Was the Iroquois Confederacy the most egalitarian nation at that time?

The time being the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, specifically. The society of the Longhouse Builders seems remarkably forward thinking to my 21st century eyes, even more progressive than nations around today (Saudi Arabia, I’m looking at you). Specifically thinking in terms of how women were treated in society, they seemed to have an extraordinary amount of power in such an age;

Likewise they didn’t seem to care much about your background. Was the league the most egalitarian nation on Earth during its heyday? Were there any other nations around at the time who were that progressive in the role of women and foreigners in society? Or is my view of them a bit too rose-tinted?

Following the link to Matriarchy from your Wiki link says the Hopi had a similar system.

I would direct you to the story of Mary Jemison. Her story is primarily 18th century, and she was Seneca by choice, Scots/Irish by birth. There were other women in the NorthEast of that era who were captured by and adopted into Iroquois or Huron tribes, and if “rescued”, often enough to be made note, returned to their adoptive tribes where they had standing and power. I grew up amongst a few Mohawk, and the occasional Micmac. Matriarchal, and pretty much matrilocal. The 60s were not kind to them. Neither was the USA, based partially, originally, upon the Iroquois Federation.

The Iroquois were egalitarian mostly in the sense that everyone was entitled to do things the Iroquois way. If you were from another group… well… obstacles were removed.

Point well taken, we can’t allow ourselves to get too misty eyed about things - although I still think that the treatment of woman and their role in society was extraordinary when one considers that elsewhere in the world at that time they were considered basically property of husbands (and, to humanity’s shame, there are places where this is still the case).

Reading an account of hers she says “…They were strictly honest; they despised deception and falsehood; and chastity was held in high 'veneration, and a violation of it was considered sacrilege.” For a woman in the 18th century this must have been quite refreshing indeed. I don’t blame her for not wanting to leave.

I wonder why certain First Nations seem to be so ahead of the curve in gender equality? Maybe it was a matter of practicality and pragmatism, learning the hard way that ignoring women and 50% of the head shed wasn’t for the best in their environments.

Huh? :confused:


In general, there seems to be a lot of rather uncritical “noble savage” romanticization going on in this thread. Most cultures, when examined closely, have their admirable and disgusting aspects, when judged according to the prevailing values of one’s own culture (or one’s own subculture within the wider whole). I have no particular knowledge of the Iroquois, but I doubt that they were any different in that respect.

I’m not sure I totally trust the wikipedia articles on this topic. While it sounds like there is no question there were powerful and influential women in Iroquois society (unusually so for the time), most of the sources presenting it as egalitarian or even matriarchal seem to be pushing a now largely discredited feminist theory of history and anthropology. The general view held by most anthropologists is that there’s never been a real matriarchy. There have been plenty of societies where women have a lot of influence and some of them are matrilineal and matrilocal but they’re still unquestionably male-dominated. I don’t really see a whole lot of concrete evidence that the Iroquois were anything more than that, nor any of the other Native American groups identified as potential matriarchies.

First Nations? They prefer to be called American Indians.

The Iriquois Confederacy wasn’t egalitarian. Men and women weren’t seen as equal. Men had certain rights and powers and women had certain rights and powers. But they were different. A man couldn’t do a woman’s job and a woman couldn’t do a man’s job.

Exactly. Division of labors, most of it making very good sense.

Where I lived, in the late 1950s and 60s, Indians were discouraged from living their culture and encouraged to be assimilated into white society. I never knew our local Brants were related to Joseph (no surprise, right geography) until it became “cool” to advertise your Native ancestors as well as your white ones.

Quite a few customs were not at all “noble” or at all romantic. Those egalitarian men and women had some very nasty ways of making captured prisoners take as long as possible to die in the most unpleasant ways possible. In general it was a pretty brutal time.

Wikipedia doesn’t make things up out of whole cloth. Read the links provided.

In Canada the term is First Nations.

Yes I know. I did and what I said was that I didn’t find the sources they cited for the parts of the article making the bolder claims about egalitarianism or matriarchy to be very trustworthy.