The Haudenosaunee flag. Photo by Kenny Frost / Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse / Facebook
World Population Out of Balance
By Doug George-Kanentiio Physicist Stephen Hawking said recently that the human species will become extinct within the next 1,000 years due to overpopulation, warfare and the exhaustion of natural resources. There are currently 7,240,000,000 people on the planet with an annual increase estimated at 90 million additional people a year. By the year 2050, when today’s elementary school children will be considering retirement, the world’s human population will be close to 1 0 billion and counting. Consider the current ˛rate at which we are using the finite resources of the earth the inevitable conclusion must be our grandchildren are facing certain ecological, social and political disasters far more serious than the wars in the Middle East, the upheavals in Yemen and the Boko Haram religious persecutions in Nigeria. As Iroquois we share the world’s concerns about human overpopulation. Our culture was founded upon certain principles which emphasized our responsibility to the natural world.Iroquois traditions teach us that humans are in no way superior to any other organism; we do not have dominion of the earth. Creation was not made for the specific needs of men, rather we were instructed to use our senses to live in peace and harmony with nature. In our view overpopulation of any given area is an abuse of our trust responsibilities to our relatives the plants and animals. We are to use our intellect to preserve the lands the Creator has placed in our care which means our numbers should not be so great as to exploit the earth’s natural resources or to compromise the rights of other species. This being so, our ancestors strived for stability in terms of our population. We dwelt in a region characterized by rich soils and abundant wildlife. Our rivers and lakes were choked with fish while the skies were at times blackened by millions of birds. By all accounts the land of the Iroquois was wealthy in terms of its resources but the human population was, by European standards, rather low. Not more than 200,000 Native people lived in New York at the time of contact in the 1500’s, a number which remained constant over many generations. Iroquois women had full control over the reproductive process. They had medicines which could regulate the menstrual cycle of women, cause abortions or enhance the development of the fetus. They knew which plants could prevent pregnancies and others that served as birth control for men. Iroquois women spaced the birth of their children over a number of years and were happy to nurse a child for much longer than is the case in Western society. Each child was treated as a special gift from the Creator with certain rights to survival adults were bound to respect. Both male and female babies were welcomed into the world with equal joy. Food resources in Iroquois territory were abundant. There was no need for animal labor or to have an excessive number of offspring to till fields. Iroquois were not capitalists in the Western sense so there was no incentive to convert the land to higher productivity to meet material needs. We did not believe in accumulating physical things but emphasized spiritual growth. Iroquois women enjoyed considerable prestige, being full partners in the political lives of our nations. Under no circumstances were Iroquois females seen as merely servants of men; we believed any institution, government or society which refused to treat women as equals or placed them in subservient positions were ignoring natural law and lacking simple common sense. We were also keen observers of nature. We believed our Creator placed us in this beautiful land to be happy. In order to be so we had to have clean air, pure water and good food. We were specifically excluded from any activity which denied these things to the coming generations. Also central to Iroquois population control methods was our obligations to those yet unborn. We were told by our Peacemaker no action, political or otherwise, could be initiated without considering its implications for the seventh generation. This meant we had to respect our descendent’s rights for at least 200 years into the future while guaranteeing them a good life, true liberty and a chance at happiness. By objectively examining how America’s Native peoples reached population stability we might in turn devise plans to control the world’s birth rate, reduce the pace at which we are destroying the earth’s resources and avoid inevitable environmental trauma. Doug George-Kanentiio is an Akwesasne Mohawk currently residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.
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