Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

Recently, in honor of the Fourth of July, I spent some time looking at the Declaration of Independence. It seems only right to spend a moment on the sister document, the Constitution of the United States.

Of the two, the Constitution is my favorite. It has a real “roll up your sleeves and get to work” feel about it. Setting aside the slew of recent decisions by the court that have had me shaking my head in disbelief, let’s look at how the governing document came to be in the first place.

In school, we studied ancient Greece and concepts of democracy, we looked at the Magna Carta in England, but I don’t think that even in my college-level philosophy of the Constitution course, much less in high school history, we ever mentioned the debt our Constitution, and by extension, our entire way of being as a nation, owes to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

I am not faulting the classes or the teachers in this. It is a marker of the times we were in. But, as Maya Angelou famously said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

We can do better.

We owe a lot in our society to the Haudenosaunee people. The invention of the sport lacrosse for one, but most importantly, the foundational structure to the Constitution itself.


If the name Haudenosaunee is unfamiliar to you, chances are you grew up hearing the term “Iroquois” instead. However, the six indigenous nations that comprise the confederacy, those being the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora, prefer the name Haudenosaunee (how-dee-no-SHOW-nee), so that is what we are all learning to say.

Our Founding Fathers knew of, and were greatly influenced by, the long-established system of government practiced by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ben Franklin in particular spent a great deal of time studying their governance and writing about their means for decision-making and the importance of the charter uniting the six tribal nations and how that translated to the thirteen very different colonies needing to unite under a centralized government in order to exist as a nation.

Our government copied ideas, imagery and even direct phrasing from the Haudenosaunee government system. Yet, despite an official resolution acknowledging this (H.Con.Res.331) passed by the U.S. Senate in 1987, we don’t talk about it much.

This feels particularly timely. Possibly ironic.

Not only are we celebrating our nation’s anniversary without granting proper credit to the tribal government we copied, but Gov. Janet Mills has just doubled down on this historical blunder by vetoing legislation that would have allowed the tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy access to federal funds and protections through acknowledgment of their tribal sovereignty.

I am, in most all other ways, a huge fan of Gov. Mills. Not on this.

Worse, despite initial vote margins, several Republicans and one Democrat flipped their votes to uphold this misguided veto. And so, this most recent indignity to indigenous nations will stand. For now.

There are dedicated, earnest legislators behind the acknowledgment of sovereignty. I trust them to return to the process and bring forth another bill to right the historic wrongs. My hope is that in the renewed effort, we can enlarge the conversation and make the issue more broadly understood.

Until then, as we continue to celebrate our freedoms and our democracy, let us pause and give thanks to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for setting an example we copied in word, and might one day live up to in the whole.

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