- Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations Since 1800
In this historical work Laurence Hauptman presents notable and noteworthy figures from Iroquois history. Calling forth some familiar figures (Jesse Cornplanter) and perhaps less familiar figures (Alice Jimerson) and some that we are glad to know more about in the contemporary (Ernie Benedict), Hauptman has assembled an interesting and lively biographically driven history for his readers that will be of use to specialists and nonspecialists of the Iroquois. It will find a home on bookshelves for those who are interested in Native American intellectual and political history and those interested in the history of New York State.
With Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations Since 1800 Hauptman offers a new “profiles of the past” version of history. Hauptman states from the offset that he wishes to augment or even supplement the dearth of historical writing on Native peoples and in particular that of the Iroquois within what is now known as New York State. Methodologically, he relies on textual archives and also conducts interviews. Invoking the anthropologist of history Bernard Cohen, he avails himself of oral history in order to attribute meaning to the texts he finds in the archives (xiii).
The book moves through particular territories. He states from the outset that he privileges nations and territories he is familiar with and has worked within such as Oneida in what is now Wisconsin and New York and Alleghany/Cattaragus in what is now New York rather than those nations and peoples in what is now known as Canada. He also moves through a two-hundred-year expanse of time. The fix on “time” here is deliberate, as a diachronic approach is Hauptman’s frame for representation. In this he offers readers punctuating facts regarding these lives that they did not know and articulates them to a broader brush of state and federal history, a particular strength of Hauptman’s, as he does not move Iroquois interlocutors out of modernity or engagement with state forms of power. Here we see Benedict’s life lived as an extended engagement (and one still unfolding) with Haudenosaunee polities (traditional governance, elected [End Page 274] governance, federal-state engagements) punctuated itself by different registers of consent and outright refusal of these regimes as they encroached upon Iroquois territories and lands. Thus we learn of his time served for his resistance to mandatory enlistment. As well is the presentation of Jimerson’s and Jemison’s lives. We understand these women as significant figures to their own people but also within a larger frame of meaning, which Hauptman clearly gravitates toward but presents in a manner that desperately requires feminist and, in particular, Haudenosaunee frameworks for analysis and analytics beyond the tired axia of “mothers of the nation” and “keepers of tradition.”
Here I want to pose a question that is prompted by the chapter on Alice Lee Jemison’s life, on Laura Cornelius Kellogg’s life, and also the chapter on women near the end of the book. Why is it such a surprise that Iroquois women are assuming these positions of assertion, and why is this being read as “resilient” or “in charge” rather than simply responsible? Why, knowing all we know of the principles of a good mind, of the emphasis upon clarity of thought, of speaking and persuasion within Iroquois political process, is it surprising that these women were “articulate” or persuasive or absolutely dogged in their attempts to forward Haudeonsaunee perceptions of justice within larger matrices of power? Does “resilient” even capture or approximate the power that Iroquois people and, in particular, Iroquois women exercise in the present or did in the past? This is a social fact that appears generalizable even in the face of Anglo-Victorian racism and sexism such as that codified within the Indian Act in Canada (1876). Although a grave injustice, the Act and other forms of legal sexism that instantiate British and then Canadian colonialism wrestle with Iroquois political theory and governmental practice within...