ka (Cayuga) and Shotinontowane'á:ka (Seneca). Generations before historical contact with Europeans,(4) these nations united through the Kaianere'kó:wa (“the Great Good Way”) into the same polity(5) and ended blood feuding without economic exploitation, stratification, or the formation of a centralized state.

Jared Diamond hypothesizes that when stateless egalitarian hunter-gather societies develop agriculture and experience population growth, blood feuds and new resource management problems challenge their ability to maintain horizontal political relationships and economic communalism. (6) According to Diamond, the material transition itself leads inevitably to the State, which he refers to as "the kleptocracy," and the most the oppressed can hope for by revolting is for a change in the rate of exploitation and oppression by installing a new group of kleptocrats. In his view, "the kleptocracy" is ultimately a function of material culture.(7)

Some Marxists agree with Diamond's perspective. They argue that in the transitions from hunter-gather communism to feudalism, and from there to capitalism, society develops the industrial production of the social wealth necessary for communism to become an option again. There is at least one strong counter example to this vulgar historical determinism and unilinear cultural evolution: the formation and continued survival of the Rotinonshón:ni in the northeast of North America.

While critical of Marxism, Murray Bookchin acknowledges the cooperative and peaceful internal nature of hunter-gather societies but also brings up the problems of external warfare.

"To members of their own bands, tribes, or clans, prehistoric and later foraging peoples were normally cooperative and peaceful; but toward members of other bands, tribes, or clans, they were often warlike, even sometimes genocidal in their efforts to dispossess them and appropriate their land.... As to modern foragers, the conflicts between Native American tribes are too numerous to cite at any great length... the tribes that were to finally make up the Iroquois Confederacy (the Confederacy itself was a matter of survival if they were not to all but exterminate one another), and the unrelenting conflict between Mohawks and Hurons, which led to the near extermination and flight of remnant Huron communities." (8)

The conflicts Bookchin mentions occurred around Kaniatarí:io and Lake Erie in the 17th century and are often referred to as the “Beaver Wars,” due to the connection with the fur trade between indigenous and European people. Bookchin’s description the conflict of Kanien'kehá:ka and the Wendat (Huron) as “extermination” or “genocidal” is inaccurate. Rather than a matter of ethnic cleansing or economic competition, that conflict is better understood as a civil war of political unification among Iroquois speakers. It is ironic that in Bookchin’s tirade against modern anti-civilizationist mystification of the primitive, he acknowledges the formation as of Rotinonshón:ni polity that ended the warfare among the Five Nations, but fails to reflect upon this momentous accomplishment or see how much their achievement has parallels with his own political ideas.

The Worst Mistake in Jared Diamond's History of the Human Race: The State

I'd like to expand a bit on how the Iroquois prove to be an exception to many of Diamond's ideas. I'll now use them as an example on his "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race".

"Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. "Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive."
– Diamond

I am so glad that Diamond brought up the example of Mississippian mound building civilization (which he does so in Collapse as well). Why? Because they are contemporaries and geographic neighbours of the Iroquois. Maize cultivation begins (and potentially the Rotinonshón:ni polity) at nearly the same time as does intensive maize farming among the Mississippian mound builders. Both are using similar stone tools and have similar domesticated crops. Unlike much of the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys and much of the entire South East, the Mississippian culture is unable to penetrate into Iroquois territory. Interesting, no? Mississippian culture also directly influences the Cherokee (southern Iroquoian speakers). The contrast between the "paramount chiefdom" society of the Mississipians and the Iroquois provides us something close to a social experiment between neighbouring cultures that share a material basis.

Some details of the Mississippian culture are worth explaining in contrasting them with the Iroquois. The Mississippians had:

Cahokia collapsed before the arrival of the Europeans. The Mississippian polity in general collapsed with Hernando de Soto "visit" in 1534-1539 and the introduction of horses and disease. It is interesting to note that one of the few cultures that continued to maintain an oral tradition of having been involved with mound building was the Cherokee (southern Iroquois speakers, with some similar cultural traits like matrilineal clans, consensus); who exterminated their priest caste in a revolt just before European contact.

Diamond will blame the collapse of Cahokia on a lack of available wood (caused by building, particular defensive wooden stockades) and political disintegration. The Iroquois, however, continued to thrive. The Iroquois didn't seem to face much risk of collapse until after they started facing epidemic disease introduced by European contact from the mid 16th century on. The largest Mohawk town in 630 was Tenotoge with a population of 3,300. While falling short of the size of Cahokia, it was definitely a respectable size by Mississippian standards. Further, the politically egalitarian relationship of component nations within the Iroquois and it's communal economy with it's lack of stratification may have very well discouraged the formation of a settlement hierarchy. Also, the periodic village relocation circuit of may have also limited the formation of such centralized city-states. And yet, the Iroquois live in sedentary communities numbering in the thousands with a high population density typical of farmers.

Mississippian mound building culture was influenced by two earlier mound building cultures that were also active along the Ohio river... the Adena and Hopewell. The Hopewell had extended as far as into western New York... which would later become Shotinontowane'á:ka (Seneca Iroquois) territory.

"in the western part of Iroquoia even some small burial mounds similar to those characteristic of the contemporaneous Hopewellian people of the Ohio Valley. For unknown reasons, however, such practices declined significantly in the Hunter's Home era (900 AD)", Daniel Richter, Ordeal of the Long House, 14

Then the Owasco culture developed at 900 AD. The Owasco are regarded as the proto-Iroquoisan culture. Notice the difference between Mississippian mound building culture, and the Owasco:

"cultivated maize, beans, and squash on a scale that made horticulture central to their subsistence. Second, new mortuary rituals replaced the older two-stage process in favor of immediate burials which included a few materials goods that were evidently personal belongings rather than grave offerings. Third, long-distance trade virtually ceased, at least as indicated by the archaeological record; in its place merged greatly intensified warfare among communities",Richter, 15

This is also the first era of pallisaded villages and according to some (Barbara A. Mann) would have been the war that ended with the establishment of the Kaianere'kó:wa and Rotinonshón:ni. Eventually, the amount of grave offerings would increase, but never to the excess of the Mississippian elites. Further, more grave offerings tended to accompany the burial of children.

Let's compare this to the most prestigious burial of Cahokia:

"During excavation of Mound 72, a ridge-top burial mound south of Monk's Mound, archaeologists found the remains of a man in his 40s who was probably an important Cahokian ruler. The man was buried on a bed of more than twenty thousand marine-shell disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon, with the bird's head appearing beneath the man's head and its wings and tail beneath his arms and legs. The falcon warrior, or "birdman," is a common motif in Mississippian culture, and this burial clearly has powerful iconographic significance.

"A cache of arrowhead in a variety of different styles and materials was found near the grave of this important man. Separated into four types, each from a different geographical region, the arrowheads demonstrate Cahokia's extensive trade links in North America. Over 250 other skeletons were also recovered from Mound 72. Many were found in mass graves; some were missing their hands and heads, which seems to indicate human sacrifice. The relationship of these other burials to the central burial is unclear, but it is unlikely that they were all deposited at the time of the ruler's burial. Wood in several parts of the mound has been radiocarbon-dated between 950 and 1000." – Wikipedia: Cahokia: Prestige burial

Let's not mince words here. This has got to be the divine rite of a warlord king of Cahokia.

While the Mississippian mound builders were able to expand throughout the Ohio, Mississippi river valleys, and all the way to the southeastern coast, that culture was not able to penetrate into Iroquoia.

It is also worth nothing that the only formal standing military officer positions described in the Kaianere'kó:wa is that of Ratihnhohanónhnha, the doorkeepers, two Rotiiá:ner of the Shotinontowane'á:ka. It is clear that the Rotinonshón:ni saw the largest military threat coming from the west. The Ratihnhohanónhnha were not war captains, but were primarily concerned with logistics of defense and were tasked – leaders of war parties were elected by their participants.

I'm looking for What was the 16th Century (1500s) Life Expectancy of the Iroquois?

Jared Diamond also overstresses the connection between an agricultural diet and Porotic hyperostosis. Observe this study of the Oneta, a south-western Wisconsin longhouse-living but Mississippian influenced society:

"Increasing population density had a significant impact on sanitation. Throughout the world, when people shift to more intensive agriculture, they begin living in sedentary communities with concentrated populations. Sanitation was almost definitely a problem in these early agricultural communities, and parasites and infectious disease became increasingly widespread (Armelagos 1990, Cohen 1989). We suggest that a similar situation may have developed at the Tremaine community.

"The incidence of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia at the Tremaine site may be explained by this theoretical rise in parasites. Stuart-Macadam (1992) argued that considering porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia to be indicative of nutritional stress is not valid. Many physiological adaptations occur in the human body to prevent iron deficiency and iron, when absorbed, is rarely lost by the body (StuartMacadam 1992). Stuart-Macadam stated that modern studies have been unable to conclusively link iron deficiency anemia to poor diet and stated that iron deficiency anemia is frequently lacking in iron-deprived people. Instead, Stuart-Macadam argued that porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia may be indicative of parasitic infection. Malaria, fleas and ticks, intestinal parasites and diarrhea as a result of parasitism all have been linked to iron deficiency anemia (Stuart-Macadam 1992). Although we are hesitant to completely reject nutritional causes of porotic hyperostosis, we feel that there is little dietary evidence of iron deficiency at Tremaine. The incidence of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia then may be best attributed to metabolic nutritional deficiencies exacerbated by potential parasitic infection." – "Assessing Oneota Diet And Health: A Community And Lifeway Perspective" Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, Spring 2005 by Tubbs, Ryan M, O'Gorman, Jodie A.

So, the authors argue that it wasn't a shift to an agricultural diet, but that the increased population that only became possible through agriculture had poor sanitation. That is, a problem that is solvable by agriculturalists.

"One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5’ 9" for men, 5’ 5" for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5’ 3" for men, 5’ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors." – Diamond

Radio carbon dating 1550 AD +/- 50 years; north shore of Lake Ontario – this would have been a northern Iroquois community, likely Huron. Average male height is between 68.8 inches and 72.5 inches (or 5'9"). (A Study of the Bool-Rose Ossuary Ulnae: Demography, Defleshing and Degenerative Joint Disease", Natalie Anne Bodin, 2002)

Have I mentioned that the northern Iroquois (including the Huron) were farmers and got up to 2/3rds of their diet from domesticated plants?

"farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing élite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth)." – Diamond

Just because a farming makes a surplus possible, and that a class of social parasites could seize it – does not mean that either that ruling class of social parasites or their ability to seize it is inevitable. If we accept that the Iroquois were agricultural farmers that did generate a surplus, then if they lacked class divisions... the class society is a matter of social form and history – not just the existence of agriculture and a surplus. As I argue below, the Iroquois had both agriculture and a lack of stratification, that is economic exploitation. The few positions of rank did not result in material economic rewards. Not in diet, nor in possessions or grave goods.

The Iroquois lacked stratification, with no elites among them... diet would have been consistently similar for everyone. I note that they averaged the height of 5'9", that is, the same average height that Diamond gives for hunter-gathers towards the end of the Ice Age. This would be many hundred years after the introduction of maize farming among the Iroquois.

"Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over one person per ten square miles, while farmers average 100 times that.", Diamond

Dean R. Snow estimates that the entire northern Iroquoian population numbered 95,840 in 1630 CE, with a 31,947 acres of farms. 639 acres in a square mile. So, Dean Snow lists about 50 square miles are farmed. Or one hundred and forty nine individuals per square mile. Now, we might need to offset this with the realization that only 2/3rds of the Iroquois diet came from farms, the other 1/3rd came from gathering wild foods (strawberries, etc...), fishing (the great lakes and fresh water rivers) and hunting. So by population density, Diamond would certainly regard the Iroquois as agricultural farmers.

"Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts–with consequent drains on their health... Partly, too, it’s because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it’s old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don’t have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years." – Diamond

While farmers, Iroquois women (each one of them a farmer!) tightly controlled their reproduction as well. The watched their monthly cycle closely and also made use of abortificants and spaced their pregnancies out over five years. Low rate of fecundity among Iroquois women is a subject of quite some discussion in historical primary sources; partially because this was a reason to question whether they would have made suitable slaves for European masters.

As far as equality between the sex within a hunter-gather society... that is something of a myth. The anthropological definition of "Egalitarian does not… mean that there is any equality between sexes and between different age groups" and that "true sexual equality is a rarity."(Harold Barclay). There are hunter-gather societies that are not only patrilineal and patrilocal but also patriarchal. The Iroquois were a matrilineal, matrilocal, agricultural society with more sexual equality than many hunter-gather societies. While the Iroquois had a gendered division of labor, women seem to have as much (if not more) political and economic authority than men.

"Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture’s glittering façade, and that have so far eluded us?", Diamond

This entirely depends on whether humanity can collectively shake off the parasitic ruling class, the kleptocracy. Diamond will argue that such is impossible and their existence is a direct inevitable consequence of agriculture. If that is the case, I can not imagine the 6 billion people currently alive who are dependent on agriculture will reject it, and thus kleptocracy reigns. If, however, we can have societies with agriculture without kleptocracy, then that the benefits of agriculture and technology can be commonly shared by the elimination of the kleptocracy.

How Peace Came to the Rotinonshón:ni

Aiewáhtha Wampum Belt (9)

The story of the formation of the Rotinonshón:ni has been passed down by oral tradition, by reciting the Kaianere'kó:wa. This recitation has been done in at least five similar languages and translated and transcribed into English in multiple versions. There are many variations, and no definitive version. (10)

In a version of the story common at Ohswé:ken, (11) Tekanawí:ta was born under mysterious circumstances to a Wendat mother, along the Bay of Quinte. (12) After a difficult childhood, Tekanawí:ta left his community to bring the message of peace to the Iroquois. He traveled south across Kaniatarí:io, where he encountered Aiewáhtha preparing a meal. Aiewáhtha, grieving for lost loved ones, was planning to a eat a man he had slain in vengenance. Tekanawí:ta conducted a condolence ceremony for Aiewáhtha, so as to end the blood feuding. He convinced Aiewáhtha to eat only of the flesh of deer, not man. Finally, he persuaded Aiewáhtha to give up war and to help him bring peace to the Iroquois.

According to a women’s oral tradition, (13) Tekanawí:ta then approached the head clan mother, Tsikónhsase.(14) Tsikónhsase, of the Kakwa:ko (Neutral) nation, had provisioned warriors and also administered disputes. (15) She agreed to support Tekanawí:ta’s efforts for peace if he agreed to codify into the Kaianere'kó:wa several powers and responsibilities for women: matrilineality of clans, the clan as the basis of popular sovereignty, and the collective ownership of agricultural land by women. Barbara Mann, Shotinontowane'á:ka author and professor of Native American Studies, views the underlying conflict of the era in terms of the material culture of production. She describes the conflict as one between women-led agriculturists and the cannibalistic hunters, led by Thatotáhrho. Tekanawí:ta's role was to unite the warring factions, establish both farming and hunting as modes of production, and abolish cannibalism. (16)

Tekanawí:ta, Aiewáhtha and Tsikónhsase visited a series of Iroquois communities. Having gone to the Kanien'kehá:ka and gained their support, they visited the Oneniote'á:ka, gaining their acceptance as well. Next they visited the Ononta'kehá:ka, but were rebuffed by Thatotáhrho. They then gained the support of the Kaion'kehá:ka, and finally visited the westernmost nation--the Shotinontowane'á:ka. All of the Shotinontowane'á:ka were convinced except their two principal war chiefs; these were brought into agreement and designated as the ratihnhohanónhnha, the doorkeepers, responsible for protecting the long house of the Rotinonshón:ni from enemies to the west. Having convinced all of the Shotinontowane'á:ka, they returned to the Ononta'kehá:ka, and there was a mighty struggle with Thatotáhrho.(17) Tsikónhsase devised a solution, suggesting to Tekanawí:ta that the council fire of the Rotinonshón:ni could be with the Ononta'kehá:ka, and that Thatotáhrho should become its keeper. (18)

Tekanawí:ta had several other innovations for the Rotinonshón:ni polity. The fifty men who would make decisions through consensus at the council fire were named roiá:ner, and they would wear deer horns to represent that they had forsaken war and ate only the flesh of deer, not of men. The roiá:ner were to have skins "seven spans thick": they would be patient, not easily offended. Tekanawí:ta named each of the roiá:ner, and stated that their names would be requickened when they died (or were removed from office) and returned to the clan mothers, the iotiiá:ner. The iotiiá:ner had the responsibility of selecting new roiá:ner, though never the son of the previous roiá:ner. The iotiiá:ner would also have the authority to recall roiá:ner from office. A provision was made for further speakers to be added to the council at Ononta'kehá:ka, men who had merit and had sprung up like a Pine Tree--"ohnkanetoten." The ohnkanetoten would have voices but not votes; their appointment would die with them and not be transferred. Further, the great good way, the Kaianere'kó:wa, could be amended by “adding to the rafters” of the longhouse.

The weapons of war were buried beneath the tree of peace, so that there would be no further war among the nations of the Rotinonshón:ni. (19) (The English idiom, "burying the hatchet," originates with the Rotinonshón:ni.) The tree’s four white roots of peace stretched to the cardinal directions, spreading the good tidings. There were rules for adoption of individuals and whole nations, to follow the roots, find shelter beneath the tree of peace, and join the Rotinonshón:ni. The condolence ceremony for those who were in grief was described, as well as the use of wampum. The Rotinonshón:ni would be guided by principles of "peace, power and righteousness." The last issue that Tekanawí:ta resolved was about hunting territory: Tekanawí:ta declared that all Rotinonshón:ni would share the hunt and "eat of one bowl." (20)

"One Bowl": The Communal Economy of the Rotinonshón:ni

Illustration by Lewis Henry Morgan (21)

"They still possess virtues which might cause shame to most Christians. No hospitals are needed among them, because there are neither mendicants nor paupers as long as there are any rich people among them. Their kindness, humanity, and courtesy not only make them liberal with what they have, but cause them to possess hardly anything except in common. A whole village must be without corn before any individual can be obliged to endure privation. They divide the produce of their fisheries equally with all who come"
– Father Simon Le Moyne, 1657 (22)

In the 17th century, the Rotinonshón:ni lived in settled towns of as many as two thousand people, surrounded by palisades. Population density averaged two hundred people per acre. These were the densest communities in the Northeast, including those of European settlers, until the 19th century. (23) The communal fields surrounding Rotinonshón:ni villages extended for up to six miles in radius. Even after the Rotinonshón:ni population had been greatly reduced by war and disease, they were still very productive farmers.

One indicator of quantity of Rotinonshón:ni production is taken from a military campaign against them under the orders of U.S. President George Washington, who the Rotinonshón:ni have named Ranatakárias--"Town Destroyer". (24) During the American Revolutionary War, in 1779 the Sullivan-Clark military expedition attacked the villages of all Rotinonshón:ni nations except the Oneniote'á:ka. The alliance of the Oneniote'á:ka with the United States against the rest of the Rotinonshón:ni broke the peace between the Rotinonshón:ni nations that had stretched back to Tekanawí:ta's foundation, and resulted in profound consequences for all. According to Sullivan’s official report, the U.S. army burned forty towns and their surrounding fields, destroying 160,000 bushels of corn; Anthony F.C. Wallace estimated "500... dwellings in two dozen settlements... and nearly 1 million bushels of corn" were destroyed (25); and Allan Eckert estimated at least fifty towns and nearly 1,200 houses were burned. The American Revolution was more an economic disaster for the Rotinonshón:ni than a military defeat.

Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer describes the economics of the traditional Rotinonshón:ni as synonymous with contemporary concepts of communalism or socialism: “an emphasis is placed upon the survival and welfare of the collective as opposed to the success and comfort of the individual. Such societies are composed of a group who voluntarily participate in a cooperative livelihood that shares the burden of labor and as well the fruit of such labor. This concept is reinforced by the Kaianere'kó:wa in its analogy of the bowl from which all Haudenosaunee would share from." (26) Hunter Gray has referred to tribal communalism and the Rotinonshón:ni ethos of tribal (mutual) responsibility as "strawberry socialism." (27)

In 1977, when Rotinonshón:ni delegates addressed the United Nations with their economic ideas, they argued against permanent private property and excluding others from the means of production. They suggested that the concept of alienated property results in slavery. They stated that their rejection of a commodity economy, their rejection of conspicuous consumption, and their ideas of eminently fair distribution would result in all people sharing in material wealth. Their concepts of economy and labor would require an entire community of involvement, rather than isolated nuclear families. All people, they declared, have a right to food, clothing and shelter. No one should have a position of economic power over anyone else, and there should be no artificial scarcity created by property ownership.(28)

Did the Rotinonshón:ni have private property historically? Historian Daniel Richter has argued that the Rotinonshón:ni economics only superficially resembled communalism. Property ownership, however, derived from need and use, while abandoned property was free for the use by anyone. Further, that in times of shortage, all was shared communally. (29) This is an example of a usufruct (use rights) system of ownership, which many anarchists would approve of, including Bookchin: “an individual appropriation of goods, a personal claim to tools, land, and other resources . . . is fairly common in organic [i.e. aboriginal] societies. . . co-operative work and the sharing of resources on a scale that could be called communistic is also fairly common. . . But primary to both of these seemingly contrasting relationships is the practice of usufruct." (30)

It bears mentioning that wampum, beads made of shell and strung together, was used as currency among cash-poor European settlers in the Northeast. Wampum, in addition to European-manufactured goods, was exchanged for beaver pelts with the Rotinonshón:ni. Among the Rotinonshón:ni, however, it was not used as currency. A hallmark of their diplomacy and gift exchange, wampum functioned almost exclusively as a political and social aid, used in the condolence ceremonies, in the requickening of newly selected leaders, and as a mnemonic device for agreements and treaties. (31)

While the Rotinonshón:ni mode of production was collective, it was divided by gender. Men engaged in clearing the forest, hunting, fishing, diplomacy, trade and warfare. Women focused on extensive horticulture, childcare and village life (32). Collective effort and communal ownership of the land did not, however, preclude individuals from working separately. To this extent, the communism of the Rotinonshón:ni can be regarded as voluntary.

"Women worked in family unites in fields cleared by their clan brothers. So long as each did her share of the labor, she also shared in the communal harvest. Individual women might also keep private plots, but they shared in the communal harvest only if they also did their parts in the fields of the ohwachira. An ad hoc mutual aid society was sometimes formed by these women so that they could bring collective effort even to fields not supervised by clan matrons“(33)

"We are left to answer for our women"

"Hear and listen to what we, women, shall speak, as well as the Sachems; for we are the owners of this land, AND IT IS OURS! It is we that plant it for our and their use. Hear us, therefore, for we speak things that concern us and our children; and you must not think hard of us while our men shall say more to you, for we have told them"
Seneca women

"We are left to answer for our women, who are to conclude what ought to be done by both Sachems and warriors. So hear what is their conclusion. The business you come on is troublesome, and we have been a long time considering it; and now the elders of our women have said that our Sachems and warriors must help you, for the good of them, and their children"

Sagoyawatha "Red Jacket", 1791(34)

Anarchist anthropologist Harold Barclay has pointed out that "Egalitarian does not… mean that there is any equality between sexes and between different age groups" and that "true sexual equality is a rarity."(35) By contrast, the Rotinonshón:ni are often held up as an example of a matriarchy, though I disagree with the semantics of that term. While the Rotinonshón:ni are both matrilineal and matrilocal, and the women do have a role in consensual politics and in selecting and removing men from leadership positions; women do not wield power over men the way men wield power over women in a patriarchal society. Anthropological archaeologist Dean Snow, explains this very well: "Iroquois women were not matriarchs, or Amazons, or drudges. They were Iroquois women, who lived in a nonhierarchical society in which their role as food producers was properly appreciated and in which the elevation of some aspects of kinship to political significance gave them influence that they might not otherwise have had." (36)

Another anarchist anthropologist, David Graeber, described the overlapping councils by gender:

"Longhouses were governed by councils made up entirely of women, who, since they controlled its food supplies, could evict any in-married male at will. Villages were governed by both male and female councils. Councils on the national and league level were made up of both male and female office-holders. It’s true that the higher one went in the structure, the less relative importance the female councils had--on the longhouse level, there wasn’t any male organization at all, while on the league level, the female council merely had veto power over male decisions--but it’s also true that decisions on the lower level were of much more immediate relevance to daily life. In terms of everyday affairs, Iroquois society often seems to have been about as close as there is to a documented case of a matriarchy." (37)

Another indication of differences between the Rotinonshón:ni and European settler society comes from that same Sullivan expedition in 1779 that destroyed so many Rotinonshón:ni towns. While preparing to attack and destroy the towns, General James Clinton even remarked that the Rotinonshón:ni men never raped women, and that some measures needed to be taken to prevent American soldiers from raping. (38) Among the Rotinonshón:ni, violence against women, including spousal abuse, was harshly punished by a woman's kin. (39) A man who abused a woman could not be selected as a roiá:ner. (40)

Divorce was easy and common, so much so that Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Bruyas, while regarding divorce as the greatest sin among the Rotinonshón:ni, explained that "There is as great ease in breaking marriages as in making them -- the husband leaving his wife, and the wife her husband, at pleasure." (41) Since the husbands lived with their wives' kahwá:tsire (matrilineal clan), in divorce former husbands had to leave the home. While the majority of the property as it was held in common through the matrilineal clan, personal possessions were always kept distinct between a husband and wife. (42) Children remained with the mother after divorce, (43) a contrast to the paternal ownership of children which was the standard in the continent's European settler society until it was replaced by maternal preference in custody in the 1920s. Kanatiiosh (Barbara Gray) has argued that "western law emerges with a structure based on hierarchy, which I believe is attributed, to their treatment of women as secondary citizens. Whereas, Haudenosaunee law emerges with a democratic structure based on equality and goodwill for all." (44)

Family planning was essential to women, who had the responsibility for farming, and often chose to limit the number of children for whom they were responsible at any one time. There were many abortifacients and fertility medicines known to Rotinonshón:ni herbalists. (45) Christian missionaries, and later in the early 19th century the Shotinontowane'á:ka prophet Ganioda'yo, who codified Karihwí:io or Gaiwiio ("the good message"), preached against divorce and abortion, while emphasizing the relationship of husband and wife over that of mother and daughter. (46) Wallace, a psychological anthropologist and historian, regarded the reforms of the Karihwí:io as "the sentence of doom upon the traditional quasi-matriarchal system." (47) Kahentinetha Horn, the editor of Mohawk Nation News, has asserted that the polity's "structure has been modified to accommodate the Gai'wiio. For example, instead of the Clan Mothers appointing the Chiefs according to the Old Way, in the Gai'wiio the Chiefs select the Clan Mothers." (48)

Over time, individual households of nuclear families replaced the traditional longhouses as residences. The situation had so changed by 1850, when Lewis Henry Morgan published his classical ethnographical study The League of the Ho-de'-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois, he observed that women, and only women, were punished for adultery by public whipping. (49) In 1924, an elected band council, rather than the traditional polity, governed Ohswé:ken; women were initially deprived of suffrage. (50) At Onondaga, Tonawanda and Tuscarora, the iakoiá:ner never lost their rights to select roiá:ner. (51)

Drawn by Joseph Keppler, "Puck", 1914 (52)

At the same time Rotinonshón:ni rights and responsibilities were under attack, female European settlers were gaining some of those very rights. The contradiction is made even more glaring in the examination of American feminism by Women's Studies professor Sally Roesch Wanger, who found that the gender relations among the Rotinonshón:ni were an inspiration to suffragists in the United States like Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. (53) While Gage had been to court for attempting to vote in U.S. elections, she pointed out that her adoption as Karonhienhá:wi into the Wolf kahwá:tsire granted her a voice in selecting roiá:ner--giving her more political representation by adoption into the Kanien'kehá:ka nation than she had in the U.S. (54)

This difference in regards to suffrage was something well known to Rotinonshón:ni. Gawasco Waneh (Arthur Parker) wrote in 1909: "Does the modern American woman [who] is a petitioner before man, pleading for her political rights, ever stop to consider that the red woman that lived in New York state five hundred years ago, had far more political rights and enjoyed a much wider liberty than the twentieth century woman of civilization?" (55)

Modern feminists might regard the traditional division of roles according to gender as less than egalitarian. Some contemporary Rotinonshón:ni would agree, and argue that traditional gender role division is obsolete, while also pointing out that some of that division had its origin in colonial gender roles imposed by European cultural imperialism. One example is the concern raised by Taiaiake Alfred:

"We cannot hold on to a concept of the warrior that is gendered in the way it once was and that is located in an obsolete view of men's and women's roles. The battles we are fighting are no longer primarily physical; thus, any idea of the indigenous warrior framed solely in masculine terms is outdated and must be rethought and recast from the solely masculine view of the old traditional ways to a new concept of the warrior that is freed from colonial gender constructions and articulated instead with reference to what really counts in our struggles: the qualities and actions of a person, man or woman, in battle." (56)

The Beaver Wars, which were Not Only about the Fur Trade

"I take thee by the arm to lead thee away. Thou knowest, thou huron, that formerly we comprised but one Cabin and one country. I know not by what accident we became separated. It is time to unite again. I have twice before come to seek thee,—Once at Montreal, speaking to the French In thy absence; the 2nd time, at Quebec. It is for the third time that I now come.” – 1656 (57)

Bookchin rarely examines the Rotinonshón:ni polity, and the few times he addresses it in print, he is dismissive. In the course of his dismissals he often repeats the common academic myth that the conflicts of the 17th century, misnamed "the Beaver Wars," were fought over economic control of the fur trade. While it is true that the primary European interest in the conflict was to secure access to large quantities of low-cost beaver fur (in exchange for goods produced solely for indigenous consumption), there were other, potentially more important, reasons for the Rotinonshón:ni involvement in those conflicts.

"Warfare was endemic among our prehistoric ancestors and in later native communities, notwithstanding the high, almost cultic status enjoyed by ostensibly peaceful "ecological aborigines" among white middle-class Euro-Americans today. When foraging groups overhunted the game in their accustomed territory, as often happened, they were usually more than willing to invade the area of a neighboring group and claim its resources for their own. Commonly, after the rise of warrior sodalities, warfare acquired cultural as well as economic attributes, so victors no longer merely defeated their real or chosen "enemies" but virtually exterminated them, as witness the near-genocidal destruction of the Huron Indians by their linguistically and culturally related Iroquois cousins."
Bookchin (58)

As pointed out earlier, the Rotinonshón:ni were not primarily a foraging society. The majority of their food came from horticulture, so they faced no need to relocate into territory held by others due to overhunting. In the early years of European colonization, disease greatly reduced indigenous populations before the settlers arrived in large numbers. During the Beaver Wars, there was actually much more available land per capita, due to this population reduction, than there had been before the arrival of the Europeans. While warfare did take on cultural and economic attributes, understanding the Beaver Wars only in terms of the fur trade and the role of warfare in culture is far too simplistic. Bookchin is right about the linguistic and cultural similarities between the Wendat and Rotinonshón:ni, and that itself is the key to understanding the determination with which the Rotinonshón:ni prosecuted their wars with the Wendat, Kakwa:ko, Erielhonan (Erie), Tionontati (Petun), Wenrohronon (Wenro), and Susquehannock nations.

Bookchin mentions the rise of "cultural attributes" of warfare. One such attribute practiced by the northern Iroquois-speaking peoples, not only the Rotinonshón:ni, was the mourning war. When people died in the Iroquois communities, the grieving relatives expected the dead to be symbolically replaced as soon as possible. Quite unlike the European settlers' notion total war, a mourning war was ultimately ritualistic, and was not aimed at the eradication of an enemy or seizure of their territory. Rather, the goal was to take captives, who would replace the dead. Losses among warriors involved in the mourning wars could also be called on to be replaced. Large-scale casualties were rare, and when they did occur, they were considered great tragedies. Since disease was regarded as a hostile attack by unknown agents, those who died from sickness had to be replaced by mourning war. This process of replacing the dead by assigning their names and responsibilities to others is referred to as requickening.

Mourning war had at one time often involved cannibalism and torture, but these practices had completely died out of Rotinonshón:ni society by the 18th century. Central to the Rotinonshón:ni polity was the ceremony of condolence. Tekanawí:ta gave this ceremony to Aiewáhtha, to help with his grief so that peace would be possible between them and Thatotáhrho. Condolence would allow for blood feuds to end, and for people within a nation to be requickened, with the use of wampum, into new titles to replace the dead. Condolence has been seen as a replacement for the mourning wars. Some critics argue the Rotinonshón:ni polity simply caused the nations of the confederation to redirect their blood fueds outward.

Map by Rebecca Wilson

The warfare among Iroquois-speaking nations had begun long before European contact added fuel to the fire, with its contributions of epidemic disease, firearms, and other metal weapons. The Rotinonshón:ni emerged out of a period of war, but it is noteworthy that not all Iroquois-speaking nations of the Great Lakes joined the great peace. Despite being close relatives to the Five Nations, the Susquehannocks did not join the Rotinonshón:ni. In the late 1500s, they moved their villages south to the river that still bears their name. (59) Linguistic similarities between Susquehannocks and Cayuga suggest that some Susquehannock were adopted into the Cayuga nation, while most of them headed south. (60)

Darren Bonaparte cites an old oral tradition about the Kaniatarowanénhne (later known as the St. Lawrence river): "[T]here was once a great confederacy that had villages on the St. Lawrence River. After a shooting star destroyed one of their villages on the St. Lawrence, the confederacy broke down, leaving two or three smaller confederacies in their wake who eventually became hostile to each other. The Huron Confederacy, north of Lake Ontario, and the Iroquois Confederacy were two of those; a third would be the people archaeologists refer to as the "St. Lawrence Iroquoians." (61)

When Jacques Cartier first explored the Kaniatarowanénhne in 1535, he encountered Iroquois-speaking communities all along the river between major settlements of Stadacona (near Quebec City) and Hochelaga (Montreal). When Samuel de Champlain came to the river in 1603, those Iroquois-speaking communities were gone. By the early 17th century, “[t]he Jefferson County Iroquoians had disappeared, probably absorbed by the Iroquois. The St. Lawrence Iroquoians had been incorporated into the Huron confederacy, as had people from other clusters around modern Toronto, the Trent River valley, and elsewhere just north of Lake Ontario,” (62) although some may have also joined the Kanien'kehá:ka. (63)

The first published account of contact between Europeans and the Rotinonshón:ni is Champlain’s. In 1609, he and his Algonquian allies encountered a group of Kanien'kehá:ka near Crown Point. Champlain introduced the Rotinonshón:ni to the use of firearms by killing fifty of them including three Kanien'kehá:ka roiá:ner, one of whom carried the name Aiewáhtha.(64) This was a huge defeat by the standards of the mourning wars. The French continued to ally themselves with the Algonquian and the Wendat, and the Rotinonshón:ni began trading with the Dutch by 1614. In 1615, Champlain led Wendat and Andastes in an attack on the Rotinonshón:ni at an Ononta'kehá:ka village, killing many, including another roiá:ner. In the central nation of the Great Longhouse, the Ononta'kehá:ka village was the council fire and symbolic heart of the Rotinonshón:ni. (65) Firearms and forged blades were now part of warfare between Iroquois-speaking peoples. (66) From the perspective of the Rotinonshón:ni, access to guns and metal became a priority, driving their trade with the Dutch, who were willing to trade these for beaver pelts. It became necessary to secure a stable supply of pelts, and to deprive their enemies of the same.

In 1634, a plague of smallpox hit the Rotinonshón:ni, halving their population (67) and forcing relocations for the entire five nations as they fled diseased villages. While already engaged in wars with multiple indigenous nations and the French, and with changes to their economy and material technology, it must have seemed an apocalyptic scenario. The Wendat and other nations were similarly affected by epidemic diseases. There were unprecedented calamites for Rotinonshón:ni and Wendat societies, and the cultural tradition of mourning war called for replacement of all the dead through warfare.

Natoway combines a number of oral traditions, historical, and archeological research with his narrative of "The Great Epic." In it, he relates that differences in wealth developed among the Wendat, based on the Jesuit policy of only trading with those Wendat who converted to Christanity. Jesuits and Christanity were also blamed for the disease within the community, and some traditional Wendat voluntarily joined with the Kanien'kehá:ka and Shotinontowane'á:ka to attack Wendat converts to Christianity, even going so far as to lead them in battle. (68) Graeber notes the changes in economic structure of the Wendat, but not the Rotinonshón:ni: "Delage argues that among the Huron, new regimes of property and the possibility of personal accumulation, really emerged only among converts to Christianity; among the Five Nations, they do not seem to have emerged at all." (69)

Snow has claimed that during the final Rotinonshón:ni campaign against the Wendat in 1648, more than a thousand Wendat fled their villages, and seven hundred were taken prisoner or killed. In the following fall, the Kanien'kehá:ka-Shotinontowane'á:ka army numbered over a thousand men, including adopted Wendat who had been "fully integrated" into Rotinonshón:ni society. By 1651, another group of five hundred Wendat were brought into the Shotinontowane'á:ka nation, but were given autonomous control of their village. (70)

The Beaver Wars continued. The Erielhonan, with Kakwa:ko and Wendat refugees among them, were dispersed westward or absorbed into the Shotinontowane'á:ka, Ononta'kehá:ka, and other Rotinonshón:ni nations. (71) By 1657, the Rotinonshón:ni had defeated their Iroquois-speaking enemies to the north and west. Kanien'kehá:ka and Shotinontowane'á:ka went to Quebec to convince Wendat refugees to return with them. According to Snow: “A village of perhaps 570 Hurons was built near the three Mohawk villages that existed there at the time… [A] decade later Jesuit missionaries would note that two-thirds of the Mohawk village of Caughnawaga was made up of Huron and Algonquian captives and adoptees.” (72) Tionontati and Wenrohronon were also attacked, dispersed, and absorbed by the Rotinonshón:ni.

The post-dispersal history of the five nations of the Wendat, as described by John Steckley, holds that the Ataronchronnon (Bog) disappeared, the Atahontaenrat (Deer) joined the Shotinontowane'á:ka in an independent community, Arendaeronnon (Rock) joined the Ononta'kehá:ka, and the Atinniawenten (Bear) joined the Kanien'kehá:ka. The Atingeennonniahak (Cord) remained as the sole Wendat nation. (73)

In his military history of the Rotinonshón:ni, Daniel P. Barr compares accounts of the conflict and determines that:

"Between 1631-1663, the Iroquois attacked the Hurons at least 73 times. More than 500 Huron people are recorded as having been killed during these raids, with an astonishing 2,000--one-fifth of their post epidemic population--captured and deported to Iroquoia. These numbers are likely low-end estimates…. [T]he number of captives taken by the Iroquois during the Beaver Wars was on average two to three times greater than the number of enemies they killed. Both scenarios illustrate that the acquisition of enemy captives to replace Iroquois population losses was the primary factor in the Beaver Wars, which were not a series of conflicts designed to impose Iroquois control over the fur trade, but rather an Iroquois fight for survival, one vast, prolonged mourning war." (74)

The descendents of captured Wendat adoptees were fully integrated into Rotinonshón:ni society and treated as equals. One notable example is Joseph Brant, Thaientané:ken, who was descended from Wendat captives adopted by the Kanien'kehá:ka both on his father and mother’s side. (75) Thaientané:ken went on to become a ohnkanetoten, and led war parties against the United States during the Revolutionary War. His efforts helped establish the community at Ohswé:ken, the Six Nations reserve along the Grand River. The town of Brantford is named for him, as is the Tyendinaga Mohawk Community at the Bay of Quinte. It should be noted again that various versions of the Kaianere'kó:wa hold that Tekanawí:ta originated from the Wendat nation, that the iakoiá:ner Tsikónhsase came from the Kakwa:ko nation, and even that Aiewáhtha was from the Ononta'kehaka nation, was adopted by the Kanien'kehá:ka, and became a roiá:ner there. From the perspective of many Iroquois speakers, they were the same people; membership among the warring nations could be quite fluid.

Warfare with the Susquehannock continued. Over time, more of them were adopted into the Rotinonshón:ni, often into the Oneniote'á:ka nation. The last Susquehannocks were not adopted, but were massacred by English settlers from Maryland. “By spring of 1669, a permanent village of Indian Christians had grown up around Raffeix’s Saint Francois Xavier des Pres mission. The first settlers were a diverse group of 'free Iroquois' and Erie, Huron and Susquehannock adoptees of the Oneidas.” (76) They were later joined by many Kanien'kehá:ka, and eventually this community moved to Kahnawà:ke.

The Wendat-Kanien'kehá:ka Peace Belt (77)

In 1713, most of the Iroquois-speaking Tehatiskaró:ros (Tuscarora) nation, which had been warring with North Carolina settlers, relocated to live among the Rotinonshón:ni. By 1722-1723, they were incorporated as the Sixth Nation of the Rotinonshón:ni, living autonomously from the others. They were not invited to have roiá:ner in the council, but would be represented by the Oneniote'á:ka and Kaion'kehá:ka. (78)

While there may have been economical and cultural motivations for Rotinonshón:ni participation and prosecution of the Beaver Wars, the result was far from genocide of their opponents--rather, it was the political unification of most northern Iroquois-speaking peoples under the Kaianere'kó:wa. It bears emphasizing that, according to Wallace, "[a]doption was so frequent during the bloody centuries of the beaver wars and the colonial wars that some Iroquois villages were preponderantly composed of formally adopted war captives." (79) Adoption was as much a form of political unification of other Iroquois-speaking peoples, who already shared cultural traits, as it was cultural assimilation. Autonomous villages were common. The Beaver Wars might best be seen as bloody civil war among Iroquois-speaking people in the context of a larger series of devastating tragedies, not a genocidal conflict based on resource acquisition. Increasingly, the Beaver Wars are being referred to as the Iroquois Wars--which seems far more appropriate since the majority of the participants were Iroquois-speakers. Further context is provided by considering that the Beaver Wars were contemporary with the Thirty Years' War on the European continent, and with the English Civil War. All three were fought with similar weapons. In his "Great Epic," Natoway depicts the Beaver Wars as a usurpation of authority by the ohnkanetoten and war captains, leading the longhouse of the Rotinonshón:ni to fracture, and finally to crumble during the American Revolution. (80)

On August 27, 1999, the four surviving nations of Wendat came together in a "tree of brotherhood" under the unity proposed by the Peacemaker of "peace, power, and righteousness" with leaders who have skins "seven span thick". It seems that the message of the Kaianere'kó:wa was finally received by all of the Wendat.

Kaianere'kó:wa as Constitution of a Stateless Polity?

Some have been tempted to submit a particular translation and transcription of the Kaianere'kó:wa to a political-science constitutional analysis. Depending on the version of the Kaianere'kó:wa, an analyst might come to the conclusions that Donald S. Lutz has: that the Rotinonshón:ni was not a participatory democratic confederacy of equal nations, but rather a hereditary oligarchy in which the Kanien'kehá:ka enjoyed a privileged position in making proposals to the council. (81) Lutz only consults the versions of the Kaianere'kó:wa published by Gawasco Waneh (Arthur Parker). In fact, his analysis focuses only on a single version written by Dayodekane (Seth Newhouse), and ignores a different version approved by the roiá:ner at Ohswé:ken, which was included in Gawasco Waneh’s volume. According to Snow, “The Newhouse version tells us as much, if not more about political conditions on the Grand River at the end of the nineteenth century than it does about the origins of the League” (82). The Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee believe that no one version is preferred and that "many traditional leaders feel that none of the written versions have all of the known oral history included." (83)

Atsenhaienton (Kenneth Deer) objects to the Kaianere'kó:wa even being called "the Great Law" and those that would treat it as such: "it's not a law: it's guidelines to help people get to harmony and coexistence... They look at the Great Law and interpret it the way a constitutional lawyer would. That's not the way it was intended to be treated." (84) Even if the Kaianere'kó:wa should not be given a strict legalist reading, among its principles is a metaphor for amendment: "adding to the rafters" of the long house. This includes meetings among the traditional Rotinonshón:ni involving not only the roiá:ner but all the people, as a check on their power. (85)

The influence of Lewis Henry Morgan's study of the Rotinonshón:ni on Marx and Engels' concept of a stateless communist society is well known. In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels summarized Morgan's description of the Rotinonshón:ni society:

"No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits - and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected, by the gens or the tribe, or by the gentes among themselves; only as an extreme and exceptional measure is blood revenge threatened-and our capital punishment is nothing but blood revenge in a civilized form, with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilization. Although there were many more matters to be settled in common than today - the household is maintained by a number of families in common, and is communistic, the land belongs to the tribe, only the small gardens are allotted provisionally to the households - yet there is no need for even a trace of our complicated administrative apparatus with all its ramifications. The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most cases everything has been already settled by the custom of centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy - the communal household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free - the women included. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes." (86)

While Engels is right to commend the communal economy, sexual equality, and horizontal political structure of the Rotinonshón:ni, he erred in claiming that there were no ranks of social prestige with political responsibilities. The anthropological definition of “egalitarian” is narrow. There are some "rank societies in which positions of valued status are somehow limited so that not all those of sufficient talent to occupy such statuses actually achieve them. Such a society may or may not be stratified. That is, a society may sharply limit its positions of prestige without affecting the access of its entire membership to the basic resources upon which life depends" (87) While the numbers of roiá:ner and iakoiá:ner were limited by the Kaianere'kó:wa to certain kahwá:tsire, positions of ohnkanetoten were open to all men on the basis of merit and selection by the roiá:ner council. As has already been explained, Rotinonshón:ni society had a communal work and consumption ethic (the communal economy of the "one bowl"), so although ranks of prestige did exist, they did not serve in a position of accumulating or redistributing wealth.

Graeber, who as an anarchist is quite suspicious of all hierarchy, says of the traditional Rotinonshón:ni, "for all the complex federative structure, society was in most respects highly egalitarian. Office-holders, male and female, were elected from among a pool of possible heirs; the offices themselves, at least the male political ones, were considered as much a responsibility as a reward as they involved no real material rewards and certainly granted the holder no coercive power." (88)

While it is often argued that the roiá:ner were traditionally selected from certain matrilineal lines, and that not all kahwá:tsire were able to select candidates, this varied over time and location. Teiowí:sonte describes modern debates around heredity: "To some, heredity is the very essence of Haudenosaunee governance and an integral factor in leadership selection... To others, this concept represents the infiltration of European corruption into Haundenosaunee leadership selection and the fortification of a class system invading our traditional concept of democracy with notions of royalty. Likewise, advocates against the heredity concept believe it to be a non-traditional convention that is a fairly recent development resulting from colonization." (89) Snow claims that “Each nation devised its own internal mechanism for selecting and organizing its League Chiefs”(90); and that ohnkanetoten were created to specifically deal with the issue of empowering men who did not come from the distinct matrilineal lines eligible for becoming roiá:ner. (91) He argues further that at times, the ranks may have represented a political class distinct from the common Rotinonshón:ni, and a class of slaves made up of captives who had not been adopted (92)--a situation which would have been most pronounced during the Beaver Wars.

Graeber notes this as well. "It was around this period one reads accounts of a society effectively divided into classes, with adopted prisoners doing the bulk of the menial labor and with members of their adopted families having the right to kill them for the slightest infranctions or impertinence... [T]his exceptionally brutal period did not last long: the children of these captives were considered full members of their adoptive clans." (93) As we have seen from the life of Thaientané:ken, the descendents of adoptees had the same political rights of common Rotinonshón:ni and could be selected as ohnkanetoten. It is seemingly without contradiction that Snow also describes how little authority came with rank: "Although men appointed by each ohwachira probably met as a village council, they had little authority beyond the force of their personalities. This in turn meant that face-to-face persuasion was the rule.” (94) Kanatiiosh emphasizes that "being a chief or a clan mother is just as important as being a person without a title, for all people are held responsible for preserving and protecting the Great Law of Peace." (95)

Circle Wampum (96)

Bonaparte, who himself served as a former elected chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne,(97) does not even think that roiá:ner should be called "chiefs": “a lot of our people don't like using the term "chief" instead of "royaner," because chief is such a generic term. You've got fire chiefs, police chiefs, chief of staff, etc. Those are positions where the people who have them are empowered to make decisions for a group, whereas our "royaners" are facilitators for having the group itself come to the decision, and who then act upon that decision.” (98) Indeed, the focus on decision-making among the Rotinonshón:ni was always to reach consensus. Snow has argued that the Rotinonshón:ni "emphasized consensus rather than executive authority, unanimity rather than majority rule, and equality rather than hierarchy" (99) Taiaiake goes so far as to write that “holding non-consensual power over others is contrary to tradition. Whatever the purpose behind the use of arbitrary authority, the power relationship is wrong”. (100) Richter describes a state of universal suffrage, claiming that voting in the council was open to all who had reached the age of maturity.(101)

Those familiar with the institution of consensus-based spokecouncils, used recently in the protests against corporate neoliberalism ("anti-globalization"), will notice many similarities with Kahentinetha Horn's description of consensual decision-making among the Kanien'kehá:ka:

"[N]o one can impose their will nor make decisions for another, all must understand the viewpoint and agree of their own free will. The goal is not total agreement, but total understanding. If there is no agreement, then the consensus is to retain the status quo. If there is understanding by all then they go ahead with the decision... In entering the consensual decision-making process, whatever ideas are put into the process, the needs and attitudes of each is considered and complements the decision. Also, the individual has a duty to be directly involved, and to bring their ideas into the discussion within their clan. The final decision will be fully satisfactory to some, satisfactory to others and relatively satisfactory to the remainder, and will reflect elements from every group. This is a slow careful process requiring the reaching of a full understanding by each individual and not a decision made by a 'leader.' The person who explains the decision is a spokesman." (102)

The Kaianere'kó:wa lacks the monopoly of force and the authority of coercive control that define statist polities. It is a mutual agreement of non-aggression among its participants, aimed primarily on maintaining peaceful relations among them, rather than a guiding document for the rule of elites over the rest of society. Richter has stated that "the coercive exercise of authority was virtually unknown" among the Rotinonshón:ni,(103) and that their "political values were essentially noncompetitive." (104) Graeber believes that “the entire political apparatus was seen by its creators primarily as a way of resolving murderous disputes. The League was less a government, or even alliance, than a series of treaties establishing amity and providing the institutional means for preventing feuds and maintaining harmony among the five nations that made it up. For all their reputation as predatory warriors, the Iroquois themselves saw the essence of political action to lie in making peace.” (105)

Justice among the traditional Rotinonshón:ni was the responsibility of everyone, particularly one's matrilineal kin. The focus was on condoling kahwá:tsire for their loss and on regulating social behavior through popular opinion, rather than through justice administered by a specialized class. While some see the offering of wampum to the family of a murder victim to as a reparational payment, comparable to the Northern European weregild, Morgan claimed that "the present of white wampum was not in the nature of a compensation of the life of the deceased, but of a regretful confession of the crime, with a petition for forgiveness. It was a peace-offering, the acceptance of which was pressed by mutual friends, and under such influences that the reconciliation was usually effect, except, perhaps, in aggravated cases of premeditated murder." (106)

Wallace's interpretation echoes Engel's analysis of Rotinonshón:ni justice: “Behavior was governed not by published laws enforced by police, courts, and jails, but by oral tradition supported by a sense of duty, a fear of gossip, and a dread of retaliatory witchcraft. Theft, vandalism, armed robbery, were almost unknown. Public opinion, gently exercised, was sufficient to deter most persons from property crimes, for public opinion went straight to the heart of the matter: the weakness of the criminal.” (107) And Kanatiiosh argues that European settler "hierarchy breeds competition, and competition breeds anger, resentment, hatred, and can lead to revenge, which only continues the vicious cycle of violence. Western society is dependent on imprisonment, fines and other punishments, which are supposed to keep social order." She contrasts that system of coercive punishment with the legal principles of the Kaianere'kó:wa, which created a "shared community where people have mutual respect for the entire group rather then interested only in one's self. Perhaps a little spirituality, shame, guilt, and respect of self and community would be the best elements to include in a recipe for a true system of justice." (108)

Richter repeatedly describes the traditional polity of the Rotinonshón:ni as a "nonstate society" (109) and "a system dependent upon voluntary compliance". (110) His insistence on the difference between the Rotinonshón:ni and the colonial states it was contemporary with is worth emphasizing:

"Making and preserving peace, then was the purpose of the League, and accordingly the Grand Council apparently did not undertake the kinds of political functions of decision making and diplomacy characteristic of state-organized governments. In the early seventeenth century, the League possessed few state like characteristics: the Five nations had little in the way of common foreign policy, no effective means of devising unified strategies, and no central government in the sense that term is usually understood by Americans. Indeed, on various issues the ten or so autonomous towns of Iroquoia were often at odds with one another as they were in consensus. The League was not designed to remedy the deficit--nor, apparently, did the Iroquois people even perceive that there was any kind of deficit..."
Daniel Richter, Ordeal of the Longhouse (111)

While the exact definition of a "state" is elusive, none can deny that states wield a legal monopoly of violence, and that the state therefore takes a coercive role in regards to its citizens. In respect to the degree of a given polity's coercive control over its constituent members, we can imagine a spectrum with the totalitarian state on one end and a stateless society, an anarchy, on the other. Societies that are more ranked and stratified are more statist. Along this spectrum, the Rotinonshón:ni polity falls toward the pole of statelessness, having extremely limited ranking, and lacking in both coercive authority and economic stratification.

The anarchist historian George Woodcock believed that the Rotinonshón:ni's polity amounted to a stateless confederation: "a common council of sachems, in whose selection the women, whose influence derived from their control of agriculture, played a great role; but this council did not interfere in the internal affairs of the tribes, so that it remained the coordinating body of a true confederation rather than the government of the state." (112) Colonial historian Francis Jennings recognizes that it was "a league of friendship and mutual assistance, but ... a league of consultation and contract rather than a government of legislative command". (113) Member nations "never gave up their power of individual decision. Often they struggled for dominance within the league, and sometimes (though rarely) they came to blows with each other. These phenomena were also to be observed among colonial towns and villages, but whereas the Iroquois tribes maintained local independence throughout their existence, the colonies gradually came under more and more effective central controls." (114) All Rotinonshón:ni nations are equal, regardless of their number of clans, size of territory or numbers of population. (115) Bookchin, who so often suggested New England town-meeting democracy as a basic building block of libertarian municipalist confederation, would have done well to have taken the advice of Mitchel Cohen, and examine the Rotinonshón:ni polity as an example of the very sort of ideal of that he was advocating:

"Town meetings, according to Bookchin, are the American equivalent of the Greek polis - and why does he not seek to emulate the Iroquois tribal council instead or any of a hundred non-European forms? Linked together, local communities form the potential, according to Bookchin, for a "federated municipalism." All other forms, particularly those created by native peoples, are seen as inferior. American Indian communities are diminished, in Bookchin's framework, because of their lack of rational municipal debate. The framework of the colonizer informs Bookchin's ideas despite himself, disempowering radical ecology movements and undermining their potential."(116)


While Bookchin might have not recognized similarities between his own anti-authoritarian politics and the traditional Rotinonshón:ni polity, some Rotinonshón:ni have also brushed off such comparisons. In an essay attempting to dissuade Rotinonshón:ni from participating as allies in the protests against the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA) meetings held in April 2001 in Québec City, Teiowí:sonte argued that the "platform and aspirations among some of these groups, particularly the Anarchists, are to eliminate any structured authority. Anarchism is a Greek word meaning without government. Their beliefs are contradictory to that of the Kaianere'kó:wa and actually threaten the existence of Haudenosaunee governments if these groups ever attain their ultimate goal." (117)

At least one of Teiowí:sonte's comrades in the Wasáse Movement, Taiaiake, might disagree with Teiowí:sonte's interpretation of anarchism. Others, like Ward Churchill, have seen commonalities between Indigenism and Anarchism. (118) Taiaiake, coming from a traditionalist Kanien'kehá:ka perspective but also an academic career in political science, history and indigenous governance, argues explicitly for an "anarcho-indigenism."(119) Far from seeing anarchism as a hindrance to the reestablishment of the Kaianere'kó:wa as the polity of modern Rotinonshón:ni, Taiaiake sees anarchism as the kind of political philosophy, "fundamentally anti-institutional, radically democratic, and committed to taking action for change,"(120) that is needed to combine with the indigenous vision of a good society. Not only do the commonalities exist in terms of philosophy, but they are increasingly being seen on the levels of strategy and praxis:

"There are philosophical connections between indigenous and some strains of anarchist thought on the spirit of freedom and the ideals of a good society. Parallel critical ideas and visions of post-imperial futures have been noted by a few thinkers, but something that may be called anarcho-indigenism has yet to develop into a coherent philosophy. There are also important strategic commonalities between indigenous and anarchist ways of seeing and being in the world... a rejection of alliances with legalized systems of oppression, non-participation in the institutions that structure the colonial relationship, and a belief in bringing about change through direct action, physical resistance, and confrontations with state power. It is on this last point that connections have already been made between Onkwehonwe groups and non-indigenous activist groups in the anti-globalization movement." (121)

In defining universal indigenous principles, Taiaiake's position is not only anti-statist but also explicitly anti-hierarchical: "Traditional indigenous nationhood stands in sharp contrast to the dominant understanding of 'the state': there is no absolute authority, no coercive enforcement of decisions, no hierarchy, and no separate ruling entity." (122) He goes so far as to call continued cooperation with the state as "morally unacceptable." (123)

Perhaps anarchism and the struggle of other social movements have had effects upon indigenism as well. While Taiaiake is a passionate proponent of a return to traditional polity, he acknowledges that "it's not going to look the same as before. Our ideas about injustice might even possess and lead us to fight our own people and the injustice they are bringing on through the instrument of their form of government." (124)

The similarities between anarchism and indigenism are being increasingly noticed, as anarchists find themselves in solidarity with indigenous struggles from Oaxaca to Ohswé:ken. Some have gone so far as to argue that indigenism is the ancestor of anarchism(126)--a claim that seems all that more plausible when anarchists study the traditional polity of the Rotinonshón:ni. Teiowí:sonte has called the traditional polity of the Rotinonshón:ni the "original socialist paradise," partly because of its influence on Marx's socialism.(127) Feminists in the U.S. have acknowledged the influence of Rotinonshón:ni on their vision of equality. The traditional polity of the Rotinonshón:ni has demonstrated that cultural evolution is not unilinear. There is an alterative to a stratified, hierarchical, patriarchical society and an exploitive economy--but we must build it now, and not wait idly for some far-off future when material culture has completed its development. There is an alternative to kleptocracy. It is possible today!

"The Evergrowing Tree" belt (125)



Terms are mostly in standard Kanien'kehá:ka



Niá:wen : Thanks. Niá:wen to Kaiò for helping with this glossary.

End Notes

1. Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610-1791, Vol. 51
2. Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, 268-269
3. For this article, "Iroquois" will be used to refer to those who speak a northern Iroquois language, while "Rotinonshón:ni" (Haudenosaunee) will be used for the specific polity, also known as the People of the Longhouse and the League (Confederacy) of Five (Six) Nations. Terms used throughout the article are mostly in standard Kanien'kehá:ka
4. Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 47
5. Also referred to as Gayanashagowa, "The Great Law," "The Great Law of Peace", "The Good Tidings of Peace and Power (and Righteousness)," "The Great Binding Law," "The Constitution of the Five (Six) Nations"
6. Diamond, 286-287
7. Ibid, 276
8. Bookchin, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism
9. Symbolizes the confederation of the Rotinonshón:ni. Each square is a seperate nation, with the white pine in the center representing Ononta'kehá:ka as the central fire keepers.
10. Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 7
11. Ohswé:ken is also known as the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River, the Haldimand Tract. The version mentioned here is Seth Newhouse’s. Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 85
12. Bay of Quinte is also home of the Tyendinaga (a reference to Thayendanega) Kanien'kehá:ka community established in 1784. There is a memorial at the Community Centre to "The Peacemaker"--an English sobriquet of Tekanawí:ta. The version mentioned here is the Ohswé:ken Rotiiá:ner version. Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 81
13. Barbara Mann, "The Lynx in Time: Haudenosaunee Women's Traditions and History"
14. Parker lists her as Djikonsa’se, "the mother of nations",
"the peace queen" and states that she was of the Kakwa:ko (Neutral) nation on the east side of the Niagara. Parker, The Constitution of the Five Nations or the Iroquois Book of the Great Law, 71
15. Also transliterated as Tsokansase, Natoway Brian Rice, "The Great Epic: The Peacemaker Brings the Message of Peace to the Kenienke haka"
16. Mann
17. This version is from Thaientané:ken (Joseph Brant). Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 54-55.
18. This has been related in the oral tradition as recited by Jake Thomas and referenced by Kanatiiosh Barbara Gray, "The Importance of Narratives in Understanding: The Passions & Law"
19. Kahentinetha Horn, "Traditional Culture and Community Competition"
20. Newhouse and Ohswé:ken rotiiá:ner versions, Parker; as well as Rice’s version.
21. Lewis Henry Morgan, The League of the Ho-de'-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois, 308
22. Jesuit Relations, Vol. 43
23. Richter, 17
24. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca,143
25. Ibid., 194
26. Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer, "The Traditionalist Doctrine"
27. Hunter Gray, "Strawberries, the Iroquois, and My Strawberry Socialism"
28. Richter, Ordeal of the Longhouse, 25
29. Ibid., 23
30. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, 50
31. Graeber, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value
32. Akwesasne Notes, “Basic Call to Consciousness”
33. Kahwá:tsire / Ohwachira means matrilineal clan. Snow, The Iroquois, 69
34. Sally Roesch Wagner, Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists, 91-92
35. Barclay, People Without a Government, 121
36. Snow, 65
37. Graeber, 122
38. Wagner, 68
39. Ibid, 66
40. Ibid, 47
41. Jesuit Relations, Vol LI, CXXII
42. Wagner, 73
43. Ibid., 69
44. Kanatiiosh
45. Snow, 71-72
46. Wallace, 283-28
47. Ibid, 28
48. Kahentinetha
49. Morgan, 331
50. Snow, 217
51. Ibid, 198
52. "On May 16, 1914, only six years before the first national election in which women had the vote, Puck printed a line drawing of a group of Indian women observing Susan B. Anthony, Anne Howard Shaw and Elizabeth Cady Stanton leading a parade of women. A verse under the print read:

"Savagery to Civilization"
"We, the women of the Iroquois
Own the Land, the Lodge, the Children
Ours is the right to adoption, life or death;
Ours is the right to raise up and depose chiefs;
Ours is the right to representation in all councils;
Ours is the right to make and abrogate treaties;
Ours is the supervision over domestic and foreign policies;
Ours is the trusteeship of tribal property;
Our lives are valued again as high as man's. "
Donald A. Grinde, Jr and Bruce E. Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy
53. Wagner, 28
54. Ibid, 32
55. Ibid, 93
56. Taiaiake, Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, 84
57. Jesuit Relations: 42:253
58. Bookchin, Nationalism and the "National Question"
59. Snow, 67
60. Ibid, 87
61. Bonaparte, "Kaniatarowanenneh: River of the Iroquois"
62. Snow, 88
63. Bonaparte, "Kaniatarowanenneh: River of the Iroquois"
64. Natoway Brian Rice, "The Great Epic, Coming of the Light Skinned Beings."
65. Natoway, "The Great Epic, Coming of the Light Skinned Beings."
66. Snow, 79-80
67. Ibid, 100
68. Natoway, "The Great Epic, The Revival of the War Chiefs"
69. Graeber, 146
70. Snow, 115
71.Ibid, 117
72. Ibid, 118
73. John Steckley, "Wendat Dialects and the Development of the Huron Alliance," Humber College
74. Daniel P. Barr, Unconquered: The Iroquois League at War in Colonial America, 47, 40-41
75. Bonaparte, Creation and Confederation, 96
76. Richter, 119-120
77. This wampum belt was given to the Kanien'kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke by the Wendat of Lorette (Wendake), circa 1677.
78. Kahentinetha
79. Wallace, 29
80. Natoway, "The Great Epic: Sawiskera Gains Control"
81. Donald S. Lutz, "The Iroquois Confederation Constitution: an analysis."
82. Snow, 183
83. Haudenosaunee: Great Law of Peace
84. Taiaiake, Peace, Power and Righteousness, 102
85. Ibid, Peace, Power and Righteousness, 103
86. Frederick Engels, Orgin of the Family, Private Property and the State
87. Fried quoted by Barclay, 41.
88. Graeber, 122
89. Teiowí:sonte "The Heredity Question"
90. Snow, 62
91. Ibid, 65
92. Ibid, 130
93. Graeber, 124
94. Snow, 89
95. Kanatiiosh
96. Symbolizes the unity and equality of the fifty roiá:ner. The one longer strand represents the people or keeper of all records of the league. Image from Wampum Chronicles.
97. The MCA is a band council, not an organization of the traditional polity of the Rotinonshón:ni; thus it has chiefs not roiá:ner.
98. Bonaparte, personal correspondence; a sentiment also confirmed by Kahentinetha Horn in her interview with Kakwirakeron.
99. Snow, 142
100. Taiaiake, Peace, Power an Righteousness, 28
101. Richter, 43
102. Kahentinetha
103. Richter, 45
104. Ibid, 45
105. Graeber, 125
106. Morgan, 333
107. Wallace, 25
108. Kanatiiosh
109. Richter, 44
110. Ibid, 46
111. Ibid, 40
112. George Woodcock, "Anarchy, Freedom, Native People & The Environment"
113. Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire , 7
114. Ibid.
115. Kahentinetha
116. Mitchel Cohen, "Listen, Bookchin!"
117. Teiowí:sonte, "The new Revolutionary War"
118. Churchill, "Indigenism, Anarchism, and the State: An Interview with Ward Churchill", "Uping the Anti", #1
119. Taiaiake, Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, 45
120. Ibid.
121. Ibid.
122. Taiaiake, Peace, Power and Righteousness, 56
123. Taiaiake, Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, 36
124. Ibid, 92
125. This belt symbolizes adoption: any one or any nation outside of the Rotinonshón:ni wishes to abide by the Kaianere'kó:wa may follow one of the great roots to the tree. If their minds are clean and they promise to obey the wishes of the roiá:ner council, they are welcome to take shelter beneath the tree of peace. link
126. Churchill
127. Teiowí:sonte, "Barred from the 'socialist' paradise"

Tekeni Teiohate, The Two Row Wampum
"You say that you are our Father and I am your son. We say, We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. This wampum belt confirms our words. These two rows will symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the onkwehón:we, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel."

"As long as the Sun shines upon this Earth, that is how long OUR Agreement will stand; Second, as long as the Water still flows; and Third, as long as the Grass Grows Green at a certain time of the year. Now we have Symbolized this Agreement and it shall be binding forever as long as Mother Earth is still in motion."
Rotinonshón:ni-Dutch treaty, 1613