The Micmac V.S. The Iroquois


Although the Micmac and the Iroquois Confederacy are both Aboriginal
groups, they have many differences as well as similarities. One area of such, is
their traditional justice systems. Their governments and laws are in some ways
similar, but in many ways different.
The Micmac reside in what is now Nova Scotia, eastern New Brunswick,
Prince Edward Island, and southern Gaspe. The territory was subdivided in to
seven districts. Each of these districts contained family groupings in small
settlements based on hunting and fishing. Those from P.E.I. held more territory
in common than any other Micmac district. Their land was allotted by family.
The Iroquois were a agricultural people. They lived in permanent
villages in a domain now called southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and
northeastern United States. Indian Nations living here formed a formal and
lasting confederacy by 1450. Their members were called ‘Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee\'. The
league was called ‘Kanonsionni\', meaning EXTENDED HOUSE. The first five nations
to join the confederacy were Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.
Tuscaroras migrated from Carolina and joined the confederacy in 1722. The
Iroquois are bound in a treaty of friendship with the Ojibway to the North.
The Micmac government was three-tiered, with local, district, and
national chiefs, or ‘Sagamores\'. Each settlement\'s council of elders chose a
local chief. The chief was the focus of power in the settlement. The local chief
attained position through both hereditary right and meritorious behavior. The
oldest son of a dead chief was usually given first consideration as a successor.
If he was found unfit for office, despite special training, others in family
and/or others in the community were considered. These chiefs usually had two
assistants or captains. These were called second and third watchers. They would
assume command from a sick or incompetent chief. The local chiefs would convene
in a district council and select one of their numbers to preside over their
meetings and represent the regions\' interests. Councils usually met in the
spring or fall, and all decisions were based on unanimity.
District Sagamores made up the governing body of the Micmac nation. One
district chief would act as Grand Chief. All three of these types of
chieftainship followed bloodlines as a natural course of leadership ascendency.
The people expected their chief to be a man of intelligence, knowledge, dignity,
courage, generosity, an able hunter, and fearless warrior. Leaders ruled through
impeccable example, not force.
The Iroquois confederacy was formalized by a constitution, recorded on
wampum belts to preserve the understanding for all generations to follow. Each
nation retained its own council and managed its own local affairs. General
control was to be lodged in a federal senate, composed of representatives
elected by each nation, holding office during good behavior, and acknowledged as
ruling chiefs throughout the whole confederacy. Every nation was further
subdivided into clans. Each clan discussed a matter to be brought before the
federal council, followed by unanimous agreement between clans. The head chief
would then announce the vote of his nation in the league council.
In the Iroquois society, fifty "sachem ships" were created, these men
represented their nation\'s interests on the general council, while continuing to
exercise leadership at the local level. Together they formed the executive,
legislative, and judicial authority of the league. Although each nation
possessed unique responsibility in the confederacy, no sachem had greater rights
than another. Onondaga had 14 representatives; the Cayuga, 10; the Mohawk and
Oneida, nine; and the Seneca, eight. All council decisions were unanimous.
Onondaga as the fire-keepers (chairman) and the Mohawks as the founders of the
league , had the special duty and right of preventing a decision from passing if
it was harmful to the people. The two head Seneca chiefs were stationed at the
door of the council room, to prevent any unwanted motion from proceeding.
Iroquois women held other powers in their communities. All member
nations were matriarchal. All goods, titles, and rights followed the female line
of descent. The elder women were the heads of the families. The women had
orators representing them at council meetings, or they spoke directly through a
chief. In times of war, women were peace makes by right and duty.
A distinction existed between Iroquois leaders in times of peace and
during wars. A sachem could not participate in a battle in his official capacity.
Constitution specified that each sachem have a war chief and a runner to bring
tidings; in war, the sachem was to step down and be replaced by the war chief
until hostilities ended. The war chief acted as an advisor to his sachem in
peace, his words carry considerable weight. The lesser chiefs,