Doug George-Kanentiio: All children are gifts from the Creator

Doug George-Kanentiio is wearing a coat tailored after the Butler's Rangers unit of the British Army in 1777. The Rangers fought alongside the Mohawks who gave them instruction into aboriginal warfare tactics. The Rangers proved to be highly effective, so much so that the American rebels put a reward on their heads. The Mohawks highly prized this uniform which has silver colonel epaulets attached to the shoulders. Courtesy photo

The accusations that Minnesota Vikings football player Adrian Peterson, a 29 year old, 6'1 tall , 220-pound running back, applied corporal punishment to his four year old son sufficient in severity to cause bleeding and bruising is cause for of all us to examine how children are disciplined and whether any adult has the authority to assault an adolescent, particularly one who is still an infant.

Among aboriginal peoples children were raised as "wild Indians" free to roam about almost without restraint.

As the European colonists observed Native children were given enormous liberty to play without qualification. They had no reason to fear the natural world or the adults around them since physical punishment was something unknown in their lives. in Dr. Barbara Mann's book " Iroquoian Women : The Gantowisas (Peter Lang Publishing, NY 2004) she noted that:
"The fondness of Iroquoian adults for children is legendary...because of their gentleness with children corporal punishment was unthinkable to the Iroquois..the Iroquois used no whips, no punishments, no threats such as Europeans habitually plied against their own children."

The Iroquois believed that all children were gifts from the Creator regardless of the circumstances of their birth. The colonists observed that such was the affection the Iroquois had for children that an unwed mother in a Christian community, who might otherwise be ostracized, was given shelter among the Natives and her child raised as one of their own once the mother returned to her home.

At Akwesasne it was not unusual for newborns to be brought across the St. Lawrence River from nearby Cornwall and left in the care of a Mohawk family without any stigma.

In the many "captive" narratives describing how the Iroquois treated non-Native children it was observed that they were quickly adopted into clans and families, treated with love and compassion to such an extant that when they had a chance to return to their former communities they refused to do so.

In Iroquois cosmology there are many stories which instruct the people as to how to raise children without force, fear or coercion. There are two in particular that are universal in their telling. One is called the "Seven Dancers" and refers to a group of children who had been physically struck by their parents and elected to return to the Sky World despite the pleas of the adults for them to return. One of them did elect to return to the earth and became a shooting star, hence the eternal reminder to all people not to bring harm to any child.

The second is the legend of the Thunder Beings in which one of the Skydwellers mates with a human being and gives birth to boy. When the grandmother of the son strikes the toddler a great explosion takes place across the horizon and the infant disappears. These stories emphasize the need to treat all children with respect. The application of physical beatings destroys the child's sense of well being and security; it teaches that child that violence is an integral part of their lives. A child who is struck learns to obey not out of respect but out of fear.

When the colonists saw the freedom enjoyed by Iroquois children they were shocked, referring to this kind of behavior as "savage" and "wild". They did not see that the liberty and pure freedom enjoyed by the Iroquois as a society was rooted in their seeming unrestrained actions as kids.

But what would happen to an adult who struck a child? That person would be brought before a council of women. Their actions would be examined and if they were found in breach of the community standards for child raising they could be ostracized or expelled from the home. Every member of the child's immediate and extended family (the clan) would have the responsibility of meeting the child's needs, effecting healing and insuring their continued safety.

The Iroquois did have two ways of bringing bad behavior to an end: one was to blow a mouth full of water on the child and the next was to exclude them from any and all family activities until they showed remorse. Neither involved the physical harm capable of being brought to bear by a professional athlete.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A founding member of the Native American Journalists Association he served on the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the author of many books and articles about aboriginal people including "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol or by calling 315-415-7288.

Join the Conversation