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Writer Revealing Democracy’s Roots to Deliver Lecture

Re-posted from this website.

By William Matthias

Democratic ideals existed on American soil long before Europeans “discovered” the new land. Historians assert the oldest enduring democratic constitution is the Iroquois Confederacy, crafted by the indigenous Haudenosaunee people based in what is now Upstate New York.

Writer and public historian Dr. Donald Grinde Jr. says three of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were inspired by these natives (from the Seneca Nation) and Western democracy owes its existence not just to European political theories, but also to Iroquois’ ideas of freedom and equality. Grinde, Chair of the Department of American Studies at The University of Buffalo, presents this controversial idea to the college community at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 8 in the New York Room in Cooper Hall.

“The Iroquois/Haudenosaunee and the Development of American Government” lecture is part of the American Democracy Project, a multicampus initiative aimed at advancing civic engagement. The College at Brockport is one of more than 220 schools and Universities participating in the project.

Grinde is the author of 12 books, including Exemplar of Liberty, which has sparked debate surrounding the Iroquois Influence Thesis. The book has sold more than 275,000 copies and is assigned reading in Native American courses across the nation, according to a press release. It supports the notion that over the last 75 years, there has been an attempt to erase the Iroquois-American government connection.

“Although there is an abundance of inferential and direct evident to demonstrate the ways in which Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson met with and studied Haudenosaunee political systems, this knowledge has been “excised” from the majority of contemporary history books,” Grinde notes. “Rather than giving the Haudenousaunee their due, the European influence on American democracy has been emphasized in history books.”

Franklin proposed The Albany Plan, which predates The Articles of Confederation, and Jefferson is one of the most notable contributors to the United States Constitution. Both were on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, which John Adams helped persuade Congress to adopt. Grinde draws similarities between these founding documents and the Iroquois Confederacy.

Dr. Christine Zinni, adjunct professor of Anthropology, was mentored by Iroquois Native Americans and takes to Grinde’s belief that an important part of native-colonial relations is shrouded by contemporary textbook authors.

“Native peoples believe American history will not be complete until its indigenous aspects and legacy have been recognized and incorporated into the teaching of history,” she said, and we are in a very unique position here at Brockport, basically living in the ancestral homelands of the Seneca peoples.”

“Students in my classes are often shocked when they learn the writers of the Constitution met with the Haudenosuanee. I sense they feel a special connection to it because it is tangible to them, it is related to the land, the ancestral peoples of this region and thus is a part of New York state’s history.”

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