Monday, January 30, 2006

The Iroquois Great Law of Peace

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I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.

I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.

We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace.

There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.

Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace, one to the north, one to the east, one to the south and one to the west.

The name of these roots is The Great White Roots and their nature is Peace and Strength.

Dekanawida - Peace Maker

What is the Great Law of Peace?

The Great Law is the founding constitution of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. It is an oral tradition, codified in a series of wampum belts now held by the Onondaga Nation. It defines the functions of the Grand Council and how the native nations can resolve disputes between themselves and maintain peace.

The Peace Maker travelled among the Iroquois for many years, spreading his message of peace, unity and the power of the good mind. Oral history says that it may have taken him forty some years to reach everyone. Born of a Huron woman who was still a virgin, the Peace Maker, grew rapidly and one day announced that he had to journey forth to deliver a message from the Creator.

He selected a white stone canoe to carry him to the Iroquois as proof of the power of his message. But he was met with much skepticism and the men that he came across refused to listen to him. After Jikohnsaseh rejuvenated his spirit, he continued and was able to persuade fifty leaders to receive his message. He gathered them together and recited the passages of the Great Law of Peace. He assigned duties to each of the leaders. To honor the role of Jikohnsaseh, he selected women as the Clan Mothers, to lead the family clans and select the male chiefs.

Women were given the right to the chief's titles and the power to remove dissident chiefs. Jikohnsaseh, by hearing of her actions, taught me to respect women and honor their role. Women are the connection to the earth and have the responsibility for the future of the nation. Men will want to fight. Women know the true price of war and must encourage the chiefs to seek a peaceful resolution.

The Peace Maker then established clans among the Haudenosaunee as a way to unite the Five Nations and as a form of social order. It is said that after he had assembled the leaders together around the Tree of Peace, he bestowed Chieftainship and clan affiliation on the fifty men who stood in a circle. He would assign clans based upon the order of animals that he saw that day.

Some say that he sent each chief out into the woods and would report back on the first animal that they encountered, and that animal became their clan. A clan is a group of families that share a common female ancestry. Members of one clan are considered relatives and intermarriage in the same clan is forbidden. Clans are named after animals that have special assistance to the people - water (turtle, eel, beaver); land (bear, deer, wolf), sky (snipe, heron, hawk) Clanship identity is very important to the Haudenosaunee.

The Great Law is like a Great White Mat of Law upon which the Chiefs sit as they deliberate on the affairs of the nations. Burning before the assembled chiefs is the council fire, called "the great light," that never dies as long as the people believe in the Great Law. The kindling the council fire, considered sacred in that it purifies the words of those assembled, obligates the Chiefs to speak the truth. Also holding a council only in the daylight is another cultural mechanism to assure clear thinking. Meeting held at night are considered inappropriate and meant for foster dissent.

The Chiefs were to use the power of their mind to reason, to figure out what was best for the welfare of the people. The three main principles of the Great Law of Peace are: Righteousness (Good News), Civil Authority (Power), and also Mind (Reason) and the welfare work." We are to view the chiefs like a circle of standing trees, supporting the Tree of Peace that grows in the middle. They help to keep it from falling over. With each Chief was to be a helper, to keep the Chief standing tall.

Take the word Gaihwiyo, which has been translated in this document to mean righteousness. It's meaning is more like a wholesome doctrine that is good to be heard, because it teaches ethical behavior and communal values. But it also denotes the idea of justice, of being right because of the customs, manners, beliefs and ritualistic summations of the past experiences of the people. It is putting words into action.

The hardest part of the Great Law is to understand the meaning of the concept of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. In the Iroquoian mind, peace is a state of mind. Power, which can easily be thought of as military strength, but more appropriately, it means that one heart, one mind, one head, and one body allowed the Confederacy to remain united in the face of many enemies. Certainly, historians have painted a picture of the Iroquois as cruel expansionists. Iroquois fighting power was legendary.

So the question arises: how can the Great Law promote peace if one of the conditions is to have power over weaker nations? Power can be the united strength of the Confederacy, standing together, negotiating together. Unity of action allowed the Iroquois to enjoy great success in dealing with the warring colonial powers.But there is also a different kind of power in the Iroquoian universe. Each individual has a base spiritual power.

As you go through life as Haudenosaunee, experience different things, learn more, comprehend more and tap into other forms of spiritual power, your own spirit grows as well. The old timers called it orenda. Everyone is thought to have it to some degree. It effects how we do things. Good minds have strong orenda. So the ultimate power of the Great Law rests in how well the individual person develops their sense of self, but develops that sense in regard to the well-being of the others, in the clan, in the village, in the nation and in the Confederacy of the Six Nations.

Taken from the Haudenosaunee Website

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