Crossroads are places for negotiations, decisions and diplomacy. Democratic principles have existed for thousands of years in many places around the world. Since about 1990, democracy is the form of government most countries claim to have, but there is no clear-cut definition of what democracy actually means. Discussions are ongoing about what democracy is, and such discussions are an important part of democracy. The democratic ambitions must bring together, cross-pollinate and interconnect many different perspectives.
One of the oldest examples of representative democracy is the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of North America. Sometime between 1142 and 1450, five nations joined together in a confederacy, creating the Great Law of Peace, which was to facilitate cooperation between the nations.
It had a comprehensive legal framework consisting of 117 articles guaranteeing the participation of members and the responsibility of leaders. The white line in the confederacy's flag symbolizes peace and unity. It links together the five original nations as well as extending an invitation to others to join. In 1988, the US Congress passed a resolution recognizing the influence of the Great law of Peace on the Constitution.
The Haudenosaunee often used wampum belts made of shells to seal political and diplomatic agreements. These also served as a form of identification for envoys of the confederation. The design of a belt incorporated information about agreements and negotiations. The most important belt is the one recording information on the Great Law of Peace, which inspired the design of the Confederation flag. It is claimed that the agreement represented by the 17th century The Two Row Wampum laid the groundwork for the treaty established with the US in 1794. Throughout history, the US government established numerous treaties with various nations. All have been broken or violated by the government. The treaties are still legally valid, and many nations continue to fight for their recognition.
According to established methods of defining and assessing democracy, Sweden has been classified as a free state with full democracy since 1921. Yet during various times and circumstances, citizens have been disempowered and stripped of their rights.
Artist Anders Sunna's painting New Methods but Same Abuses is a personal commentary on the Swedish Sami people's lack of democratic rights down through history. In several paintings, Sunna draws from his family's own experience to provide a different perspective on the Swedish colonial narrative and historiography.
Along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the crocodile has been a metaphor for dialogue and mutual decisions. Political discussions and collective decision-making took place in large, parliament-like buildings that symbolized a crocodile. During debates, participants were seated according to their clan. The clans that represented the head of the crocodile sat in the front part of the building. Clans that were in opposition corresponded to the tail of the crocodile and thus sat in the rear. Since the head and tail of a crocodile cannot move in opposite directions, consensus was essential. If the group could not agree, new negotiations were required. Similar processes of unity and opposition continue in the parliament today.