Sunday, October 4, 2020

European vs Indigineous North American hereditary leadership.

When Italian explorers happened upon Turtle Island in 1492, they found existing nations with governance structures different than what they had experienced with European nations.

While Europeans had a very top-down hierarchical structure largely based on hereditary monarchs or "elections" with a tiny number of elite electors, some of the nations in North America were using what is often called a participatory democracy. Kainerekowa (the Great Law of Peace) of the Haudenosaunee is widely recognized as one of the oldest democracies in the world (possibly founded in 1142).

The North American nations often had hereditary leaders that would help talking circles come to a consensus. This leader is a trained facilitator and promoter of group values and interests, and is able to act as a spokesperson with others about these common interests. Many roles in various societies worldwide are inherited, often because training is required from an early age.

Each nation had their own words for this leadership. Europeans called these facilitators chiefs, an anglicization of the french word chief.

Europeans and North Americans had hereditary leadership, but they were extremely different. People with european worldviews need to remember that their bad experiences with hierarchical hereditary leadership doesn't apply to other forms of hereditary leadership.

England incrementally became more democratic (Magna Carta in 1215, Kings removed in the 1600's), but it wasn't until 1918 with the Representation of the People Act that England had a system which we could recognise today as a democracy. Typical of patrilineal societies, it wasn't until a decade later that women received a more equal vote, something that wasn't a problem in matrilineal societies such as seen in many north american first nations. With European history coming from a top-down hierarchical feudalistic system, the form of democracy that was formed was similarly top-down hierarchical with Prime Ministers or Presidents having far more power than is reasonable for an individual to have. While these positions are periodically elected, they have the ability to impose top-down decision making between these elections.

Rather than allowing indigineous peoples of North America to retain their existing governance systems, colonial governments imposed top-down colonial structures on them. This can still be seen today with the Indian Act imposed "elected" bureaucrats the colonists called "elected band councils", with the colonial government still ignoring obligations towards restoring indigineous self determination and governance.

While indigineous peoples of North America have been forced to adjust to interacting with the hierarchical colonial state and society, many have been able to retain their more participatory governance traditions. In some cases the hereditary facilitators work with "elected" band councils, in some cases those facilitators overlap between both systems, and in some cases the Indian Act councils have no legitimacy at all. In some cases the hereditary leadership were killed off by colonists, so these nations are forced to only have the imposed hierarchy. How great an impact the imposition of European hierarchy has had on a nation is specific to that nation.

Personal belief...

While I only recently started to learn the truth about North American history, I have always believed in the decentralisation of power.  I believe it would be greatly beneficial for Canadians to abandon European world views about governance (and many other things), and to adopt some of the more decentralised decision making methods that are indigineous to this continent.  There are many ideas imported and imposed from Europe that we would be best to move away from.


One of the most interesting thing I have found in my antiracism and indigineous north american studies is that all the information is widely available, if only people are interested to look for and read it.  I could provide a huge list of references, but I have arrived at my current beliefs through reading, listening to and watching a wide variety of sources authored by people living within areas which Euopeans histocally declared to be the "United States" and "Canada".

Two examples might help to start.

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