Canada is in the midst of a federal election and there are ads everywhere. There are ads telling us to vote for one candidate or another, telling us to get out and vote, telling us to register to vote, telling us not to vote for so-and-so.
These ads, however, fall on the deaf ears of most Haudenosaunee people. Haudenosaunee is the Onondaga word for the People of the Longhouse – the Iroquois Confederacy. The citizens of the Haudenosaunee do not actively participate in the politics of either Canada or the United States. Although the politics of these colonizing nations are interesting and carrying some importance, actually participating in the process is literally something foreign to us.
“But your vote counts and help affect change,” we often hear from our Canadian and American friends. But what many people fail to grasp is that the reason we don’t participate in these elections is because it would essentially be voting in a foreign election. It would be like asking a Canadian why they don’t vote in an election in France, the United Kingdom or Japan.
“But you’re Canadian (or American),” our non-Haudenosaunee friends insist. But we are not. Both our people and our political system predate the very idea of Canada and the United States.
The Haudenosaunee is governed by the Kaianerehkó:wa, the Great Law of Peace. In fact, we are one of the world’s oldest democracies. Many of America’s Founding Fathers credited the Great Law and the Haudenosaunee as the basis behind the U.S. Constitution.
The Great Law of Peace is truly a government by the people and for the people. It is a representative democracy and each citizen has their own responsibility to ensure the system is working.
When the Mohawks, the eastern-most nation within the Confederacy encountered the Dutch deep in the heart of their territory in the 17th century, the two sovereign nations struck an agreement. The Two Row Wampum symbolizes this agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the new European settlers.
The Two Row, in Mohawk the Kahswén:tha, is a belt made of white wampum beads with two lines of purple wampum running parallel to each other. The white symbolizes the river of life. The purple beads represent the Haudenosaunee in their canoe and the Dutch in their ship, each sharing the same river, but keeping their laws, customs and ways of life in their own vessel. The agreement was that they would each respect each other and their ways of life and not interfere with the other.
The Two Row is a living treaty and a way for the Haudenosaunee people and the settlers to live life in peace and harmony on the river of life.
The Two Row, along with the Great Law, shapes the Haudenosaunee world-view today. Although these colonial powers look at us as citizens of their respective countries, we continue to assert our own sovereignty and nationhood.
When the Canadians cast their votes for their new government on Monday, the Haudenosaunee will be watching with interest, but not participating. We will keep a close eye on the results, because we learned long ago that it is always good to know who we will have to deal with and what their politics are.