Questions for ‘American democracy arrived long before Columbus did’  

A painting of a Muscogee (Creek) village in the 1790s shows a circular council house next to four clan structures positioned around a square. The village is on the banks of a pond and surrounded by trees.

This historically informed painting depicts a Muscogee (Creek) village in the 1790s. It includes a winter council house, far right, next to a square ground bordered by four clan structures. Muscogee people have practiced democratic decision making in similar council houses for at least 1,500 years, researchers say.

Dori DeCamillis

To accompany American democracy arrived long before Columbus did


Before Reading:

  1. Come up with one Indigenous population you are at least somewhat familiar with and write it down. For example, you could choose Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians. Describe their system of government to the best of your knowledge. For example, did they have a leader? If yes, how was that leader chosen? How were community-wide decisions made? 
  2. What does it mean to be a democracy? 

During Reading:

  1. In what U.S. state is Lake Oconee located? What is hidden beneath Lake Oconee’s water? 
  2. What happened in 1979 that caused the Oconee Valley to flood?
  3. Which ancient country gets credit for pioneering democracy? How long ago is it thought to have occurred?
  4. What “misguided” idea do many people hold about democratic governments in the Americas, according to Jacob Holland-Lulewicz? 
  5. What is a consensus? 
  6. What event ended the democratic self-government of the Muscogee people? 
  7. Describe one type of evidence discovered at the Cold Springs study site that supports the Muscogee people’s claim that their democratic government goes back hundreds of generations.
  8. During what years did Spanish expeditions come through the region now known as the Oconee Valley? What assumptions did people make about the lasting impact of the Spanish on native societies and traditions?
  9. Under Wendat and Haudenosaunee traditions, from whom did a child inherit membership to a clan?
  10. How did the Aztec Empire lead to the emergence of Tlaxcallan? How did the Spaniards of 1519 describe the city of Tlaxcallan?
  11. For Tlaxcallan people chosen for council positions, what happened during the public ceremony? What were these actions intended to “remind” people of?

After Reading:

  1. Think about what surprised you most about this story. Then come up with one misconception you had before reading this story. Describe that misconception and explain how your understanding has changed. Then, consider the Indigenous people you wrote about in the Before Reading section. How likely are you to carry some misconceptions about that society? Besides systems of government, what is another aspect of a society or culture about which we can have misconceptions?
  2. What does Holland-Lulewicz believe can be gained by looking at past societies that “experimented with democracy”? What is one lesson we might take from the fall of the Tlaxcallan democracy?