Tribal Economy

by reader Laurie

Tribal Economy

There has been references on AngryBear to economic structures, workforce participation and economic justice among tribal/village residents in the past. Informed readers may know that Marx and Engels repeatedly cited Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Societies; another of Morgan’s publications is League of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). My mother has previously published an article subtitled “A Native American Looks at Economics,” in PERSPECTIVES ON BUSINESS AND GLOBAL CHANGE; World Business Academy Journal, vol. 10 no. 4, 1996. Here’s a link to her article.

I can contribute more information about this topic, based on our family’s Oneida (Iroquois) heritage. For hundreds of years prior to mass European immigration, the citizens of the Iroquois Confederacy enjoyed peace, leisure and material surplus. Extensive Western documentation of Iroquois prosperity, economic and social structure dates from the mid 17th century. [I like Dr. Barbara Mann’s Iroquoian Women for her summary and critique of these sources. She also has a feminist chapter on Iroquoian economies.]

Dr. Mann asserts the basis of the Iroquois economy can best be described as spiritual. Kinship was recognized, even across species. We all shared the same mother and all of our necessities were gifts from her. The social/political structure which also implemented our economic practices was clan based and our efforts were communal. The Oneida lived in clan-based longhouses, which were overseen by clan mothers-see for example, beginning on p. 156.

The clan mother was responsible, among many tasks, for preserving harmony within the clan. Distribution of clan bounty was guided by the principle, “To each according to need, from each according to ability.” It was well-recognized that undeveloped ability is a source of disquiet. Tribal members were observed in order to gain information about their individual strengths and interests. The pedagogical system had an initial goal of helping each individual understand *themselves as a learner* and a further goal of helping all tribal members to be as open and acquisitive of new information as possible. Intellectual bias was considered to be almost suicidal. Think about that.

The men wove the longhouses and the villages together. Their voting rights (clan affiiation) remained at their mother’s long house. During a marriage, the man moved into his wife’s longhouse. When he hunted, however, it was to feed his sister’s children. The Oneida believed that a marriage benefitted from not having that economic dependency. The sister, in turn, sewed her brother’s clothes and mocassins.

Has this 100% labor force participation, 100% safety net changed? And what has been the force of any change? Well, the longhouse as a housing model has fallen to disuse. The Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 was specifically targeted at Native communalism. Here’s the author, Senator Henry Dawes, in 1883: “They have got as far as they can go, because they own their land in common. … There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization.” Recent history included dwindling land base and forced acculturation through adoptions and boarding schools. Currently, though, Oneida fortunes, as those of numerous tribes, are on the rise. This results, again, in shared prosperity. The Oneida Wisconsin, for example, raise beef and crops which are available to tribal members at a discount.
This post by reader Laurie