Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Women
The ideas put forth during the first woman’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848 were heavily influenced by the example of indigenous women. Upstate New York was home to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) who were a coalition of six tribal nations: Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Seneca.
Women of these tribal nations were treated with respect and equality. During the summer of 1848, Lucretia Mott and her husband were visiting the Seneca tribe while traveling through upstate New York. The tribe was under pressure to drop their traditional government and use a more formally written constitutional style in order to make treaties with the United States. They agreed but only on the condition that all treaties must be agreed upon by three-fourths of the “mothers of the nation” (the women). This extraordinary sharing of power among the sexes and refusal of male dominance may have been uncommon to those of European descent but was not unusual in Native American cultures.
All of the major players in planning the 1848 Seneca Falls convention expressed admiration for how indigenous women possessed equality within their tribal structure. Matilda Jocelyn Gage remarked “Division of power between the sexes in this Indian republic was nearly equal. Although the principal chief of the confederacy was a man, descent ran through the female line, the sister of the chief possessing the power of nominating his successor.” She continues to praise the influence of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) on the very foundation of the American government by saying, “the modern world [is] indebted for its first conception of inherent rights, natural equality of condition, and the establishment of a civilized government upon this basis.” Gage was honorarily adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation. As such a member she was allowed to be part of the Council of Matrons and allowed to have a voice in choosing the next chief. Gage had the right to vote in the Mohawk Nation but not in the American one.
Native American culture not only influenced America’s ideals of self-governance through elected council, it also provided a blueprint for gender equality.