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 10 billion and
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
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.
January 5, 2015: Iroquois
Population Update by Doug George-Kanentiio
Kanentiio is the author of the
books "Skywoman", “Iroquois on Fire” and "Iroquois Culture and Commentary" as
well as a contributor to the texts "Treaty of Canandaigua", “A Seat at the
Table” and “Sovereignty, Colonialism and the Indigenous Nations”, “Beyond
Forgiveness: Rituals of Reconciliation” and “The Soul and Spirit of Tea”. His
book“Iroquois on Fire” was released by Greenwood Press (Aug 31, 2006), forward
by Vine Deloria, Jr. endorsements which include Wilma Mankiller, Dr. Huston
Smith and Les LoBaugh, Esq. The book which provides an internal perspective on
contemporary Haudenosaunee issues.Kanentiio
has served as an advisor for the Mohawk Nation Council regarding the securing of
an historic Trade and Commerce agreement with the United States and the State of
New York. Kanentiio was selected in 1996 to serve on the Board of Trustees for
the National Museum of the American Indian where he helped plan the facility on
the National Mall in Washington DC and was the chairperson of the Museum’s
Repatriation and Collections Committee. As a former Mohawk Nation delegate
to the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Burial Rules and Regulations,
Kanentiio was involved in coordinating the return of Iroquois sacred objects
from museums across the United States. Kanentiio is married to the famous
Iroquois singer Joanne Shanandoah.