An interesting piece in Indian Country Today discusses whether American Indian nations are/were democracies.
Here’s what the article said in part:
“Most nation states in the world define themselves as democratic and most have written constitutions outlining the rules of democratic government. Democracy is a form of political rule, which literally means rule by the people. Present-day democracies contrast themselves with the absolutist states of Europe during the 1600 and 1700s. . . .
To a certain extent the example of indigenous government, where each person had the right to participate in political government, was contrasted with European absolutist states where most subjects of the king had little to say or contribute to the management of political government. There is much written about the influence of Iroquois Confederacy on the formation of the United States government and democracy.
The United States is a primary example of democratic state, born from colonial revolt against the British King and aristocracy of the 1770s and 1780s. The U.S. Constitution defines rule through direct political participation by the people and by the states and federal government. The people of the United States believe in the value of their democratic state, and recommend other peoples, including indigenous peoples, to adopt some form of democratic government. . . . Some form of democratic government, often modeled in part or wholly after U.S. democracy, is presently the most commonly recognized or ideal form of government for nation states. . . .
From almost the beginning of U.S. democracy, Indian policy offered democratic government as a model for American Indians. Indian agents often encouraged tribal communities to adopt U.S. style governments. For example, the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminole, during the 1800s adopted governments modeled after the U.S. Constitution, but often retained key elements of traditional political forms. . . .
Are indigenous peoples the first democrats and is the transition to present-day democratic political forms a natural and foreordained movement? Many indigenous nations do not find present-day democratic political government suitable, and prefer other forms of government. The transition to democratic government has not been a natural evolutionary change, as U.S. policy makers hoped and believed was desirable. Democracy means rule by the people, but in Greek society where we get the word and concept, demos is a territorial political unit. The significance of Greek democracy was the rejection of kin-based or tribal forms of government, in favor of units of political organization based on territory, like present-day cities, counties and states. . . .
Democratization of indigenous governments requires suppression of kin-based social organization, abandonment rules of government and decision making by local groups, and the removal of community morality and sacred orientations from political processes. Formally or informally, many indigenous peoples resist the dramatic forms of cultural, spiritual, political and community change that is required in the democratization process. Indigenous communities are not democracies as defined by present-day nation states.”