In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled in Philadelphia to determine how America should be governed. . . . There wasn’t much agreement about what this new government should look like, and no existing models to fit the American ideals of the time. But in the northeastern region of North America, the Iroquois Confederacy fashioned a participatory democracy forged by six Indigenous nations that had flourished for more than 800 years.
It’s not hard to find evidence that the framers of the United States government were familiar with the Iroquois Confederacy, nor is it difficult to find significant influence in the U.S. Constitution. Both governments codify a system of checks and balances whose executive body is counterbalanced with a bicameral legislature. Both delineate the process for removing an office holder and designate who has the power to declare war. In a speech that Benjamin Franklin later memorialized in print, the Onondaga leader, Canassatego, urged the 13 belligerent colonies to unite as the six nations had centuries before. Canassatego underscored his message by observing that it’s easier to break a single arrow than it is to break a bundle held together—a metaphor enshrined by the 13 arrows clutched in the eagle’s talon in the Great Seal of the United States.
But this story is not included in most history textbooks—one of innumerable omissions of Indigenous history that permit historical inaccuracies to persist. This centuries-long erasure was further institutionalized by federal programs designed to assimilate Native people out of existence…. These erasures have lasting implications, says Stephanie Fryberg, director of the new Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center (RISE), professor of psychology, and University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor. “A lot of Americans believe that Native Americans no longer exist and did not influence the development of the United States of America,” she says.
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RISE aims to address these complex and nuanced challenges using an approach that has made it the first center of its kind. RISE began in 2021 with a $5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative. Since its initial funding, RISE has built a collaborative of academics, nonprofit organizations, artists, and activists that conducts multidisciplinary Indigenous-led humanist research. RISE has spent the last year forging partnerships, deepening relationships within tribal communities, and hiring a diverse team of researchers and staff before the center’s full public launch later this year.