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Sorry Cubs Fans – We are all Indians at Heart

Sorry Cubs Fans – We are all Indians at Heart

This week is notable in its overt celebration of blended European and Indigenous cultures. Yesterday’s Dia de los Muertos - the colorful holiday celebrating our dearly departed - grew from a blending of the Christian Allhallowtide and the Aztec goddess’ Mictecacihuatl – or “Lady of the Dead”. 

Additionally, we kicked off Native American Appreciation Month while only a few weeks ago several cities voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Tonight the Indians play the Cubs will in Ohio – which is an Iroquois word for "good river." Even the Cubs hail from an Indian termed city... onion or “skunk place” and from a state named after the native Illiniwek Confederacy.

However noteworthy, these examples pale in comparison to the ancient Native American concepts of law and social order we find institutionalized to this day in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, we can thank the Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy for codifying the continent’s oldest operating democracy in what is known as Gayanashagowa or the Great Law of Peace

Benjamin Franklin - a legal scribe working on native treaties for the English in the 1750s - became aware of the Great Law and then aggressively shared its philosophies with those colonial leaders who chaffed at decrees and orders passed down by “anointed” European monarchs who ascended to power via dynasties or bloodlines. Writer Bruce Johansen reflects: “The Iroquoian system, expressed through its constitution, “The Great Law of Peace,” rested on assumptions foreign to the monarchies of Europe: it regarded leaders as servants of the people, rather than their masters, and made provisions for the leaders’ impeachment for errant behavior.”

The importance of the Great Law was recognized in 1988 by Congress for its foundational value to include freedom of expression in both religious and political matters, forbidding government’s unauthorized entry into homes and political participation by women among other attributes. But while Gayanashagowa provided the core building blocks of our democracy, it also bequeathed the intellectual mortar -- the concept of belonging to those who would simply follow the law - metaphorically noted in the Law’s preamble as the Great Tree: “Should any nation or individual outside the Sachems adopt the great Law upon learning them or by tracing their roots to the Great Tree they will be made welcome to take shelter under the branches of this tree.”

It is under Gayanashagowa’s inclusive concepts that many tribes would adopt, and eventually include as family, members of other tribes, other races and even those considered one-time enemies – as long as they followed the common law. This tradition even extended to Colonists. 

The inclusive character of Gayanashagowa allowed for social and political inclusion not by bloodline, kinship or race… but simply through the participation and exercising of the common democratic system designed in both cases to “form a more perfect union.” 

This same principle had President Theodore Roosevelt arguing there was no room in the United States for a ‘hyphenated American’ but that “Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul.” Writer Dinesh D’Souza likewise suggested, “America is defined not by blood or birth but by...[its] Constitution...laws...[and] shared way of life… In a manner your ancestors in the old country would have thought impossible, you resolve to stop thinking of yourself as Irish; instead, you become American.

Thus, by “learning” and ritualizing Gayanashagowa through our own participatory democracy - Americans by default have internalized key elements of Native Americanism – not just Americanism.

E Pluribus Unum has appeared on U.S. currency and coins since 1795. Many generations of coins used to feature Native Americans before they were replaced by U.S. Presidents and other prominent personalities. 

Today you may see Gayanashagowa’s legacy of ‘better together’ in your own home. Simply pull a coin out of your purse and look for the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum”. Since its first appearance there in 1795, the slogan has extolled Gayanashagowa’s virtue in proudly stating “From many (we are) One.”

Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota Sioux spoke of the wisdom and unifying forces behind this concept saying, “I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day, there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.”

Therefore, as we view the pageantry of tonight’s World Series finale, we should keep in mind that we are not nation of European laws and practices – but one built primarily upon the spirit, ideals and concepts of Indigenous Americans. So, while the vast majority of us don’t share Indian DNA, we all are part of the same authentic “tribe” we call America. So, with apologies to my Cub-loving brothers and sisters, tonight and forever we will all be “Indians” at heart.


Andre Billeaudeaux is Author of How the Redskins Got Their Name and is currently the Executive Director of the Native American Guardians Association - NAGA on Facebook & Web


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