Indian Identity, Transformation, Continuity and Resilience

 

Wilma Mankiller (1045-2010), Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995, gave a speech at Sonoma State University in 2008, in which she spoke about the misconceptions held by many in mainstream society, of Native American Peoples.  She provided a brief review of American history in order to help clear up common misconceptions of Indian identity, transformation, continuity and resilience.

Folks in mainstream U.S. culture sometimes think of Indians as a cultural relic of the past, as rather an artifact or as people in need of ‘advancement’.  Mankiller spoke of the importance of context, such as time and place, in relation to understanding Native American Peoples. Native American Peoples are diverse groups of people still living who enjoy modern lifestyles.

Clearing up the common misconception of a singular ‘Indian’ identity, Chief Mankiller discussed some of the 550 plus tribal groups, speaking of their distinct political structures, their unique histories, languages, beliefs, customs and ceremonies. Many in mainstream U.S. culture are unaware of the cultural and historical complexity of Native American societies.

Mankiller provided her audience context for understanding Native Americans living today with a brief discourse on Indian Nation and U.S. relations. She pointed out that many people in mainstream U.S. society do not know the full details of American history, including the Native American perspective, whereas Native Americans have been compelled to learn and adapt to the dominant culture’s perspective and lifestyle. Ignorance about both the history and the current reality relative to Native American people can lead to the misunderstanding of the issues with which Native Americans currently struggle.

Native Americans embrace and hold onto their unique cultural heritage while they also work to adapt to the dominant culture. Sometimes adjusting is difficult, but Mankiller spoke of maintaining a positive attitude as key to living a happy and productive life. She stressed that it is important to remain positively focused because, as she said, “It is hard to see the future with tears in your eyes or anger in your heart (Mankiller).”  Thus, Chief Mankiller showed us that Native Americans are a resilient people; they find positive ways to adapt to change.

In this speech, Chief Wilma Mankiller demonstrated for the audience that Native Americans, are a resilient, living modern people who are adapting to their new circumstances while at the same time they embrace their unique cultural heritages and lifestyles.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Haudenosaunee Peacemaker: Originator of American Democracy

There is an ancient legend that tells how the Haudenosaunee (commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy) was formed. Today, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy consists of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and the Tuscarora American Indian Nations. These nations historically inhabited the lands that surround the North American Great Lakes, known as the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. This is in the area of North America that is now known as the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in the U.S. and the southern regions of the Maritime provinces of Canada.

Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, on July 3rd, 1991, spoke with journalist Bill Moyers telling him about The Legend of the Gai Eneshah Go’ Nah (the Great Law of Peace), which was given to his people by a man who they call The Peacemaker.

In this interview, Mr. Lyons explained that over a thousand years ago the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and the Mohawk people had been engaged in constant conflict with one other. Violence and bloodshed had become a way of life. Then a spiritual man, known as The Peacemaker, came to the Five Nations and gave them instructions on how to live together in peace.  Later, the Tuscarora people, who because of the negative effects of colonization, migrated from the south and joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The instructions that The Peacemaker gave are known as The Great Law of Peace, which governs the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to this day.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was the first American democracy, and it is the one after which the ‘Founding Fathers’ patterned the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, the notion of ‘democracy’ has a slightly different meaning for the Haudenosaunee people than it does for the dominating U.S. culture. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a rather egalitarian form of government, a specific type of direct democracy called a participatory democracy, in which there is a belief in the need for consensus and the sharing of power. The Haudenosaunee people believe that law, society and nature are equal partners, each holding important roles.  While in a similar yet distinct way, the U.S. form of government is a representative democracy, where, essentially, the majority rules in a power-over fashion within a system of hierarchical power structures. Thus, in America, the term ‘democracy’ is a shared symbol that embodies different meanings, depending on the worldview of the people using the term.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.