23 November 2016

Democracy and Indians

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

Native American ideas may be partly responsible for our democratic institutions. Democracy is an example of syncretism, combining ideas from Europe and Native America. Native ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers such as Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. Through 150 years of colonial contact, the Iroquois League stood before the colonies as an object lesson in how to govern a large domain democratically.

American Indians are directly or indirectly responsible for the public-meeting tradition, free speech, democracy, and all those things which got attached to the Bill of Rights. Without the Native example, do you really believe that all those ideas would have found birth among a people who had spent a millennium butchering other people because of intolerance of questions of religion?

For a hundred years after our Revolution, Americans credited Native Americans as a source of their democratic institutions. Revolutionary-era cartoonists used images of Indians to represent the colonies against Britain. Virginia’s patriot rifle companies wore Indian clothes and moccasins as they fought the redcoats. When colonists took actions to oppose unjust authority, as in the Boston Tea Party, they chose to dress as Indians, not to blame Indians for the demonstrations, but to appropriate a symbol identified with liberty.

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