I'm reading a book called "The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire" by Francis Jennings. Jennings was a native of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where my relatives lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well - the relatives on my mother's mother's side. My intuition on this subject seems to be very strong, because I have wondered just how many people from that region might be white-Indian mixt, and I've discovered that our line seems to have been like that. Even though the social division between 'white' and 'Indian' remained rigidly fixed, some individuals must have felt the injustice of the system and were eager to rectify it - and Francis Jennings seems to have been one of these people. My mother certainly felt the injustice of it too, but I must say she was never much of a freedom-fighter. She was more of a healer, although I sometimes think her solutions were not always the best.
Anyway, the book deals with the Iroquois collaboration with British colonies and with other tribes. The whole social reality of that period of America was far more complex than we are led to believe in history books, even the newer ones. I admire anyone who can thread their way through all of that history, let alone make a decent interpretation of it.
I've been reflecting on the value-system I was handed with no labels attached, and have been trying to identify its sources. I found this passage interesting:
"Theirs (the Mohawks') was a dream of empire. But! Not empire as conceived by Europeans. The Iroquois thought themselves the wisest of Indians, pointing to their League as evidence, and thus rationalized their role of hegemony over other tribes. It was for the latters' own good - not an unfamiliar argument among imperialists. But the Iroquois also generally took seriously their role as protectors of tributaries and only rarely debased their power to exploit the weaker tribes. No multitudes groaned under the hobnailed mocassin. The cultural trait, widespread in North American Indian cultures, that forbade capital accumulation and demanded of leaders that they impoverish themselves for the benefit of their people was integral to Iroquois society; and it made impossible an empire of wealth and exploitation, quite apart form the handicap of inadequate technology. Whoever heard of emperors in rags? (Yet) Mohawk chieftains were seen so, even at the height of their tribe's ascendancy. (Historian) Morgan deplored the Iroquois lack of 'the desire to gain,' which had 'never roused the Indian mind.' Without it, he thought, Indians could never achieve the civilization of 'our race.'" (94-95)
Obviously, Jennings views 'the civilization of "our race"' with a jaundiced eye. And I'm sure there are pros and cons on both sides. I'm writing this just for a comparison of values and models. Words here function more or less as puzzle pieces, or better yet, as directionary signs in a process leading to an unknown destination.
My attention is caught by this passage because it describes a more cooperative form of social organization. After other tribes surrendered to the Iroquois, they were 'brought in' to the League as 'younger brothers' or 'adopted brothers' or 'nephews,' depending on the type of relationship that would now exist between the new member tribe and the others. So, it was a very collaborative arrangement and not exploitive in the way colonial attachments functioned towards new 'members' of the empire.