The framers of our Constitution and Bill of Rights were inspired by and liberally took ideas from the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, particularly the system of checks and balances. What they chose not to borrow included the concept of rights and privileges for women, the responsibility for any rights of children, and the unacceptability of slavery. 

The governance process in the Great Law of Peace served the Iroquois Confederacy (the six Seneca Nations) well, long before the arrival of Western Europeans, and is still operating. The nations of the confederacy recognize themselves as Haudenosaunee from their own language meaning “They made the house,” symbolizing all the nations coming together as one. From east to west the original nations of the confederacy are Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca.

The well-being of the tribal community depends upon the perception and discriminating judgment of its elder women, who form the Council of Clan Mothers. The Clan Mothers, chosen by the people, are women old enough to have grown children, yet young enough to still be active. The Council of Clan Mothers, in turn, chooses the members of the Council of Community, which is the men’s council. 

The women’s council gathers the concerns of the people and, by consensus, identifies which of these most need attention. Then they ask the men’s council to take up the problem and suggest action. What the women elders see as a need is not to be ignored. When the men’s council reaches a consensus about what to do, they report back to the women’s council. If the women approve, there is agreement to proceed. If not, the process begins again. This same procedure was followed by the Iroquois Confederacy before the six Seneca Nations of the confederacy could to go to war. War was a decision that required the consensus of the Clan Mothers whose primary concern was the well-being of the community. When the decision was made, the men’s council became a council of war and chose a chief from among themselves. 

[By permission,, p 184, Goddesses in Older Women]

To learn more about the Haudenosaunee women: