America's Founding Mothers

        America's Founding Mothers : Our Native American Roots
        Excerpted from the book 'The Graywolf Annual Five :
           Multi-Cultural Literacy (1988) Graywolf Press,
           St. Paul...originally appeared in the book 'The
           Sacred Hoop (C) 1986 by Paula Gunn Allen, Beacon
           Press, Boston.

   America has an amazing loss of memory concerning its origins in the culture 
of Native Americans.  America does not seem to remember that it derived its 
wealth, its values, its food, much of its medicine, and a large part of its 
"dream" from Native America.  It is ignorant of the genisis of its culture in 
this Native American Land, and that ignorance helps to perpetuate the long-
standing oppression of women, gays, lesbians, people of color, the working 
class, the unemployed, and the elderly through the monothesitic, heirarchial, 
and patyriarchal cultures of Europe and the Middle East.  Hardly anyone in 
America speculates that the constitutional system of goverment might be as 
much a product of American Indian ideas and practices as of colonial America 
and Anglo-European revolutionary fervor. 

   Even though Indians are officially and informally ignored as intellectual 
movers and shapers in the United States, they are peoples with ancient tenure 
on this soil.  During the ages when tribal socities existed in the Americas 
largely untouched by patriarchal oppresion, they developed elaborate systems 
of thought that included science, philosophy, and goverment based on a belief 
in the central importance of female energies as well as autonomy of 
individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian 
distribution of status, goods, and services.  And in those that lived by the 
largest number of these principles, gynarchy (a female-dominated system of 
goverance) was the norm rather than the exception. 

   There are many female gods recognized and honored by tribes and nations.  
Femaleness was highly valued - both respected and feared - and all social 
institutions reflected this attitude.  Even modern sayings, such as the 
Cheyenne statement that a people is not conquered until the hearts of the 
women are on the ground, express the Indians' understanding that without the 
power of women the people will not live - but with it, they will endure and 

   Indians did not confine this beleif in the central importance of female 
energy to matters of worship.  Amoung many of the tribes (perhaps as many as 
70 percent of them in North America alone), this belief was reflected in all 
of their social institutions.  The Iroquois Constitution, also called the 
Great Law of the Iroquois, codified the women's decision-making and economic 
power, legislating that land ownership passed on matrilinearly, and that women 
resolved tribal disputes and hired and fired chiefs. 

   Beliefs, attitudes, and laws such as these became part of the vision of 
America feminists and of other human liberation movements around the world.  
Yet feminists too often believe that no one has ever experienced the kind of 
society that would empower women and make that empowerment the basis of its 
rules of civilization.  The price the feminist community must pay because it 
is not aware of the recent presence of gynarchical socities on this continent 
is unnecessary confusion, division, and much lost time. 

   We as feminists must be aware of our history on this continent.  We need to 
recognize that the same forces that devistated the gynarchies of Britain and 
the Continent also devistated the ancient African civilizations, and we must 
know that those same materialistic, anti-spiritual forces are presently 
engaged in wiping out the same gynarchical values, along with the peoples who 
adhere to them, in Latin America.  I am convinced that those wars were and 
continue to be about the imposition of patriarchal civilization over the 
holistic, pacifist, and spirit-based gynarchies they supplant.  To that end, 
the wars of imperial conquest have not been solely or even mostly waged over 
the land and its resources, but fought within the bodies, minds, and hearts of 
the people of the earth for dominion over them. I think this is the reason 
traditional Indians say we must remember our origins, our cultures, our 
histories, our mothers and grandmothers, for without that memory, which 
implies continuance rather than nostalgia, we are doomed to be engulfed by a 
system that is fundimentally inimical to the vitality, autonomy, and self-
enpowerment essential for satisfying, high-quality life. 

                                        --Paula Gunn Allen