Ross McCollin: Our nation owes much to Native American culture

The reason so little of Indigenous culture survives is because the white man wiped it out.

(Philip J. Pantano/Seneca-Iroquois National Museum via AP) This 2019 photo provided by Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in New York shows a long-missing peace pipe tomahawk President George Washington gave to Seneca Indian leader Cornplanter in the late 18th century that has been returned to the tribe in western New York. An anonymous collector returned the artifact to the museum and officials there decided to give it back to the Senecas.

In reading Timothy Egan’s commentary “Some statues tell lies. This one tells the truth” one comes across former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s assertion, “We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean there was nothing here. I mean yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Let’s test that a little further. First, the reason so little Native American culture survives today is due to the white man’s efforts to eradicate not only Native American culture (via the Christian missionaries) but also the white man’s attempt to eradicate the Indigenous people themselves, perhaps beginning with the Sullivan expedition of 1779, a military campaign against the Iroquois, ordered by George Washington, which appears to have set the stage for how Indigenous tribes would be treated by the U.S. government for the next 150 or so years.

Now, back to the time before the Indigenous people’s fall from grace when Euro Americans considered them the lost tribes of Israel (a notion later apparently absorbed by the Mormons) and let’s consider the Indigenous culture the founding fathers adopted.

See the 1744 Lancaster Treaty and Chief Canassatego advocating the union of the 13 colonies (the 13 fires). Short version: “Our wise forefathers established a Union and amity between the five nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations. We are a powerful confederacy and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power, therefore whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another. Many arrows cannot be broken as easily as one.” (This is said to have inspired the bundle of 13 arrows held by the eagle in the Great Seal of the United States).

Canassatego was speaking of the Iroquois Confederacy/Great Law of Peace, apparently the earliest known democracy (assembled in 1142), which appears to have influenced both the confederation of the colonies and U.S. Constitution. Among the parallels: Two councils (a balance of power between the Confederacy and individual tribes), open councils giving thanks, law deeming who has the power to declare war, an emblem of unity.

Among rights of the people, protection of their ceremonies (think in terms of religion) and a string of wampum which vests the people with the right to correct their representatives. Should representatives refuse to heed a third warning, two courses were open. The people may decide in council to depose the representatives or they could decide to club the representatives to death with their war clubs. The Founders opted out the latter course.

Also see Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 Albany Plan or, in 1787, John Rutledge using the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy as support for the proposition political power comes from “We the people,” expressed in the preamble to our Constitution.

As to statues that tell the truth, consider the statue atop the capitol building, Washington. D.C. Vivien Fryd, an art historian at Vanderbilt University, posits the Statue of Freedom combines a multitude of “the others” that helped compose our democracy. The Indian body represented in the form of the eagle feathers and allegory of America as an Indian princess.

So, near as I can tell, there’s significant Indigenous culture in American culture. The schools just don’t teach it.

The moral of the story, whatever a Republican is telling you, the opposite is most likely true.

Ross McCollin

Ross McCollin resides in South Salt Lake and wonders if the Founding Fathers had adopted the Iroquois war club bit, would we have fewer lying, double-talking political hacks running our government?