Thursday, September 17, 2009

Native Confederations And The State

I Am Back!

Had a very busy summer, so didn't have much time to write or even check other folk's blogs. But now that Autumn is here and much of the harvest from my garden in, I have more time. Note that I also changed my blog format which made me lose most of my links. If you are not here, please don't be offended. I will try to restore the links section.

One of the typical arguments in favor of the state is that it is necessary to organize and control a large population and territory. Stateless societies are fine for bands of 500 people who control a hundred square kilometers or so, but beyond that you need a state. Three other arguments for the state claim that it is needed in complex societies, that large populations without a state are unstable and the state is a natural outgrowth of the development of farming.

Theory must be tested against evidence. Contrary evidence is found among the original inhabitants of North America.

The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy traditionally controlled a territory encompassing the lands to the west of Lake Champlain, stretching all the way down past Lake Erie, some 160,000 square kilometers. Consider that Ireland is 70,000 sq. km. and you can understand the size of the Haudenosaunee territory. I can find no estimated population figures, but there were towns of 2000 or more inhabitants, (1) total population must have numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The Haudenosaunee dates back to the 12th Century The Huron or Wendat Confederacy encompassed an area of about 32,000 sq km between lakes Huron, Ontario and Erie. Consider that Belgium has only 30,000 sq. km. Huron towns were also of several thousand inhabitants and the total population, while not as large as the Haudenosaunee, would have been significant. "Huronia" dates back at least 1200 years.

The Salish or Hwulmuhw included Nanaimo, Cowichan, Victoria, Saanich, Gulf Islands and Lower Fraser Valley peoples. They shared an informal confederacy based upon defense against the Kwakwakawak people from the north and on the common usage of the annual salmon migration on the lower Fraser River. Population? The Cowichan alone had more than 5000 people in villages ranging from 120 to 1700 people in 1850. This was after previous epidemics must have reduced the population by 90%. Archeological evidence points out a cultural continuity in this area of at least 5000 years.

All three societies were complex, involving a host of different associations and fraternities as well as a rich oral literature, sophisticated philosophy, and in the case of the Hwulmuhw, magnificent wood carvings. The Haudenosaunee and Wendat were farmers, growing the "Three Sisters" as well as tobacco and a number of other plants, both edible and medicinal. The Hwulmuhw were mainly fishers, but also had large fields of camas, (a bulb like a small potato) and practiced permaculture with berries, fruit and nut trees.

None of these three examples of populous, large territoried, complex, horticultural (or in the case of the Hwulmuhw, semi-horticultural) societies involved a state, even in embryionic form. The Hwulmuhw, for example, cooperated in food gathering, labour or defense, but "they were not obliged to do so by any formal village organization. There was no village chief and no village council. Co-operation was ad hoc." (2)

Nor does there seem to be any evidence of any impending "evolution" toward a state. One would think that such evidence would be present in such a large polity as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, if the state somehow naturally evolved out of a non-statist society. Perhaps more than an evolution, the state is more like a virus that arose in one or two areas in the world and then gradually infected the rest of the planet.

1. Note that in the Europe of 1492, a town of 2000 people would have been of considerable size, many chartered cities had fewer inhabitants.

2. p. 21, Terror of the Coast, Chris Arnett,Talonbooks 1999

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