If you ask anyone where democracy began, most people will say Greece. But this overlooks many ancient democracies around the world. Australia had a democratic, egalitarian, society, when Captain Cook landed, and it was probably that way for many millennia. Seeing it in practice, one English writer thought it ‘remarkable, that perhaps the highest form of democracy ever known, came into existence, among a group of Indians, in blankets and feathers, sitting under a tree’.
In the Americas, democracy flourished before Europeans arrived to conquer and oppress, in their Age of Discovery. We are fortunate to have records and accounts of how the indigenous people governed themselves. For the Great League of the Iroquois Nations, in the northern hemisphere, the system of government was democracy.
Where today there exist senators to represent the people, what existed then were sachems, to represent the tribes of the Iroquois. The sachems were subject to certain rules. No member of the league could vote for any project affecting his own group. In other words he could vote for any state except his own. He had to be silent as to anything that would benefit him. He could vote on the benefits of others but others had to vote on the benefits for him.
No conspiracies, no plots, no cartels were permitted under any conditions. All relations had to be noble, they had to be gentle. They had to be kind and they had to be wise. And anyone who broke those rules had to be thrown out. If the integrity of a leader were in question, he could not serve. He was considered a danger to his nation. Only a man could be a sachem, a woman could not sit in lodge but only women could elect a sachem. Perhaps there is wisdom in that.
Today there would be outcry over sexism. And what leaders anywhere can we say are gentle, wise and kind? They are brutal, unwise and unkind. We can all learn from the Iroquois.