A Lesson in Democracy ... From Slime Moulds
Previous Resist and Revivify. Democratic theory in a time of defiance
Huron Socialism: A New Political System
Originally published by AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 8(2), 2012, Pp. 115-127.
[There was, aside from intellectual curiosity, a personal reason for writing this essay—my family has historic ties to one of the Huron clans that came to settle in Wendake, Québec, after they lost the “Beaver Wars” to the Iroquois-British alliance in Ontario around the 1640s. There’s a wonderful museum-meets-hotel in Wendake which showcases Huron culture: it’s well worth a visit should you find yourself around Québec City.]
This article conducts a simple comparative analysis between Marxist theory and what is known in the extant literature about Huron government and governance at the village level. This is done to try to understand whether the Huron, prior to European contact, had a form of socialism. A spatial scale taken from Marxist theory (zero is no common ownership of the means of production and one hundred is total ownership) is a heuristic device used to categorize the Huron literature. This study may be important as it could explain a new form of non-normative and pre-colonial political organization. The findings of this study indicate that the Huron Nation had a distinct type of indigenous socialism. However, further investigation into the complex nature of this political structure is needed: so too is an opposite investigation (to the one used herein) into the Huron literature using an inductive method.
The rationale of this work is to try to establish whether or not the Wendat or Ouendat (henceforth Huron) Confederacy had, at the village level, a socialist form of political organization prior to known European contact. The Huron were, before violent dispersal by the Iroquois and disease-carrying Europeans in the 1640s (Trigger, 1985), a confederacy of five nations (Bear, Cord, Deer, Rock and possibly Bog) and eight clans (Bear, Deer, Turtle, Beaver, Fox, Wolf, Hawk and Sturgeon (see Steckley, 2007; Trigger, 1976). Although there is some disagreement as to how many nations, clans or tribes existed, with older literature often confusing these three groups, more recent literature, such as Sioui (1994, p. 89–90), has taken care to avoid this pitfall.
It is reasoned that each nation and most of the larger clans had one or more longhouses, and as such was the centre of either one small village or part of a larger village (Otterbein, 1979, p. 142–143, suggested that “principal” villages had around 400 families). This paper sets the conditions that the highest level of government to be analysed rests in the longhouse (or nation leadership), with the lowest being the family unit in villages. It argues that this study is important because it may contribute to understanding the indigenous politics of the Huron. It may also be possible to consider pre-European government or governance as a potential contributor to normative contemporary political theory or practice.
A similar rationality as the one used in this paper can be seen in Trigger (1976, p. xxvii), who made use of Marx’s assumption that “the mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and intellectual processes of life” (Marx,  1964, p. 51) to understand how the Huron were prior to 1660. Because of this, Trigger’s book is a key piece of literature in my study. I argue that the understanding of material, production, surplus and distribution (or economic rationality) in Huron society is needed to determine if these peoples had a specifi c version of socialism before European contact.
This paper fi rst establishes the conditions of “classical” socialism. I then use a grounded theory analysis methodology (Charmaz, 2006) in a qualitative scrutiny of literature concerning Huron society and political organization. The aim is to see where Huron society conforms and contrasts to the socialist conditions earlier set. A central difficulty in this work is the fact that the Huron were not a writing society (Devens, 1992). What is known of their pre-European ways comes from primary sources, which were written by Europeans (primarily the Jesuits). The main difficulty is that these sources (such as the Jesuit Relations or notes kept by fur traders) may not have represented Huron society in a manner that is not parochial; (for example, “I am a European observing Indigenous peoples” instead of “I am an observer of these Indigenous peoples and must remain as neutral as possible”). The Jesuit Relations is the only substantive resource available to us, which is where Charmaz (2006) becomes particularly useful: her methodology encourages scholars to seek thematic congruence in the literature to form a grounded theory (a reverse-engineered hypothesis predicated on first analysing data and then forming a theory, as opposed to analysing data using a predetermined theoretical framework). Chances are that if several different sources report the same or similar fi ndings then it is more likely to be true.
Scholars must also contend with the probable argument that most of the earliest observations known in the literature were based on the “Bear” Nation or Attignawantans (Sioui, 1994, p. 97). This means that this paper probably has a bias toward this one nation of the Huron confederacy. However, it might be reasonable to infer that the nations were not so different, and there is evidence that various Jesuits (including Sagard and Champlain) had travelled extensively in Huronia (also known as Wendake or Ouendake in the literature), which could have influenced their observations.
There is also some evidence, primarily from Steckley (1992, p. 478), that Jesuits had adopted “with as little distortion as possible” certain Iroquoian icons (the warrior and matrilineage) which were then used to communicate Christianity in the Huron tongue (the Wendat language). This gives us some indication that perhaps what was recorded by the Europeans was accurate to some extent. The literature also groups the study of the Huron with that of the Iroquois (for example, Steckley, 1992, p. 478). Being a descendent of the dispersed peoples of the Huron (those who settled in Quebec City onward from the 1650s) I find this to be disappointing. It is a sentiment I hold that the Huron should be an entity of analysis separate from the Iroquoians who, to our contemporary knowledge, participated with the Europeans in decimating my people. It is hoped that this work might contribute in a small way to that endeavour.
Another diffi culty in the literature is that most of it was recorded by men and that most subjects are discussed in the male gender (Anderson, 1991; Devens, 1992). Although Huron society is said to have been matrilineal, it is diffi cult to gauge the place of the female in this society, especially if we consider her role in the creation, distribution and access to any surplus capital (see Steckley, 2011, for a discussion on female political participation). If we were to understand the generalized role of the female in this mix we might be able to gain an indication of her co-proprietorship, should that have existed. This is something we try to establish in the methodology.
We should also consider that much of what has been written about the Huron is dependent on a small body of primary literature. We see that Brébeuf ( 1897), Sagard ( 1865) and Champlain ( 1870) are most relied on to understand pre-contact Huron society. Trigger (1976) does well to recognize that these works stand apart from much of the later Jesuit Relations, which the extant literature has already done well to criticize for bias and editing to make the reports more appealing to European audiences in the 17th and later centuries. As will be seen, the three aforementioned texts will be relied on in the discussion below.
A simple spatial scale concerning socialism in Marxist theory can be established: this particular heuristic device sets the conditions that at zero there is no common ownership of the means of production and that at one hundred there is total common ownership. The simplicity of this scale has signifi cant drawbacks which I will try to mitigate through an analysis of the extant Huron literature. For example, if we see that evidence suggests one village has shared the means of production, does this mean that all individuals in that village have equal access to the goods? Could it be argued that there is a comparative proletariat, bourgeoisie and aristocracy (women, hunters and elders for example) in Huron society?
These questions are important but beyond the scope of this argument. It is hoped this work will be of use to future thinkers who are interested in the more complex nature of Huron socialism (should such a system have existed). Because this work uses a deductive methodology, it is important to encourage the investigation of the extant literature drawn on in this article from an inductive method. In other words, would an observation of this body of literature produce a theory that is logically comparable to the findings in this deductive study?
A reader might consider the way I treat the Huron literature to be inductive. However, I have a specific set of parameters derived from Marxist theory which are used to categorize the Huron literature. In other words, the evidence selected for the analysis and to be discussed after the results are presented is ordered by these Marxist parameters. An inductive study requires that the author holds no parameters but rather forms them as the literature is studied.
It is argued that two concepts need to be determined from the literature before the analysis can be conducted. The first is to show exactly how the aforementioned spatial scale came out of Marxist theory, while the second is to establish which particular parameters in the Huron literature will become the variables for this study. A diffi culty with this work is that there is a lack of critical literature on the subject of Huron political organization in both English and French. We also encounter another difficulty with sources: the Huron are generally believed to have been decimated by the Iroquois during the 1640s (known colloquially as the Beaver Wars), shortly after the arrival of the fi rst European settlers (see Ricciardelli, 1971), and the genocide that ensued from European contact. This poses another question of the literature: how could the Huron society have been adequately recalled in a time of Iroquois dominance and Huron diaspora? This is a problem insurmountable at this time, and something that must be remembered throughout as a potential contaminant in this study. The obverse is that because of this, the study conducted here might be useful to those investigating Iroquoian government and or governance.
Developing the spatial scale
Those familiar with Marxist theory have probably by now realized that this work depends on the theory of historical materialism (see, for example, Hobsbawm, 1964). In this theory, we are asked to understand there might be a different succession of socio-economic formations in any given national history (the term “nation” is used in the strict sense that the Huron were one confederate nation and the Iroquois or Algonkian another). Whether this is something that may extend beyond European history is still to be seen.
We might venture a small argument: supposing that, as archaeologists and anthropologists have argued, Huron society may have had a progression of different socio-economic formations as their society developed or as trade widened. This is something that Trigger (1969) argued happened from around 1000 AD. He reasoned that as the Huron moved from band to tribal structures, they progressed from huntergatherers to agricultural peoples, which had implications for their socio-economic institutions. This is especially so if we consider how socio-economics shifted with the arrival of the Europeans. Supposing, however, that there was a progression of different socio-economics in Huron village life before European contact, we might then have grounds to support the idea that this society had a means of production in their agricultural, hunting and bartering economy. It might also indicate that this village life may be compatible with Marx’s historical materialism.
There are several conditions in historic materialism which are used to form the socialist spatial scale. The first is the idea that before capitalism there was communal ownership of the land ( Wood, 2008, p. 80). The second is that the individual considered himself or herself as a co-proprietor of communal property (Wood, 2008, p. 80). And the third is what was done with the surplus of production (or capital in whichever shape it takes): did it go to the few or to the many?
These conditions now construct the anchors for a grounded theory (using a Glaserian approach and built on the Marxian model outlined above). This can be used to determine if the extant literature on Huron village society shows that (a) there was communal ownership of their land, (b) that individuals were co-proprietors of communal property, and that (c) the surplus of production went to the many and that this society was probably socialist. Should the inverse occur, then the Huron were perhaps practitioners of a different kind of nonsocialist capitalism.
Parameters from the Huron literature
We gather from Steckley (1992) that the Huron practised the custom where a captured enemy was adopted into a family as a relative should that family have lost someone in battle. This might suppose that numbers of humans were limited and there was a greater emphasis on the value of a life than in the populated, urban Europe Marx was familiar with. This clue might be useful to building an idea of co-proprietorship. We also learn there was a system which recognized the strong familial ties in Huron culture. For example, should one Huron kill another, a ceremony may have been conducted wherein the murderer repented and wished the deed undone, with the victim’s family vowing no vendetta (or potentially the obverse). This indicates a level of familial power: one was not necessarily greater than the other.
Steckley (1992, p. 494) also shared that the French Jesuits considered the Huron to be a “great trading people”. This suggests the Huron had a barter economy, which is in line with existing arguments that the Huron traded with the Algonkian hunters. Grown, manufactured or hunted goods (fishing was the Huron’s primary animal resource) could have been considered their capital. We should also take into account recent evidence about the collective and differentiated ownership of trade routes. In Sagard’s (1632) dictionary, which was based on his time spent with the Huron between 1623 and 1624, he lists fi ve entries under “Maistre, estre le maistre” or “Master, being the master”. Steckley, in personal correspondence, argued that two of these entries displayed the unity or greatness in voice that these ownerships had.
Steckley and Cummins (2010, p. 256) also presented this evidence in the following manner:
78.5 Ie suis le maistre du lac, il est à moy. [I am the master of the lake. It is mine.]
Ni auhoindiou gontara. [[e]ni [,]e8endi8, ontara—I, I am great in voice regarding the lake.—Southern Bear—1A]
78.9 N. est le maistre de la riuiere, du chemin. [N. is the master of the river, of the path.]
N. Anhoindiou angoyon. [N.[h]a8endi8 [,]anda8a,on (?)—N., he is great in voice on the river.]
(Steckley and Cummins 2010, p. 256)
Although Steckley managed to identify the first entry as pertaining to the Southern Bear (the Bear nation had separated into two, north and south), Sagard did not leave identifiers for the second. This evidence indicates, however, that communal ownership of trade routes by nations themselves was a probable occurrence. The Jesuits had encountered these organized systems, prompting them to note the Huron’s prowess in trade; as lanes of trade were organized (see mentions of this “mastery” by Brébeuf in his 1636 relations, JR10, p. 223–225).
Poitier (1920) described the sense of honour in Huron society which accompanied trade: if one makes an agreement with another that this good will be traded for that, going back on this promise may have been a serious offence. This may signify that militaristic intervention was the only mechanism to disrupt the means of production, as bartering would not have been enough to disempower one village or society. This seems to take the “competitive” out of this economic system, which may be important to consider.
Another form of social cohesion was marriage and adoption (Steckley, 1992, p. 495). This joining of families has a sense of collectivism about it. The Huron, like the Iroquois, lived in longhouses where each family had its own division or room. It is reasoned that this is where private property lay. So each family, it can be supposed, had its own private property. Who within the family unit held what is not known. Where and how individuals in a family gained and kept this property is also not known. One important hint (given by Sioui 1994, p. 92) is that the Hurons were in the habit of stockpiling corn, beans, squash and other edibles under their houses as insurance against winter or famine years. Could this have been a portion of private wealth used at the expense of the clan or small nation (the collective in the longhouse)? And what would have been the nature of this private property?
One potential answer to this question lies in Huron values. The Huron were a matrilineal society (meaning that clan leadership, perhaps even the ownership of family property, was passed from female to female).
The Huron were closer to their children, nephews and nieces than they were to their ancestors (particularly the more distant ones), and…they hated the thought of being separated from their younger kin after death.
(Steckley, 1992, p. 497)
This love for the youth was apparently inverted by the youth’s love for the elders. The older and more accomplished an individual was, the greater respect she or he was afforded. Should we have visited a Huron clan before the Europeans encroached on their culture, we would have most likely seen elder men addressed as “sister’s brother” while the elder men addressed younger men as “sister’s son” (Steckley, 1992, p. 501). Could this system of age admiration have led to the elders controlling the surplus capital? Were they the ones in charge of distributing goods?
We gain a further clue from Steckley (1992, p. 501), that the Huron and Iroquois would refer to their equals as “brother” (and imaginably “sister”), which further solidifies the argument that power in Huron society was dictated in terms of family and status. The young look to the old, the old admire and govern the young and the elders hold the seat of authority for collective decision making. An indication of this system can be found in the following quote:
In the earliest stage, in which the Huron were independent of the French and had few Christians in their number, “my nephew” was the dominant term [when a Huron addressed a Jesuit]. The second stage was one of interdependence, and the more egalitarian term “my brother” replaced “my nephew.” Finally, once the numerically diminished Huron became more dependent on the French, “my father” became more common.
(Steckley, 1992, p. 502)
It appears then that, as Steckley argued, there was a sense of closeness in Huron society that might be a central consideration in understanding how the economic structure of their society operated. Trigger (1976, p. xxxii) argued that although the Huron did not barter in the “European” custom, they most likely tried to effectuate the best deal in the barter, and perhaps for a specifi c reason. Possibly the best indication we have of resource distribution and the drive behind it comes from Trigger:
A Huron wished above all else to be loved and respected by his fellow tribesmen. Men strove to be brave warriors, good hunters, or clever traders and to gain a reputation for giving sound advice when this was asked for. Women sought public approval by looking after their families and guests well. Generosity was an important means of winning the respect of others and, for this reason, whole families worked hard to grow the corn, obtain the meat, and accumulate the presents necessary to entertain their friends and neighbours and to be able to contribute lavishly to communal activities. A Huron’s principal aim in acquiring wealth seems to have been to share it with others, social status accruing to those who dispensed with their possessions unstintingly.
(Trigger, 1976, p. 50)
The quote above, and the others before it, give us a great deal of information. For one, it answers why families had their own private property in the longhouse: it was primarily used to build their status in the community. We also learn that families worked together to grow, catch or barter for goods and then strove to share it with all so as to gain respect and admiration; this sense of the community did not exist normatively since before feudalism in Europe. But it still fits with the basic spatial scale described at the beginning of this work: had Marx got historical materialism right? If the Huron were socialist, what kind of socialists were they? How would this have differed from classical socialism?
If we are to take the literature at its face value (recalling the care taken by Trigger especially in getting the Huron angle separated from the Iroquois), and should we maintain the simple reading of Marxist theory brought into my spatial scale, it would seem that the Huron were indeed socialist. This can be seen in a different way by scrutinizing Table 1, which compares variables from both Marxist and Huron literature. Although this argument is probably an original contribution to the extant literature, this paper strives to do more than establish that the Huron were socialist, as this is “lowhanging fruit”. It is also something often carried over in the “noble savage” literature read by European audiences in the 17th century (often linked to the Utopian ideals of those times). More than that, I should like to determine in the discussion below what kind of socialists the Huron were: what values underlined this system and how does this differentiate itself from normative socialist theory?
In order to establish what type of socialists the Huron were, we need to return to Marxist literature. The forthcoming discussion of the results will use this non-formal theoretical argument as a comparative function. In other words, because we are capable of discussing what kind of socialists the Huron were, this in itself gives greater plausibility to the idea that the Huron were socialist in the first place. It also allows us to discuss their political organization in greater depth.
This technique is a simplified version of Albert Weale’s (2007) empirical triangulation. Weale argued that should we be able to conduct three separate (and different) empirical analyses on the same subject and come to the same conclusion, the fact that we could conduct these different studies indicates that the original finding is probably the most correct.
In Marx’s “Forms which Precede Capitalist Production” (see for examples, Bailey & Llobera, 1974; Clarke, 1981; Marx & Engels, 1972; Wood, 2008), we see that his theory offers three forms of pre-capitalist society: Asiatic, ancient and feudal. However, Marx argued that these bodies had already progressed from the stage of “primitive communalism” (Wood, 2008, p. 80). What in effect is primitive communalism, and is this a legitimate way to situate pre-colonial Huron socio-economics in Marxist literature? (It should be taken into account that Marx’s argument in “Forms” has been under dispute for some time, mainly because of the way in which he conceptualized capital. For more on this argument, see Harbsmeier, 1978.)
Maghimbi (1994) is particularly useful in this regard. This thinker had concerns with how others in the literature had considered pre-capitalist modes of production in Tanzania. Rather than continue with what was argued to be an assumption of a classless African society, Maghimbi showed that class exists in his case study. Borrowing from his work, we might rightly assume that certain assumptions concerning “primitive communalism” are that this Marxist picture had no class system. This point, concerning what “primitive communalism” might be, is better explained by Diamond (2004):
The extreme division of labor, which dissociates man [or woman] from himself [or herself], the reduction of persons to limited functions situated in classes, and the splitting of the cultural universe into antagonistic economic, social and ideological sectors, are, first of all, real events, and only then do they become analytic categories. Marx emphasized that he was describing, not fantasizing history. He was not an a priori builder. Nor can Marxism be turned into a theory of material limitations; if it can be epitomized at all, it is a theory of social, hence political, constraints on material possibilities. It is therefore dialectic in method and must be distinguished from all types of reductive materialism or technological determinism.
(Diamond 2004, p. 20)
It appears then, that we might be on the right path to determining which type of socialism the Huron had by comparing and contrasting whether or not their pre-European contact society had: the extreme division of labour; the reduction of individuals to limited functions based on class (perhaps even status?); and the splitting of their culture into various antagonisms. At this stage of immersion in the literature, if the Huron did not have these formations I would not be convinced they would fall into Marxist pre-history.
The reasoning behind this is that there is little in Brébeuf ( 1897), Campeau (1987), Champlain ( 1870), Sagard ( 1865), Sioui (1994), Trigger (1976), and the previous literature cited that indicates that Huron polity fits (for a lack of a better word) with these Marxist conditions. Although the Huron were considered one of the most efficient agrarian nations, had fi elds the missionaries routinely became lost in (as hinted by Sioui, 1994, p. 92), and extensive trade with the Algonkian hunters of the north (from where hundreds of individuals apparently sometimes wintered with the Huron—a sign of affluence on the Huron part), there is no evidence of “extreme” division of labour. Although women, it might be argued, may have had a larger presence in the fields, there is still ardent evidence that men worked equally hard, if not harder, to prepare the soil, clear forests and build the infrastructure necessary to go along with the crops—and probably helped considerably with the harvest.
The Huron, apparently, did not have the practice of primogeniture when offi ces were being decided which indicates, as Trigger (1976, p. 55) and Steckley (2011) argued, that the “personal qualities of the candidates counted for a great deal”. We also see that offices were women had in this process is unclear. Civil life (Trigger, 1976, p. 56) is known to have been more inclusive, as “all of the internal affairs of a clan segment were managed by its civil headman, in consultation with the heads of the various households and lineages that made the group”. Should a strong dispute arise in one village, it was not uncommon for a segment to leave the whole and found a separate village (Trigger was careful to establish the autonomy of individual Huron families with this example).
The village, whether made up of one or more segments, constituted a second important unit of Huron society. The daily face-to-face interaction of villagers generated a concern for one another that did not exist at higher levels of Huron political organization. Villagers aided one another to build houses, helped those in one another to build houses, helped those in rituals, and shared in the common defence of the village (Trigger, 1976, p. 56).
Despite this level of communal concern, there was a degree of competition in Huron society. As prestige and honour came to the most egalitarian families, there is little doubt that power flowed to the most prestigious families, which may have been the elite in society. This is something Trigger (1976, p. 57) claims to have been of some “concern to the Hurons”. To those well versed in the politics of the ancient Athenians or the republican Romans, these are not new political worries. We might infer from this that there was a degree of social stratifi cation and that it was, as others have pointed out, naive for Marx to think that prehistorically primitive communities had some form of “perfect equality”. One thing that appears clear in the scant evidence is that there was no specific dominance of one gender over the other. Perhaps the only dominance would have been that of age: of old over young, of the accomplished over the yet to be tested.
Sagard ( 1865) shares that families or individuals often buried deep their most prized possessions in casks underneath their abodes. He argued this was primarily to preserve them from fi re damage but also from thieves (this most often occurred with food and was something apparently rare). Should we take into consideration the high crime rates in deeply unequal contemporary societies (such as car theft in the USA or bicycle thefts in Europe), it might be understood that it is unlikely class divisions drove these individuals to steal from others (this is of course assuming that class divisions exist in contemporary societies foundin North America and Europe).
Brébeuf ( 1897) argued that during his attempt at teaching the Huron he found it difficult to convey European concepts, in part because of the Huron lack of government—or at least a form of government and or governance he could relate to (see Sioui, 1994, p. 87). This is similar to what Europeans, like Marx, may have considered a political antagonism. Sagard ( 1865), in the fashion of admiring the “noble savage”, adds to my argument when he recorded the following two pieces:
They [the Huron] have no law-suits and take little pains to acquire the goods of this life, for which we Christians torment ourselves so much, and for our excessive and insatiable greed in acquiring them we are justly and with good reason reproved by their quiet life and tranquil dispositions.
It would be desirable that this Indian [native American] corn should be sown in all the provinces of France for the support and food of the poor that abound there; for with this corn they could be fed and supported as easily as the savages [Hurons], who are of the same nature as ourselves, and by this means they would not suffer from famine, nor yet be forced to go begging in the cities, towns, and villages, as they do daily.
(Sagard, 1939, in Sioui, 1994, pp. 99-100
The evidence outlined above leads me to reason that the Huron had a form of governance and government that may, in its most primitive form, be called socialist (if we use the spatial scale argued earlier). But once we try to move past this argument to situate the Huron polity into Marxist literature, it does not fit. This is perhaps because the Huron had different understandings of material, capital, labour and poverty (among other values). In other words, the social agency of the Huron was significantly different to that Marx was most accustomed to, and for that very reason the Huron are probably not able to be categorized in Marxist theory.
Progressing with this point, we can argue that the pre-contact Huron (perhaps in most part the Bear Nation) had their own distinct form of political organization. Albeit a topic for further study, it is reasoned that this is a new type of socialist government and governance. We should address this as something that could benefit normative political theory and perhaps even contemporary politics.
Mention of the contemporary leads us to consider present day Huron-Wendat society. After the occupation of Wendakia from the 1650s onwards, mainly by the Iroquoians and Europeans, the Huron-Wendat went into diaspora. Presently, there are “larger” groups of Huron living near Quebec City in Canada, and also in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan in the USA. The Huron have suffered greatly from this diaspora and from modern reservations: they are still trying to adapt to the ill-effects of invasive religion, politics and non-indigenous society.
Much of what we have come to discuss in this paper, of pre-contact Huron governance, is only marginally present in contemporary Huron society, and is in great need of being rebuilt along with Huron language and customs. This, as Steckley (2011) had come to argue, is especially so through emphasizing the need to focus on the place of “clan” and “elder” in political theory. One of this paper’s greatest contributions is that it shows modern and living Huron-Wendat to have the potential to be contributors to normative international political theory. The Huron could be doing that on two increasingly urgent topics: the role of elders in the axis of “Western” society and politics, and the trans-boundary understanding of citizenship.
Concerning the latter, Steckley (2011) related an interesting conception of citizenship that may have originated in pre-contact Huron society:
One of the most powerful political acts I think of the 1630s was that there was a group of the Neutral, known as the Wenro who were threatened by the Seneca. The Turtle clan of the Huron adopted this Neutral group because the Wenro were considered a Turtle people. Their name referred to turtles. And so the Huron adopted the somewhat less than a thousand members of the Neutral right there so as to protect them.
(Steckely, 2011, p. 5)
That being said, further research is needed concerning how contemporary Huron are governing themselves: is it a refl ection of how “things were done” in posterity?
This paper has tried to establish that the Huron had a socialist form of socio-economic and political organization. However, this finding was overly simplistic, as indicated in the “Results” section. This paper went on to try to understand whether or not the pre-European contact Huron had a specific form of socialism that could conform to Marx’s theory of pre-capitalist primitive communalism. After specifically engaging Brébeuf ( 1897), Sagard ( 1865) and Champlain ( 1870), as well as other important secondary sources (for example, Steckley, 1992, 2007, 2010, 2011; Trigger, 1976) it reasoned, using non-formal theoretical logic, that the Huron had a form of government and governance that was distinctly their own. I chose to term this “Huron Socialism” as I found it difficult to marry their pre-European society with the parameters set by Marxist theory. In other words, the Huron can be considered socialist, using a simple spatial scale looking only at the degree of communal ownership. Past that point, when we begin considering the division of labour, status or class, the production of wealth, various forms of wealth, the distribution of surplus capital and so forth, the only determination my paltry mind can make is that the Huron socio-economic structure did not fit the European or Eurasian-African model that Marx built.
The aforementioned is considered important because this might contribute a new form of political and economic organization to normative political theory. It might also help us to understand better who the Huron (and not the Iroquois) were. This work has many weaknesses: notably that it merely attempted to set the stage for better analyses into the differences between pre-European Huron society and Marx’s theory of historical materialism. It also tried to answer two simple questions which, although missing in the extant literature, could still be considered low-hanging fruit. It is not difficult to create a spatial scale and comparatively analyse a small extant body of literature. Nor is it difficult to theorize comparatively between certain specific arguments in Marxist theory and Huron society to try to determine whether or not the Huron could fit the Marxian conditions I established.
Because of this, it is hoped that the small contributions made in this argument might be of use to greater minds in future studies on this subject; future studies which I feel to be of great importance as few political theorists have looked to the pre-contact Huron. Tasks which may need completing, and might serve well as points of departure for larger studies, include contextualizing “Huron socialism” to a greater degree: how exactly does this form of government or governance differ from the multiplicity of conceptions European socialism has? Is there a departure from this form of socio-economic and political organization at the village life in the higher echelons of the Huron confederacy as Trigger (1976) suggested? Might we gain further understandings about “Huron socialism” from archaeologists examining artefacts that signifi cantly predate European contact but fall within the agricultural period of the Huron?
The formation of these questions was permitted by the findings of this paper. This was done by first discussing the nature of the Huron literature and explaining the reasons behind this study. We then moved to establish the parameters for the spatial scale, which came from Marx’s theory of historical materialism. This led to using Charmaz’s (2006) grounded theory methodology to organize the Huron literature. Categorization of the literature enabled the creation of certain variables which were measured against parameters in the spatial scale. This informed the fi rst fi nding: that yes, the Huron were socialist. However, the nature of their socialism was not able to be “married” to Marx’s prehistoric, primitive, communal conditions. This led to the fi nal conclusion of this work that, based on this finding, the per-European Huron had their own unique style of government and governance. To finish, it is recommended that greater minds investigate the nature of the Huron’s political system and conduct a similar analysis into the literature using an inductive method so as to challenge the presumptions made in this work.
A separate nation that frequently bartered with the Huron, trading mostly meats and furs for agricultural goods. They, we are told, were a “forest people” (i.e. more toward a hunter-gatherer culture).
Also known as Wendat or Ouendat. This indigenous people lived in the region that is presently known as Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada. They are now a diaspora, living in foreign lands for nearly 400 years.
also known as Wendake or Ouendake
an indigenous people which helped to drive the Huron into diaspora after the 1640s
alternative name for Huron or Wendat
alternative name for Huron or Ouendat
Anderson, K. (1991). Chain her by one foot. London, England: Routledge.
Bailey, A. M., & Llobera, J. R. (1974). The Asiatic mode of production. An annotated bibliography: (Part 1). Critique of Anthropology, 1, 95.
Brébeuf, J. ( 1897). Rélation de ce qui est passé dans le Pays des Hurons en l’année 1636. Envoyée a Kébec au R. P. le Jeune Supérieur de la Mission de la Compagnie de Jesus, en la Nouvelle France.
Campeau, L. (1987). La mission des Jesuites chez les Hurons, 1634–1650. Rome, Italy: Insitutum Historicum.
Champlain, S. de. ( 1870). Oeuvres de champlain. Quebec, Canada: Université de Laval.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through political analysis. London, England: Sage.
Clarke, J. (1981). ‘Capital in general’ and non-capitalist Social Formations. Critique of Anthropology, 4, 31.
Devens, C. (1992). Countering colonization: Native American women and Great Lakes missions, 1630–1900. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Diamond, S. (2004). Anthropology in question. Dialectial Anthropology, 28(1), 11–32.
Harbsmeier, M. (1978). Critique of political economy, historical materialism and pre-capitalist social forms. Critique of Anthropology, 3, 3–38.
Hobsbawm, E. (1964). Introduction. In Karl Marx, Pre-capitalist economic formations (pp. 9–65). New York, NY: International Publishers.
Maghimbi, S. (1994). Pre-capitalist modes of production in Tanzania: Reference to modes of production in the old Ugweno state of North-Eastern Tanzania. UTAFITI, 1(1), 20–35.
Marx, K.  1964. Selected writings in sociology and social philosophy. London, England: McGraw-Hill.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1972). On colonialism. New York, NY: International Publishers.
Otterbein, K. F. (1979). Huron vs. Iroquois: A case study in inter-tribal warfare. Ethno-history, 26, 141–152.
Poitier, P. (1920). The fifteenth report of the bureau of archives for the province of Ontario for the years 1918–1919. Toronto, Canada: Clarkson W. James.
Ricciardelli, A. (1971). Review. American Anthropologist, 73(2), 335–336.
Sagard, G. ( 1865). Dictionaire de la langue Huronne. Paris, France: Denys Moreav.
Sagard, G. ( 1865). Le grand voyage du pays des Hurons. Paris, France: Émile Chevalier.
Sioui, G. (1994). Huron-Wendat: The heritage of the circle. Montreal, Canada: Laval University Press.
Steckley, J. (1992). The warrior and the lineage: Jesuit use of Iroquoian images to communicate Christianity. Ethnohistory, 39(4), 478–509.
Steckley, J. (2007). Words of the Huron. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfred Laurier Press.
Steckley, J., & Cummins, B. (2010).The first French-Huron dictionary, by Father Jean de Brébeuf and his Jesuit brethren. New York, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
Steckley, J. (2011). An interview with John Steckley: Discussing basic democracy in pre-European Huron-Wendat society. Journal of Democratic Theory, 1(3), 1–12.
Trigger, B. (1969). The Huron: Farmers of the north. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Trigger, B. (1976). The children of Aataentsic: A history of the Huron people to 1660. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Trigger, B. (1985). Natives and new comers. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Weale, A. (2007). Democracy (2nd ed.). London, England: Palgrave MacMillan.
Wood, E. M. (2008). Historical materialism in ‘forms which precede capitalist production’. In M. Musto (Ed.), Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations of the critique of political economy 150 years later (pp.79–92). London, England: Routledge.