I wish to comment on Chris Salomons’ recent column on residential schools. I can identify so well with your letter and experience.
I spent some time in a convent in Williams Lake, B.C., where we went to school, and witnessed native children being brought into the convent from reserves out west of Williams Lake, and the challenges they faced to integrate into our social life. Some of them didn’t make it and ran away to live in the bush. I think they were better off.
We, as Europeans have come to this country with our high-minded attitudes of religion and government that are foreign to native people, and imposed it upon this people who we considered “savages.” Yet, the type of government they had in place 400 to 500 years prior to the arrival of Europeans here leaves us with much egg on our faces. They practised a democratic system and way of life far superior to the dreams and aspirations of the savants and kingdoms of Europe.
I will hone in on the Iroquois Confederacy. In 1990, Hugh Downs talked about We, the Iroquois in his 10-minute perspectives aired on the ABC Radio Network. Larry King, Janet Reno, and Joe Clarke, Canadian minister of Constitutional Affairs, have all focused on the Iroquois influence, as have an increasing number of educational institutions and political science curricula throughout the United States; on the tremendous influence the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy had on the formation of the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
The inspiration for the founding fathers, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, by their comprehensive studies of the Iroquois Confederacy and the 1,000-year-old Great Law of Peace given by the peacemaker, Deganawidah, and put into motion by Hiawatha, provided them with the foundation stone for the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The early drafts of the American Constitution included some of the Iroquois language and wording, for the English words were too limiting.
When Iroquois council members rose to speak, everyone stayed quiet. After saying what needed to be said, the member sat down and was given five to 10 minutes to recollect and then rose to give final summary. This is much different than British council meetings where the Chamber Guard would be hoarse from yelling for order.
Some of the articles the Iroquois lived by: no government person was allowed to enter your home for any cause; total freedom of religion; freedom of speech; and right of recall of local representatives.
This rich native American democratic tradition was the real source for the Americans’ distinctive political ideal. Indeed, centuries before Columbus arrived in the New World, democracy was alive and well, just waiting for the founding fathers to discover it.
Unfortunately, the United States that the American Indians helped to bring into being used its strength to obliterate this beautiful people.
In Canada; the Iroquois long house was declared a hostile operation and contrary to Canadian law. Anyone found meeting in the long house was thrown into jail.
So much for freedom and democracy in Canada.