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“I received the name of Ka-ron-ien-ha-wi, or ‘Sky Carrier,’ or as Mrs. Converse said the Senecas would express it, ‘She who holds the sky.’” This is the way Matilda Joslyn Gage described her adoption into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation in 1893. Her Mohawk sister “said this name would admit me to the Council of Matrons, where a vote would be taken, as to my having a voice in the Chieftainship,” Gage wrote. How amazing this must have been to a woman who, that same year went on trial for voting in a local school board election. Considered for full voting rights in her adopted nation, she was arrested in her own nation for voting.

While serving as President of the National Woman Suffrage Association eighteen years earlier, Gage had published a series of articles on the Iroquois in The New York Evening Post. Introducing the series, the Post editor wrote, “Mrs. Gage, with an exhibition of ardent devotion to the cause of woman’s rights … gives prominence to the fact that … the power and importance of women were recognized by the allied tribes.”

“The division of power between the sexes in this Indian republic was nearly equal,” Gage wrote. In matters of government, “…its women exercised controlling power in peace and war … no sale of lands was valid without consent” of the women, while “the family relation among the Iroquois demonstrated woman’s superiority in power … in the home, the wife was absolute … if the Iroquois husband and wife separated, the wife took with her all the property she had brought … the children also accompanied the mother, whose right to them was recognized as supreme.” “Never was justice more perfect, never civilization higher,” Gage concluded.

In her own newspaper, The National Citizen and Ballot Box, Gage also spoke out against “oppression of Indians” and the government’s history of breaking treaties. She pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in the United States government’s denying the right of suffrage to African-American and white women, yet at the same time trying to force citizenship (and suffrage) on Native American men, thereby opening “wide the door to the grasping avarice of the white man.” While supporting the struggle of American Indians to maintain their independent nation status, she compared the position of women citizens to that of Indians at the hands of the federal government.

Citing scholarship which demonstrated that the United States’ form of government was “borrowed from that of the Six Nations,” Gage concluded “that the modern world is indebted” to the Iroquois “for its first conception of inherent rights, natural equality of condition, and the establishment of a civilized government upon this basis.”

“Sisters in Spirit” is available through our Gift Shop for further reading.

by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

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