Re: American Indian Egalitarianism (Was: Re: Hodenausaunee

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Sun, 28 Jan 1996 15:36:33 -0500

So, in between baking bread and a pie, brewing some beer, several loads of
laundry, and anything else I could think of to avoid "the game," I went to
the library to do some research. In the Winter 1996 "On the Issues" I
found an article by Sally Roesch Wagner, entitled "Is Equality Indigenous:
The Untold Iroquois Influence on early Radical Feminists." [I don't know
if this was the article Dr. Rohrlich was refering to.] In its brief 5
pages, it gives an "ideal"/normative overview of Hodenausaunee social
system, i.e. matrilineal descent, matrilocal residence; clan mothers
nominate the chiefs to the Council, and can depose them, etc. She then
notes that to the early feminists, Lucretia Mott, Matilda Joslyn Cage, and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, all of up-state New York and at least sometime
visitors to the various reservations (mostly Seneca and Onondaga), that
system was an eye-opener, a "Vision of Power and Security." So much so
that Gage, "while serving as president of the National Woman Suffrage
Association in 1875, penned a series of admiring articles about the
Iroquois for the New York Evening Post in which she wrote that the
'division of power between the sexes was nearly equal.'" (p 24).

On the whole, it is a good article, chronicling as it does the "untold
story" of Iroquois-Feminist interaction for a popular audience. I do have
two minor problems with it, based on the one hand, how Indians are
portrayed for political purposes in the popular media, and on the other,
with the problematics of the words we use.

That is, first, on page 24, in quoting Alice C. Fletcher, Wagner slips
from speaking specifically about the Iroquois, to the more generic
"American Indian". Since there are no citations, I could not check to see
who Fletcher was quoting. The second problem is the one which started this
whole thread: only in the last sentence does Wagner use the word
"egalitarian":"Their egalitarian relationships and their political
authority are a reality that --like my foresisters--I still but dream"
(p. 25). In context, therefore, the use of the word "egalitarian" refers
to the idealized normative patterns associated with matrilineality.

There are differences between that use and Fried's very specific use: one
refers to interpersonal status relations, the other to access to positions
of prestige, and I think it remains clear that in terms of Fried's
definition, the Hodenausaunee were/are not egalitarian.