When the European explorers first arrived and met their new neighbors with housewarming presents such as a jar of strawberry preserves, freshly baked bread and smallpox, they found that the Indian cultures there were large, sophisticated, lived in walled cities with pyramid-like temples, farms and vast trading networks. Their culture and religion of the Mississippi valley area was remarkably similar to the Aztecs and Mayans and many believe that the Mezo-Americans started colonies along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and their culture spread out into the continent. That was in the 1500’s. It took a while for the Europeans to start colonizing, but when they did in the 1600’s, they found a strangely vacant, empty and free of Indians land. The cities were mostly desolate and the thriving civilizations were gone. Instead, you had scattered tribes with perhaps a loose organization among them. What happened? Well, the strawberry preserves probably went over fairly well, but the smallpox didn’t. It must have been like a scene from 28 Days Later where the Rage virus spreads and kills everyone. This plaque wiped them out so horribly that it destroyed their entire civilization. No wonder the Europeans just waltzed right in.
Because they had wide scale farming and great organization, they were able to push back their enemies, the Algonquin and they in turn pushed out other tribes. For example, the Lakota, (Sioux) the quintessential plains Indians, once lived in the forests of the Great Lakes, but due to the pushing of the Iroquois, they were evicted and left on the Great Plains. But eventually, the Algonquin took up farming as well and like a good “real time strategy” game, they managed their resources, built peasants and barracks and were able to make enough warriors to hold the Iroquois back.
They had a senate of fifty delegates that was formed of elected officials from each nation. The 50th was a spiritual leader and was elected from all the nations. Rumor has it that the Founding Fathers of America used the Iroquois Confederacy as a good and recent example of how to keep a bunch of different groups from splitting up like an 80’s rock band. Decisions had to be made by 75% of the senate and a council of women could veto those decisions. Most decisions were on the local level and more democratic than we have today.