The following quotations are from:
Stephen M. Sachs, Bruce E. Johansen, Ain Haas, Betty Booth Donahue, Donald A. Grinde, Jr., and Jonathon York, Honoring the Circle: Ongoing Learning of the West from American Indians on Politics and Society: Volume I: The Impact of American Indians on Western Politics and Society to 1800.
“In terms of governance, Indian nations, in different ways and to different degrees, reached decisions democratically through a variety of consensual processes, the basis of which awas the principle of respect for all people, and indeed for all that is. In ceremonies and in making decisions, often, all sat in a circle. Each place in the circle had a different quality and way of seeing to contribute to the whole so that each person or group could be heard. There was no circle without each of the individual places, but the places had no meaning without the context of the circle as a whole, which framed the interconnections that constituted the proper flowing of the relationships. The Comanche (of the Southern Plains) state the fundamental principles as: relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, and redistribution.
Thus, out of the nature of relationships, and out of the relationships everyone was in, flowed a set of mutual responsibilities that involved a reciprocity—not just of things, but of actions and concerns—which brings the redistribution necessary to continually recreate balance and harmony. In terms of decision-making, everyone affected by a decision had a right to be heard, and no decision could be made until everyone agreed, or at least acquiesced. In the rare situations when a person or a group fundamentally disagreed with the rest of the community, they had the right to leave. For example, in 1792, when the Shawnee in Ohio were unable to agree on whether to remain and continue the fight to try to protect their land in the face of US aggression or to move west across the Mississippi in hopes of living in peace, the nation divided, with one group remaining and the other moving west. Similarly, in 1906, by agreement, a split in the Hopi community at Oraibi was settled with a pushing contest, with the losing group of more traditionally minded individuals leaving the village and moving to Hotevilla.” 2
“Underlying Wendat politics was a culture that balanced strong concern for individual, family, and clan autonomy with a strong egalitarian moral sense of working toward the good of all with respect for all views. Thus, there was an abhorrence of compelling anyone’s actions. But, at the same time, both by upbringing and ongoing experience, Huron people were very sensitive to others and to the pressures of public opinion. If one acted improperly, one would lose honor, and if one went too far, then it meant eventually risking economic and other support, too. In the Huron case, as in the case of many native North American peoples, this meant that by honoring generosity, both giving and receiving, no one was allowed to be either rich or poor.” 7-8
“Lewis Henry Morgan describes Six Nation government as extremely democratic:
‘Such was the spirit of the Iroquois system of government, that the influence of the inferior chiefs, the warriors and even the women would make itself felt, whenever the subject itself aroused a general public interest.’
Morgan adds there was considerable interest in public affairs by an active citizenry:
‘In council, public transactions of every name and character were planned, scrutinized and adopted… It may be said that the life fo the Iroquois was spent either in the chase, on the war path, or a the council fire.’
Furthermore, Morgan noted that no event of any importance ever transpired without passing under the cognizance of one of these councils:
‘Sachems [primary chiefs: “Counselors of the People”], chiefs and warriors, women and even children, deserted their hunting grounds and woodland seclusions, and taking the trail, literally flocked to the place of council. When the day arrived, a multitude had gathered together, form the most remote and toilsome distance, but yet animated by an unyielding spirit of hardihood and endurance.’
Morgan concludes that all of these traits combined to forge a strong bond of community with the utmost respect for the rights of the individual:
‘The spirit which prevailed in the nation and in the confederacy was that of freedom. The people appear to have secured to themselves all the liberty which the hunter state rendered desirable. They fully appreciated its value, as evidenced by the liberality of their institutions. The red man was always free from political bondage, and, more worthy still of remembrance, his “free limbs never wore a shackle.” His spirit could never be bowed in servitude. In the language of Charlevoix, the Iroquois were “entirely convinced that man was born free, that no power on earth had any right to make any attempts against his liberty, and that nothing could make him amends for its loss.” It would be difficult to describe any political society, in which there was less oppression and discontent, more of individual independence and boundless freedom.’” 9-11
“In their own unique ways, the smaller tribes functioned on the same general basis of participatory democracy, but without the need for confederacy-level decision-making. This was the general pattern all over the Americas at the time of European contact., except in the instances of national decision-making south of what is now the United States by a few of the very large nations that were beginning to become states, as Locke recognized in differentiating between ‘the two great empires of Peru and Mexico’ and the fully participatory tribes. Yet, even these empires, such as the Aztec, Maya, and Inca societies, tended to act cooperatively and inclusively with respect for the opinions of individuals and groups, especially at the local level.
An example of the smaller Indian nations, the Chiricahua Apache of the Southwest, for example, who were well-known to the Spanish, lived in small bands, each with their own consensus-based governance. They lived by hunting, gathering, raiding, and agriculture. Each band, and within it each local group, was guided by one or more recognized leaders assisted by a number of subordinates. In essence, the way in which leadership functioned among the Apaches was typical for the pre-contact Americas generally, although there were differences in the details among Indian nations, such as whether eligibility for a position was limited to members of certain clans, societies, or other groups, and just how leaders were to be chosen and removed.” 12
“For the Chiricahua Apache, as with tribes and bands in the Americas generally, the functions of a leader included being an advisor on community affairs, a facilitator in collective decision-making, and a peacemaker in disputes and the settlement of wrongs. In addition, as the Apache and some other tribal societies did not divide civil and military functions among distinct leaders, a Chiricahua leader served in war as well as in peace. While leaders could command in combat, they had no power of control in civil governance beyond what was supported by public opinion. To the extent that they were respected, and persuasive—a quality contributing to respect—leaders exercised influence in the forming of community views. Even as peacemakers, when deviant acts or major disputes occurred, they only served as mediators Since the Chiricahuas needed each other’s help in a variety of economic and social activities, as is normally the case in band and tribal societies, the main pressure for following social norms was the pressure of public opinion, which women played an important role in shaping. This was almost universally true in all traditional Indian societies.” 13
“It is important to note that the egalitarian nature of Native American societies was based upon a respect for differences, which some call the principle of ‘place,’ and a unity through diversity that provided for a high level of equality, while also allowing for differences in role and prestige. Whereas in hierarchical social systems differences of function tend to be marked by significant differences in status, participatory systems tend to minimize status differences. This was notably the case in the relations of men and women in many tribes and bands who carried out their largely separate functions with a high degree of autonomy. While their lives were different in many respects, the relations between the genders were usually those of balanced reciprocity. Among the Haudenosaunee, for example, only men served as chiefs or sachems on the intertribal council, but women held considerable power, too. In certain tribes, the women of a clan, speaking through the Clan Mother, nominated the chiefs and had the power to remove them for misconduct. In some tribes women could serve as chiefs, but regardless of their formal roles, women in traditional Native American socities held sway over their own lives and wielded great influence in public affairs, where they often served as the conscience of the community. Similarly, tribal societies had respected froles for people who today would be considered gay, lesbian, or transgender.” 17