Monday, December 10, 2012

When Native Americans Created Utopia

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

St. Thomas More's 'Utopia' was, interestingly, set in the New World. What More may not have known, however, is that many Native American tribes may have created a real utopia.

The Arawaks, for example. The Arawaks --wiped out entirely in an act of genocide perpetrated by Christopher Columbus --were notable for their crime free society, the equality accorded women, the utter lack of 'private property'. 'Private property' was a concept unknown to them.
Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
    They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

--Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress

Other tribes, likewise, approached utopia, notably the Iroquois Confederation which heavily influenced the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three parties as follows: Tekarihoken, Ayonhwhathah and Shadekariwade are the first party; Sharenhowaneh, Deyoenhegwenh and Oghrenghrehgowah are the second party, and Dehennakrineh, Aghstawenserenthah and Shoskoharowaneh are the third party. The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the first and second parties and if an error is made or the proceeding is irregular they are to call attention to it, and when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties they shall confirm the decision of the two parties and refer the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision. When the Seneca Lords have decided in accord with the Mohawk Lords, the case or question shall be referred to the Cayuga and Oneida Lords on the opposite side of the house.

6. I, Dekanawidah, appoint the Mohawk Lords the heads and the leaders of the Five Nations Confederacy. The Mohawk Lords are the foundation of the Great Peace and it shall, therefore, be against the Great Binding Law to pass measures in the Confederate Council after the Mohawk Lords have protested against them.

No council of the Confederate Lords shall be legal unless all the Mohawk Lords are present.

--Iroquois Constitution, Rights of the People of the Five Nations
Other tribes were equally advanced --the Choctaw, Cherokee, and farther north --the Mandan. Tragically, all the tribes were the victims of acts of genocide. I am of Choctaw/Cherokee descent but know very little of my ancestry but what had been handed down to my mother. In the case of the Mandan, less than 100 pure blood Mandan survive.

But --they had proven: Utopia IS possible.