History 3.3
4-6 Sept. 2001


III. Points of Contrast: North American Indian Life & Politics

A. Geography and Demography of Pre-Contact America

1. 90% of population south of the Rio Grande.

2. In present-day Mexico and South America, conqueror peoples like Aztecs and Incas had empires, lived in large cities.

3. In less densely populated North, small, seasonally mobile village-based societies were the rule.

4. Great diversity in north: climatically-adapted culture areas with 100s of different languages.

  • Major area of first contact: Eastern Woodlands, based on mixed agriculture (summer) and hunting (winter) economy.

B. Most seemingly European empire-like northern native group: The Iroquois Confederacy

C. Where Fathers Did Not Rule: Family Life Among the Eastern Woodlands Indians

1. Lineages and "clans" as basic social units.

2. Women in Eastern Woodlands Indian societies:

  • "Matrilineal" descent & "matrilocal" residence

  • Gender-based division of labor: women did the farming

  • Relatively egalitarian customs regarding sex, marriage

  • Important, direct political influence for women

3. Mildness of Indian child-rearing practices: no father figures, “breaking the will,” corporal punishment.

4. Note on Indian religion: open-ended, spiritualized nature, lacked concept of original sin.

D. The Myth of the Chief: The Indians' Politics of Consensus

1. Lack of governments with coercive powers among the eastern tribes.

2. Consensual, collective decision-making, but NOT democracy (majority rule).

3. No written laws, and enforcement of social standards by public opinion and clan vengeance.

4. Chiefs not rulers but “beloved men.”

E. Indian ideas of land “ownership”: right to use, not hold as exclusive, private possessions

F. Conclusion: Eastern Woodland society functioned well w/o sovereignty, patriarchy, or coercive authority.

IV. Patriarchy, Sovereignty, and Colonization

A. Native approach was to be open, flexible, often willing to incorporate Europeans & their culture: trade as chief example.

B. European ideas of political, religious, and racial sovereignty justified and promoted conquest, colonization.

C. The Spanish Empire: Religious Sovereignty in Action

1. The reconquista of Iberia from the Moors, lead by Castile, ending 1492.

2. The papal "donation" of non-Christian lands to Spain, 1493.

3. Reconquista became conquest of Americas, to gain wealth, territory and spread Christianity.

4. Requerimiento: Spain's blueprint for the inhabitants of the New World.