August 31, 2010

Peace in the longhouse

Many today-in-history sites note that on this date the Iroquois Confederation was established.

Map by R. A. Nonenmacher

Not likely, say the anthropologists – first, it was a League, not a confederation, and in Iroquois history that makes a difference.  Second, archeological evidence suggests that no league could have existed before 1450.

Whichever, it is probably true that a peace pact was made at the instigation of The Great Peacemaker, Deganawidah, and Hiawatha.  As a result, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga. Cayuga and Seneca all agreed to the Great Law of Peace which then ruled the Haudenosaunee – that was the real name of the tribes the French called the Iroquois – until after the American revolution.

It made them stronger and more able to push the Algonquins out of various desirable hunting territories, which they enthusiastically did.  The map shows that the Haudenosaunee pretty much ruled the northeast by the time the Europeans started fighting over the same territory.

Historians are also trying to dispel the myth that the Iroquois style of government had anything to do with the U.S. constitution, asserting that there is no evidence the founding fathers were familiar with Iroquois ways.  (I’ll go with the influence of William Penn – see below – and anyway, it all comes from John Locke.)

And if the Iroquois had had anything to do with the Constitution, things would be very different and that’s really the most interesting thing about them.  Iroquois culture was matrilinear.  Women had property rights equal to men’s, chose the members of the Great Council of sachems, had veto power over council decisions and had their own councils.  If a sachem failed to represent the wishes of his clanswomen, they could demote him.  Likewise, upon marriage, a man moved in with his wife’s family and if things didn’t work out, the wife could order him out of the house, thereby divorcing him.

Good stuff.  Haudenosaunee, btw, means ‘people of the longhouse.’

* * *

Patty Hearst posing in front of the SLA logo.

An event we can verify for this date is the sentencing in 1978 of William and Emily Harris for the kidnapping of Patty Hearst,  the only political kidnapping ever to occur in the United States.

The Harrises were heads of the Symbionese Liberation Army after a great shoot-out in Los Angeles which killed the original leaders and several others.  It was, btw, a fair fight in terms of fire power though a handful of SLA were surrounded by 4oo LAPD, State Police, FBI and the Fire Department.  Thousands of rounds were fired by both sides – one of the largest shoot-outs in history – with more than 9,000 rounds fired.  No police were hit.

And Patty Hearst had already been convicted for her part in an SLA bank robbery.  The jury wasn’t buying that new and novel argument about ‘the Stockholm Syndrome,’ in which the victim, as a result of brainwashing, identifies with the victimizer.  Her sentence was commuted by Jimmy Carter and she was pardoned by Bill Clinton.  All the members of the SLA have died or been released from prison – only founding member Joseph Remiro is still incarcerated.



  1. wow that patty hearst deal was crazy, i wish i remembered it but i was 5…lol


    Comment by Nina — August 31, 2010 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  2. I remember when – good pics good stories thank you !


    Comment by avery zia — September 6, 2010 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

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