Shadowy Monticello

Works by John Lesage


A Country without Memory

List of places visited
List of topics discussed
About the writer
Get the book

Other short works

Maryhill and Celilo
Ewing Young & Champoeg
Ghost Mountain

More photography

Death Valley
The Cascades

© 2011 John Lesage

        Native-American Contributions

It’s easy to cross the country without seeing many Indians. The Native-American portion of our heritage is largely hidden away. The small signs for “Entering [such and such] Reservation” are easily missed. If it weren’t for the casinos, not much would catch one’s attention. Though I have zero interest in gambling, I understand that casinos have been an economic revolution for many tribes. Considering that poverty rates are commonly 40%, and on some reservations almost 70%, this revolution is sorely needed. On the Umatilla Reservation, the Wildhorse Casino reduced unemployment by half.
        We are mostly oblivious of our debt to Native-Americans. Their contribution to our lexicon includes hammocks & hurricanes, bayous & barbecues, chipmunks, chili & chocolate, papayas, potatoes & tobacco. More significantly, the Algonquian word caucus has worked its way into the American political system. Our Constitution is based on forms of government going back to ancient times. We used Montesquieu’s refinements of these classical patterns to provide checks and balances between three branches of government, offering some insurance against despotism. However, in developing a uniquely American political system, British-American colonists also drew on indigenous examples – involving something more than symbolic feathers and war paint.
        Well before the revolution, Ben Franklin flailed about for some scheme by which the several colonies could collectively bargain with the mother country. He learned that the six tribes of the Haudenosaunee formed a federal union by which each tribe maintained local autonomy, but allowed concerted action for the common welfare. This was the Iroquois Confederation. Its organizational pattern was adapted to form the Albany Plan of Union. This became the prototype for the Articles of Confederation that got us through the Revolutionary War, and presaged the U.S. Constitution.