Iroquois make their presence at the Women’s March at Seneca Falls earlier this year

by Doug George-Kanentiio
News From Indian Country

Seneca Falls, NY is located within the ancient boundaries of the Cayuga Nation, a member of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Haudenosaunee. It is also the birthplace of the movement towards securing the right to vote by American women, a decades long struggle beginning at the first national conference in 1848.

Most of those in attendance at that time would not live to see the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 which codified the right to vote by women. There were few instances in western European or Asian history where women were more than chattel but not so in the United States, at least not among the colonizers.

When some of the suffagettes sought instances of female liberation they found it among the Iroquois, in their own region. Fascinated by the high degree of freedom enjoyed by Iroquois women they studied our history and found inspiration but, in my opinion, did not go far enough.

When the idea of having a national Women’s March a day after the US Presidential inauguration began to grow leading to a march in Washington local groups elected to hold their own gathering and Seneca Falls seemed to be the right place.

I was asked to deliver a summation of women within Iroquois society which I did before thousands of marchers. Unlike the profanity used by one key speaker in Washington I elected to present an explanation of how we managed to create harmony between the genders and with the natural world.

Addressing the 7,000 people at Seneca Falls in her capacity of iokaiane was Louise McDonald-Herne followed by vocalist Katsitsionni Fox. Oneidas Diane Shenandoah, Michelle Shenandoah and Adah Shenandoah opened the event with an Iroquois social song. My speech is as follows.

Sekon Skenen:kowa: ken
Greeetings, May there be a great peace within you,

875 years ago, across this land, walked Skennenrahowi, the Great Peacemaker, to create among warring peoples a great league of nation founded upon the principles of peace, justice, equality and ecological balance. In an act of genius without parallel in the world he established a society in which the human spirit was liberated from the constraints of fear and oppression.

Using the power of persuasion and the application of reason he found a way to resolve human disputes without the use of retaliation and violence. This great league was governed by a set of principles called the Great Law of Peace which assured the citizens of the Iroquois Confederacy of governance responsible to the people with a legal obligation refrain from enacting any law which qualified the rights of those unborn unto to the seventh generation; among those inalienable rights were access to pure waters fertile lands and clean air along with the freedom to fulfill their inherent abilities and to take an active part in the social, spiritual and administrative activities of their respective nation unencumbered by gender, age or conditions of their birth.

It was here, in central New York State, on the sacred lands of the world’s oldest union of free nations, that the lifegivers of the nations were assured of their natural rights to nominate all leaders, to impeach those in breach of the nation’s laws, to hold custodial title to the land, to cultivate the soil, to distribute the collective fruits of the people’s labors, to oversee all matters involving peace and war, to control all instances of capital punishment, to arbitrate disputes, approve or dissolve civil weddings, administer to those in need and lend their lineage to infants and naturalized citizens.

It was the lifegivers who took and active role in all the communal rituals, served as clanmothers and faithkeepers and insured all children were housed, clothed and fed without distinction in a society without artificial class barriers. It was a society unlike any other, a place of refuge and liberty where women were fierce in the protection of their ancestral freedoms and determined to share their traditional knowledge with whomever followed the gleaming white roots to find shelter beneath the Great Tree of Peace.

There is no question but that the Iroquois have changed the world in many bold and subtle ways from showing the eastern refugees the art of living upon Anonwarakowa, the Great Turtle to the essence of women’s liberation from the constraints imposed upon them by unenlightened males.  We now ask you to take this to the next step-to enact such laws as will protect our Mother Earth by giving her formal constitutional standing and to give deliberate consideration in every instance of human endeavor.

From us comes the fire, to you we share the light. Do with it what you must.

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