This is the oral tradition, which depicts the founding of the Five Nations Confederacy, and later, Six Nations (Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca, and later, Tuscarora). The Legend depicts ancient times when the people were ruled by warfare, anarchy, and the people lived in fear and hunger. They were preyed on by powerful tyrants, very much as it is today. One day, that long time ago, there was a man, born of a virgin, who appeared in the territories of the five warring nations. He had come, so that killing and violence would end. Peace, he said, is the desire of the people and it will come when people adopt the Mind of the Creator, which is of love and reason. For many years the Peacemaker traveled teaching the Path of Peace--that all people love one another and live together in peace. One by one, he convinced each person, village and nation to accept his teaching.
At last, all the people gathered on the Lake of the Onondagas, where the first Council of United Nations took place that long time ago, maybe a thousand years ago. Their Peacemaker transmitted The Great Law of Peace--the instructions to form a society and government based on liberty, dignity and harmony. The White Pine, with five needles clasped as one, became the symbol of Five Nations united as one Confederacy. Peacemaker uprooted a White Pine, exposing a deep cavern with a river at its bottom. He told the warriors to cast their weapons into this hole and the river carried the tools of war deep in the Earth. Replanting the White Pine, Peacemaker said this was "burying the hatchet" to signify the end of killing and violence. "The Tree of Peace," the Peacemaker explained, has four white roots extending to the four corners of the Earth. Anyone who desires peace can follow these roots to their source and find shelter under the branches of the Great Tree. Atop the White Pine sits the Eagle-that-sees-afar to be ever vigilant to sound alarm when evil threatens.
Mr. Dean R. Snow said it well in 1994 in the Iroquois. Oxford: Blackwell, Origins AD year 900-1150. Legend of the Peacemaker:
It was a time when war was a normal state of things. North of Lake Ontario, there was a young Huron woman who lived apart from her mother. Although still a virgin, the young woman became pregnant. Her mother dreamed that the child was destined to do great things. In due course, the child, a boy, was born. The child was named Deganawida and accepted by his mother and grandmother as a truly gifted child.
Deganawida grew quickly to become a handsome young man. He had a natural gift for speaking, and preached to the children of his community. Eventually, he clarified his message of peace through power and law. But he came up against the doubt and jealousy faced by all prophets in their own countries. After announcing his intention to depart, he built a stone canoe, and launched it with the help of his mother and grandmother. He came to the country of the five Iroquois nations, who were then fighting each other as vigorously as they fought other nations.
He passed from west to east through Iroquoian, urging the hunters he met along the way to take his message of peace back to their chiefs. Eventually, he met a woman who lived in a small house along the trail, where she fed hunters who passed by. She was the first to accept his news of peace and power, and he renamed her Jigonhsasee, "New Face."
The Peacemaker moved on, stopping among the Onondagas and gazing through a smoke hole into the house of Ayonhwatah (Hiawatha). He quickly converted Ayhonhwatah from cannibalism, and charged him with converting Thododaho (Adodarhonh), a particularly malevolent Onondaga shaman with snakes in his hair. Leaving Ayonhwathah to convert Thododaho by combing the snakes from his hair, the peacemaker left to travel to Mohawk country.
He went to the place of the great Cohoes Falls near the mouth of the Mohawk River. There he climbed a tree over the gorge and waited. The Mohawks felled the tree into the torrent, but the next morning they found the peacemaker sitting by his fire. The feat convinced the Mohawks of his power. They accepted his message and became the founders of the league.
Meanwhile, Ayonhwathah's efforts to convert the Thadodaho had met with failure. Worse, the shaman had killed each of Ayonhwathah's three daughters. Devastated by grief, Ayonhwathah left his village following the trail eastward toward Mohawk country. Along the way he came to a lake. A flock of ducks flew up to allow him to pass dry shod, carrying the water with them and revealing a lake bottom strewn with shell beads. These Ayonhwathah collected and put in a buckskin bag. Some he strung on three strings as symbols of his grief. Wandering aimlessly, he eventually encountered the Peacemaker. Deganawida took the strings of shell beads and made more strings from the beads collected by Ayonhwathah. Laying the strings out one at a time, he uttered the words of the Requickening Address for the first time. With fifteen strings he wiped away the tears, removed obstructions from the ears, cleared the throat, dispelled the darkness, and dealt with the other essential matters of condolence. The ritual cleared Ayonhwathah's mind of grief, and together they sang the peace hymn, the Hai Hai.
The Peacemaker and Ayonhwatah taught the ritual to the Mohawks, and they accepted adoption into the Mohawk nation. With essential ritual now in hand, they traveled westward, accompanied by Mohawk chiefs. The Oneidas joined the league quickly, and were called younger brothers by the Mohawks. Beyond the Oneidas were the Onondagas and the evil Thadodaho. They bypassed this obstacle to approach the Cayuga, who joined as easily as the Oneida had done. They also took the side of the younger brothers. The three nations all returned to the Onondagas, all who say Thadodaho also joined, but as older brothers on the side of the Mohawks. Then, with the chief of the four nations, they went to the Senecas, who also joined as older brothers, completing the league.
With the power of the chiefs of the five nations behind them, the Peacemaker and Ayonhwathah returned to the lodge of Thadodaho. There with the greatest difficulty, his mind was made straight, and Ayonhwathah combed the snakes from his hair. The Peacemaker made Thadodaho first among equals in the role of the fifty League Chiefs, placed antlers on all of their heads as signs of their authority, and taught them the words of the great law (Snow 1994:58,59)
In the distant past, all of the earth was covered by deep water, and the only things living were water animals. There was no sun, moon or stars, and the watery earth was in darkness. People lived above the great sky dome. A great ever-blossoming tree grew there in the cloud world, where it shaded the councils of the supernatural. One day the great chief became ill, and he dreamed that if the tree were uprooted he would be cured. He further commanded that his pregnant daughter, Sky Woman, look down at the watery darkness. He told her to follow the roots of the tree, and to bring light and land to the world below. The fire dragon that floated in the whole gave her maize, a mortar, a pot, and firebrands for cooking. Then the great ruler wrapped her in the light of the fire dragon and dropped Sky Woman in the hole.
Time passed and Sky Woman gave birth to a daughter. The daughter grew rapidly, and when she reached maturity a man visited her. He placed two arrows within her, one tipped within the heart and the other not. The daughter in turn bore twins. The handsome good twin was born first the usual way, and he was called "Sapling" (Maple Sprout). The ugly evil twin forced himself out through his mother's side armpit, killing her in the process. He was called "Flint". In grief, Sapling created the sun from his mother's face. The evil twin made darkness to drive the sun west. Sapling drew the moon and the stars from his mother's breast, and created great mountains and great rivers to grace the land. Flint jumbled the mountains and made the rivers crooked. Sapling set forests on the their persistence ensures that there is both good and bad in all things. (Snow 1994:3-4 Origins AD 900-1150).
In some of the Mohawk stories, they talk about a great mountain range that was toward the setting sun and a great body of water on the other side of the mountains. (Sounds like the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Ocean) They talk about walking in grassy plains and large numbers of buffalo that took days to travel around. When these buffalo moved on they said they would leave the ground like a desert because they ate the grass to the earth. These stories talk about walking to a large river that leads to two other rivers that went east and west. At the place where the three great rivers came together, some of the people went west and the main body went east. Geographies suggested it seems to put them in the Midwest, somewhere near the point where the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers come together.
Another interesting point is that they talk about a strange people who made friends with wild dogs and made them work for them. This sounds like the Pawnee people who had domesticated the wolves. Pawnee people say they lived near the Haudenosaunee. Long ago, they were friends and allies that traveled together. The Pawnee people say they once lived in the south where what is now called Mexico. Maybe the Mohawks and the other Longhouse people came up north with them.
Apparently, what happened was that the Haudendsaunee, being a migrating people, continued to travel the rivers, which was the easiest and fastest way to move. Some of the people went west and the main body went east up the Ohio River. After a long stay in what is now the Ohio valley, they decided to split up, as was their custom to do whenever a hunting ground became too thickly populated to feed all the people. It is a good possibility that the Huron Nation, which settled near Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe, and the Tionontati or the Tobacco Nation north of Lake Erie, the Neutral or Neuter Nation, which lived along the Niagara River, the Nottoway and Meherrin Indians in south-eastern Virginia, and the Erie, Heherrin, and Cherokee were all part of these separations, for much of their culture, language, foods and religious customs are very similar. The main band continued to migrate up the Ohio toward the Great Lakes. When they reached Lake Ontario, they paddled down what is now called the St. Lawrence River. It was while they lived in this area that a powerful Algonquin people confronted them.
Many of the Iroquois stories tell of the battles that took place with these people who they called Adirondack, meaning "bark eaters" because they flavored their food with the bark of trees. The Adirondack outnumbered them and eventually beat them into submission. They treated them like slaves according to one of the ancient stories. The stories say they never forget who they were and, over a long time--many, many years--they planned their escape by water. When the main band of the Bark Eaters were away hunting, they decided to make their getaway. On Lake Ontario, near the mouth of the Oswego River, a great battle took place with the returning Adirondack from their hunting trip. The Iroquois were almost beaten and, during the battle, a storm of high wind and rain came and they were able to escape up the Oswego. Here they found a land of plenty of game for hunting, fishing (one story tells how they could walk across the rivers on the backs of the Salmon fish as they swim upstream to lay eggs for spawning). Farming was good along the fertile river basin and corn, bean, squash and much more grew. These were happy times for the people, but they grew in number and again a group would leave for another land area. At this time, they went in six different directions. The Mohawks (Flint people) settled along the banks of the Mohawk River near what is now called Albany, New York on the Hudson River. West of them, along Oneida Lake, moved the Oneidas (Standing Stone people), near what is now called Syracuse, New York, moved the Onondaga Nation (people of the hills). Along Cayuga Lake, near what is now called Ithaca, New York, burned the council fire of the Cayuga Nation (The Great Pipe people). Senecas (people of the Great Mountain) built their homes to the west near what is called Buffalo, New York. Another band went far to the south. They were the Tuscaroras (the hemp gatherers) and they were not to return until the whites drove them out of their homes in South Carolina about 1710.
It was during this separation that they began to grow apart from each other, forgetting the message of the Creator to respect each other. Bitter wars broke out between the Senecas and Cayugas on one side and the Mohawks, Oneidas, and Onondagas on the other side. The Mohicans, living along the southern part of the Hudson River, The Hurons, north of the Great Lakes, the Susquehannocks of Pennsylvania, and the Eries of the west, were all sending war parties against the five disunited Nations. They were in danger of complete extermination. This period of time is considered the Dark Ages of the Haudenosaunee (long house people or the meaning in Mohawk is to build a house). For many generations, they struggled in bitter wars with one another. It was in these times that two men, the Peace Maker, Deganawida and Ayonhwathah or Hiawatha walk among the people talking of peace. There are several accounts of the beginning of their partnership and each nation tells its own story of how peace came to their community.
There is the Newhouse version, gathered and prepared by Seth Newhouse, a Canadian Mohawk, and revised by Albert Cusick, a New York Onondaga-Tuscarora. This version has been edited and published by Dr. Arthur C. Parker of the Rochester Museum in "The Constitution of the Five Nation, or the Iroquois Book of the Great Law." Then there is the Chief's version, compiled by the chiefs of the Six Nations Council on the Six Nations Reserve, Ontario, 1900. This version appears in the "Traditional History of the Confederacy of the Six Nations", edited by Duncan C. Scott. The Gibson version, dictated in 1899 by Chief John Arthur Gibson of the Six Nations Reserve, by J. Hewitt of the Smithsonian Institution, and revised by Chiefs Abram Charles, John Buck, Sr. and Joshua Buck, from 1900 to 1914. This version, which is still in manuscript, was translated into English in 1941 by William N. Fenton of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, with the help of Chief Simeon Gibson. The late Jake Thomas, a Cayuga from Six Nations Reservation in Ontario, Canada often would tell the story of the founding of the Great Law in his readings, which have been recorded and written about by people who now claim copyright to what belongs to the people. Ray Fadden from Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, New York, who must be close to 90 years old now. He could tell the best oral stories. For hours he and Bill Foote would tell stories to each other. Today there are many accounts based on the above source.
What is more important than these legends is the fact that the Mohawks, Cayugas, Senecas, Oneidas and Onondagas buried their differences and became of one mind, one body, one government, and one people (the Haudenosaunee) in the pursuit of peace. In providing democracy, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Nation) were unequalled for giving all their people a say in the government from the age of reason on up. They had successfully interwoven political and religious beliefs, meaning their decisions were sacred as well as political. They aimed to knit all nations together under such a system of relations that, by its own natural expansion, a First Nation people governing process would develop of sufficient magnitude to control all nations on Turtle Island keeping peace. Its founding was established upon the principles of peace with the strength of its people stemming from the family relationship. The Great Law of Peace expresses a view of Law and Government as expressions of natural order. To Iroquois Peace is Law--they use the same word for both concepts. Peace is also religion and way of life based on wisdom, graciousness, and respect for Mother Earth and all our relations.
The word for Confederacy is Kanonsonnionwe in Mohawk, Hodenosaunee in Seneca. Rayaner or Roianer means "he is good" and the confederate Chief of Peace. Rotiyaner or Rotiianer in the plural, Chiefs of the Confederacy. Oyaner or Oianer means "she is good" or Confederate Clan Mothers. The Council of the Great Binding Law is GAYANEREKOWA.
The Hodenosaunee were organized in clans or groups which were descendants of the same woman and who all thought of themselves as relatives, forbidden to intermarry. Each clan was named after some local animal, such as Bear, Deer, Beaver, Turtle, Eel, Hawk, etc. Lineal descent of the people runs in the female line. Women were considered the progenitors of the Nation. They had the last say in regard to the land and soil. Men and women were to follow the status of their mothers. Each clan was to hold its council fires. It is through this basic structure of the individual clans that they choose their leaders to represent them. Community work was fairly divided with the hunting, fishing and trapping, house building, and canoe making fell to the men. They also protected the home and the country. Women cooked, made the clothing, planted and gathered the crops and took care of the children. The woman is the head of the household. The household, as well as the land, belonged to her clan. In case of separation, they went with her. No war could be declared, no peace could be made, and the land could not be taken without the consent of the mothers. Because life revolved around the women, through child- bearing, she was looked on as someone very special. With the people, the women had a voice in all of the great affairs of the Nation. The complete equality of the sexes is apparent in all the narratives of early missionaries recordings.
Women of the Clan (OYANER OR OIANER meaning she is good or Confederate Clan Mother is OTIYANER OR OTIIANER OR ODIYANER) in which the title of Chief is hereditary, were to hold a council and choose one of their sons to fill the office made vacant. If the choice is unanimous, the name is referred to the men relatives of the clan. If they shall disapprove it, it was to be their duty to select a candidate from among their own members. If then the men and the women are unable to decide which of the two candidates should be named, the matter was referred to the Chiefs of the League in the Clan. They then decide which candidate would be named. If the men and women agree to the candidate, then his name would go to the sister clans for confirmation. If the sister clans confirm the choice, they then referred their actions to the Chiefs of the League, who had to ratify the choice and present it to their cousin chiefs. If the cousin chiefs confirm the name, then the candidate was to be installed in the proper ceremony for the conferring of chieftainship titles. This process provides a way in which all members of the nation had a say as to who is going to represent them in their government structure. The Mohawk Nation has nine chiefs, as did the Oneidas, the Onondagas had fourteen, ten for the Cayugas, and eight for the Senecas.
We will now go into the duties, rights, and qualifications of the Chiefs (ROYANER OR RAIANER, meaning he is good or Confederate Chief of Peace). One of their main functions was that, at a stated period, usually in the autumn of each year, the Chiefs of the League were to meet in council at Onondaga and there, sit in their seat of government to legislate for the common welfare of the Nation. They were to be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of their skin was to be seven spans, which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive action, and criticism. Their hearts were to be full of peace and good will, and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederation. With endless patience, they were to carry out their duty. Their firmness was to be tempered with tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury was to find lodging in their minds and all their words and actions were to be marked by calm deliberation. The main concern of the Chiefs was serving his people and he was not to belong to any other outside groups besides that of being a Chief. It is also the duty of the Chief to act as teacher and spiritual guide from time to time and remind the people of the Creator's will words. They were to be honest in all things. They must not idle nor gossip, but be a man possessing the honorable qualities that make true leaders. It was a serious wrong for anyone to lead a chief into trivial affairs, for the people were to hold their chiefs in high estimation of our respect, for the people were to hold their chiefs in high estimation of our respect for their honorable positions.
With the Chiefs, there is a Pine Tree Chief or sub Chief. This can be any man of the Nation who assists with special ability or shows great interest in the welfare of the Nation. If he proves himself wise, honest, and worthy of confidence, the confederate chiefs may allow him to sit with them in council. If he should ever do anything contrary to the rules of the Great Peace, he would be deposed from office. No one was to cut him down, but thereafter, everyone would be deaf to his voice and his advice. He had no authority to choose a successor, nor is his title to be hereditary. Also, along with the Pine Tree Chief, each nation had one Peace Chief today called the War Chief (AHSAHRHKOWA BIG KNIFE). Their duties were to carry messages for their chiefs and to take up the arms of war in emergency. They were not to participate in proceedings of the Confederate Council, but were to watch its progress, and in case of erroneous actions by a chief, they would receive the complaints of the people and convey the warnings of them to him. The war chief is installed into office by the same means as that of the other chiefs. If a war chief acts contrary to instructions or against the provisions of the laws of the Great Peace, dong so in the capacity of his office, he is to be disposed of by his women relatives and by his men relatives, either the women or men or jointly may act in such a case. The women as the titleholders would then choose another candidate.
For each of the fifty chiefs, there is one clan mother appointed, which he must answer to and consult with. All debates and councils were carried on, quite literally, across the fires. The Mohawks and the Senecas sat on the east side of the fire, while the Cayugas and Oneidas sat on the west side. The Onondagas, who acted as mediators, sat between the two groups on the north side of the fire. Later in the 1700s the Tuscarora joined the Confederacy. Propositions were discussed and conclusions arrived at in three separate stages of debate. First, each delegation, or nation, discussed a proposition and came to a conclusion, so that it may speak with one voice. Second, the nation unit compared its conclusion with that of its brothers. For instance, the Senecas and the Mohawks would confer and the Oneidas and the Cayugas would also confer, in order that each side of the fire might speak with one voice. The Mohawks, as representing the elder nation of the Senecas, handed their joint decision of both the Senecas and Mohawks across the fire the Oneidas, who received it on behalf of the younger nations. If the younger nations agreed, it was handed back across the fire to the Mohawks, who announced the agreement to the Onondagas. If the Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas, and Cayuga are all agreed, then the Onondagas would declare the matter settled. If however, at any stage of this procedure, a stubborn disagreement encountered, the matter was returned for further study to the brotherhoods or to those individual nation units, depending upon the point in the line in which the break occurred. If, in the end, no agreement could be found, the Mohawks announced this fact to the Onondagas and they, through the voice of the Adodarhoh of the Onondagas, rendered a decision.
This social institution of these five nations is one of the most brilliant achievements of any government in history. Through their system of checks and balances, they were able to provide a democracy that was unequalled in the Old World and came to end with the European invasion of North America. Their strength lies in their statesmanship and their profound understanding of the principles of peace. There was even a provision in their constitution for war. It stated that a nation that warred against them would be warned three times in open council and if, after the third warning, they did not listen, the Iroquois would fight them until they were exterminated or gave up. Their weapons would then be taken away and they would then be adopted into the Confederation with the same rights and privileges of the rest of the Confederation. They could keep their religious beliefs, but were forbidden to ever mention their mother nation. There are records of over fifty different Native Nations, including the Dutch, French and English, who sought refuge and protection under the Confederation of these first five nations. At the time of European contact, they controlled a territory that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the Hudson Bay in Canada to North Carolina. When the white man and the first people of this land, now called North America, first met, they were utterly unlike the other.
The Two-Row Wampum Belt: Gus-Wen-Tah is the first Peace Treaty made with the Europeans. This belt symbolizes the agreement and conditions under which the Haudenosaunee and their neighbors would live in peace. In a book put out by Ray Fadden, called Wampum Belts, by Tehanetorens Six Nations Indian Museum Onchiota, New York, 12968--it says, "We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers." This wampum belt confirms our words. These two rows will symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel." The principles of the Two-Row Wampum became the basis for all treaties and agreements that were made with the Europeans and later the Americans.
In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River. It was shortly thereafter that they came in contact with the Mohawk Nation and other nations of the Haudenosaunee (six nations of Iroquois Confederation). The Mohawks viewed these first European people as being very strange looking. Their average height was about five feet; very light in complexion, and most of them had some sort of visible deformity. Many of them suffered from malnutrition or scurvy and other diseases, which were contracted on the ship that brought them to this country. It was the Native people who taught them to eat the right foods. Early missionaries described the Mohawks in general as very tall, lean, and muscular. This is also an accurate description in that their lifestyle was made up of many physical activities such as hunting, fishing, and farming. Their diets consisted of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, etc., along with the fish and meat. They were very healthy and spiritually empowered by Nature.
In their first days, they got along very well with one another. So well that the Dutch asked the Mohawks if they could buy a piece of land to live on and to grow some crops. The Mohawks tried to explain to them that they could not sell the land because it was impossible for anyone to own it because it belongs to those who have yet to come into this world. They did say that it might be possible for them to use a piece of the land, but they would have to go to a Grand Council meeting at which all the five nations of the Confederation would be present. The Mohawk Nation could then introduce the Dutch and they could request the use of a piece of land.
The Dutch made their request and the Chiefs asked how much land they would need. They replied that a piece of land the size of a cow's hide was sufficient. The Chiefs thought this a very strange request, but they where a strange looking people with funny ways. Their request was granted and shortly after this, some Mohawks went to see how the Dutch were marking off the land. It was noticed that they were using a much larger piece of land than they originally asked for. When the Dutch were asked to explain this, they brought out the cow's hide. It had been out into very thin strips and tied end to end. They then proceeded to unwind it and ran it out and around the land they were using.
When the Mohawks returned to the Grand Council and repeated what had taken place, it is said that the Chiefs roared with laughter over the size of that cow. They did learn how agreements would have to be defined. In time, the Dutch were growing very rapidly in number and they came back to the Grand Council meeting to ask for a larger piece of land. When the Chiefs asked how much more land they would need, they replied, "As much land as a man could travel on foot in one day". The Chiefs thought, "Here we go again. What are they up to?" They remembered how they had been hoodwinked the first time and that they should be a little more careful with these people. The chiefs knew a runner for the longhouse could travel 100 miles in one day, but the Dutch were not big or in very good health. After the Dutch had left the Council House that day, the Chiefs discussed how they had been hoodwinked the first time and that they should be a little more careful with these people. Decisions such as this were, for the most part, discussed over several meetings. What the Chiefs finally decided was that they would give the Dutch as much land as a man could travel over in one day from sun up until it went down. However, because it appeared that the population of Europeans was going to keep growing and they'd better record this agreement on Wampum Belts for all time to come.
It was in the springtime that they decided to measure off the land that was to be used. A number of the Chiefs went to watch the Dutch as they measured the land. At this meeting they told the Dutch that they should record this agreement and the Dutch agreed to record it on paper for themselves. As they wrote it out, they referred to the Native people as their sons and children. The Chiefs said, "You say that you are our father and we are your sons and children. We say that we will not be like a father and son because a father has a right to reprimand his son. Instead, we will be like brothers." So, on this spring day as the sun rose, the Dutch runners began to run. The Chiefs had men placed throughout the forest to watch the runners. They noticed that after a runner would run four or five miles, he would go into a area with woods and another person would come out running for awhile and so on throughout the day.
The Chiefs decided that this agreement was to be for all time to come, so they recorded this first agreement with the Dutch on wampum beads. The true wampum bead is made from the quahog or round clam shell found in the Atlantic coastal waters and Great Lakes. They were cylinder-shaped beads made about one-fourth inch long. They were two shades of colors, white and purple. They were strung on thread made of inner, twisted elm bark. Iroquois People used wampum for official purposes as well as religious ceremonies. So did many other Native people in the southeast of what is now called North America. White officials dealing with Native Nations also used wampum. Wampum belts served to record events and to bind treaties. Wampum strings served as credentials or as a certificate of authority. Wampum guaranteed a message or a promise. Belts were given and received at treaties as seals of friendship. Every law passed by the Iroquois Council was recorded with a certain string or belt of wampum. The Peacemaker and Hiawatha decreed and regulated its use. They taught the Five Nations that wampum should bring and bind peace and take the place of blood. The Onondaga Nations, keepers of the sacred fire, the Capitol, are the Keepers of the Wampum or Records.
When the English moved in and took the Dutch claims, the Iroquois took the Two Row Wampum to the English and recited it to a man named Sir William Johnson, who accepted it in the name of the Queen. A while later, it was recited to the French at a peace-making conference between the Iroquois, English, and French. The French people agreed to this agreement. It was read at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. When the Constitutional government was formed, it was recited to them and accepted by George Washington. This is the first of the political agreements between Native nations and European nations. The date this agreement took place for the first time with the Dutch was about 1618 to 1635.
With the use of the Wampum belts, it would symbolize both the sincerity and ethnicity of the oral traditions and agreements entered into. These oral traditions and legends are not only historically accurate, but also heavily relied on for inspiration and knowledge, which can be passed on to future generations. When the new councilor has taken his proper seat among the nobles of his nation, the wampum belts, which comprised the historical records of the federation, were produced and the officiating chief proceded to explain them, one by one, and the events signified by the wampum were fastened, by repeated iteration in the minds of the listeners. Those who doubt whether events, which occurred four centuries ago, can be remembered as clearly and minutely as they are now recited, would probably have their doubts removed when they consider the necessary operation of this custom.
Up until four years after Champlain had killed the three Iroquois leaders at Lake Champlain, the Iroquois had not tried to kill any Frenchmen leaders, though many of their own people had been murdered by the French. Patiently, they had waited to avenge the insults of Champlain and his people. Now that they had secured firearms, they felt strong enough to remedy this situation. They, however, did not attack the French right away. They first tried peaceful methods, as embodied in their Law of the Great Peace, before they finally took up arms. Remember that the Hurons, Montangnais, Abanakis, Mohicans, Susquehannocks and other Indian nations surrouding the Iroquois were armed by the French to strike at the Iroquois. Everywhere the Five Nations were on the defensive. The French made lavish use of gun and cannon in their efforts to destroy the Five Nations. The Jesuit missionaries were also greatly prejudiced against the Five Nations. Many believed that the cross in America could best be carried forward on the musket barrel and in their writings, they often expressed a desire for the complete extermination of the Five Nations. They never could quite comprehend the beautiful dream of Deganawida that all nations were welcome to take shelter beneath the great Tree of Peace, whites as well as Native peoples. The Five Nations long preserved hopes that they might bring the French, as well as the English, under the Tree of Peace, as they often called the Great Law. Even after they had secured firearms, they used restraint and tried reason rather than force with these northern invaders The lofty dream of world union, of universal law, of settling disputes by council rather than by force, was always in the hearts of the five nation leaders. Before war with any foreign people, the Iroquois always (even though they could destroy that people) sat down in common council with that nation and tried to use reason and peaceful methods to make them see the light. Before hostilities actually started, the Five Nations always warned the foreign nation three times in open council to cease using force to gain their ends. If, after that third council, that foreign nation still insisted upon using war or force to gain their ends, they got no other chance. The war belt was thrown at their feet and war between that nation and the Iroquois then started and did not stop until that nation was conquered or gave up. The war then stopped immediately. These conquered people were not all killed off or tortured, as often stressed in the books of white writers, only in extreme cases when they deserved it. They were taken in by the Iroquois, adopted, given land once adopted, secured the same rights as any other Iroquois. This restraint of the Iroquois, often recorded by the French, was called by the missionaries some act of God in French behalf, and it saved the French many times. The French missionaries recorded of this, "It is a kind of miracle that the Iroquois, although able to destroy us so easily, have not yet done so." The French and their missionaries failed to grasp the meaning of the Great Peace of the Iroquois. It was too far ahead of their time. Only recently in today’s United Nations has the white man’s political thinking caught up with the idea of the great dream of the Iroquois Tree of Peace with branches broad enough to shelter all of the nations of the earth.
The Five Nations tried peaceful methods at first, and, when that failed, war was inevitable. French and English colonies depended upon the fur trade for their existence. The war parties of the Iroquois practically put an end to fur trade. In one fight with the French, the Iroquois invaded the Island of Montreal and had wiped out every Frenchman in the entire colony who had not secured protection in the fort there at the time. During the wars in Europe between the French and the English, these two nations, who had colonies in America, spared no effort to get the different Indian nations in America to fight against their rivals in the New World. Both the French and the English cast greedy eyes on the lands of the Iroquois. Both claimed the Iroquois Country as their own. The Iroquois never admitted that either the French or the English had any claim over them or their territory, (in part of a speech, an Iroquois speaker told Governor Fletcher of Albany, in May, 1694, "You say that we are subjects to the King of England and the Duke of York. We say we are brethren, and take care of ourselves." Again this Iroquois speaker informed the English governor, "The privilege of meeting in General Council when we please is a privilege we always have enjoyed. We planted a tree of Peace in this place with them. Its roots and branches extend to all people who had peace in their heart."
The English governor encouraged the Five Natins to attack the French and their allies. The French, likewise, encouraged their Indian neighbors to attack the English and the Iroquois, the unfortunate Iroquois, whose confederacy had been formed to bring about peace among all peoples, tried in vain to get the French and the English to cease warfare and invited them to take shelter beneath their Tree of Peace. Their efforts were wasted. The Five Nations, living between these two white colonies, realized that they were being used as tools, and between all of the wars between the war-like Europeans, they , the Iroquois, were the main ones to suffer. Because of the various wars between the white races who had colonies in Amereica, they, the Five Nations Iroquois, as a people, were to dwindle to less than half of their original number. Yet, they stuck to their treaty with the English and, after their vain attempt at peace, continued to spread terror among the French until that people were defeated. Today we would be speaking French instead of English if it were not for the Five Nations who drove the French almost completely out of North America. All English colonies had much to thank the Iroquois for protection against the French and their allies.
In October of 1988, the United States Congress and Senate passed a Concurrent Resolution asserting that the confederation of the original thirteen colonies into one republic was "influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself." There is evidence that suggests George Washington, Madison and Franklin took more than just the idea of democracy from the Iroquois, in addition, the democratic values such as free expression, and representative government with systems of checks and balances (Arden, 1987). On June 11,1776, Iroquois forest diplomats attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Congress President John Hancock welcomed them as "brothers", recognizing the long and friendly dialogue between the colonials and Iroquois on freedom, and democracy, law, and government. The Onondaga Chief who led the Iroquois ambassadors bestowed on John Hancock the name Karandawan, which means "Great Tree". For many years the Haudenosaunee counseled the colonists in the art of Union, urging them to unite and finally, a government was formed.
The Tree of Peace became a symbol of an emerging United States government. The White Pine became the Liberty Tree displayed on colonial flags. The "Eagle-that-sees-far" became the American Eagle, still a symbol of American government. In the Peacemaker Legend, five arrows were bundled together to represent the strength through unity of the Five united nations. Today, on the U.S. Great Seal, the American Eagle clutches a bundle of 13 arrows representing the original colonies. American government was patterned after the Haudenosaunee, where all the people used to be represented. As the Tree of Peace became a unique symbol of government that has roots in the natural world, not human cleverness or power. The White Pine is rooted in the Earth, The Great Law of Peace expresses a view of Law and Government as expressions of natural order. To the Iroquois, Peace is Law--they use the same word for both concepts. Peace is also religion--the marriage of spirituality with politics, of Righteousness and Justice. It's not an abstract idea, but a way of life based on wisdom, graciousness, and respect for Mother Earth and "all our relations".
All Americans had much to thank the Iroquois for protection against the French and their Indian allies. There is all truth in a statement by the Onondaga Council to the Governor of New York concerning this Iroquois protection: (Brother Cayeguirago (Go. Fletcher): When the Christians first arrived in this country, we received them kindly. When they were but a small people, we entered into a league with them, to guard them from all enemies whatsoever. We were so fond of their society that we tied the great canoe which brought them, not with a rope of bark to a tree, but with a strong iron chain fastened to a great mountain. Now, before the Christians arrived, the general Council of the Five Natins was held at Onondaga, where there has been from the beginning, a continual fire kept burning: it is made of two great logs, whose flames never extinguish. As soon as the hatchet-makers (Christans) arrived, the Great Council at Onondaga planted a tree at Albany whose roots and branches have since s reathing. Many a poor white settler was aided by these first Americans. They were shown how to find food in the forest, and who gave them of their own stores of food, that the little colony survived. When they were hungry and their little ones cried for bread, it was the Iroquois who gave them meat, corn and fish. The English and Dutch settlers were likewise aided by the Iroquois. Says a historan, Francis Drake, of the Iroquois, " Brave in war, mild in peace, and hospitable under all circumstances, no visitor or wayfarer, white or red, ever entered their cabins with out having his wants supplied and being kindly put on his track."
The Moravian missionary, Rev. John Heckewelder, who labored among the eastern Indians (1762) says of Iroquois hospitality, " they think that the Great Spirit made the earth and all that it contains for the common good of mankind: when he stacked the country that be gave them, with plenty of game, it was not for the benefit of the few, but for all. Everything was given them, with plenty of game, it was not for the benefit of the few, but for all. Everything was given in common for the good of men. From this principle, hospitality flows as from its source. With them it is not a virtue, but a strict duty. Hence they are never in search of excuses to avid giving, but freely support their neighbor’s wants from the stock prepared for their own use. They give and are hospitable to all without exception, and will always share with each other and with the stranger, even to their last morsel. They rather would lie down themselves on an emty stomach than have it laid to their charge that they had neglected their duty by not satisfying the wants of the stranger, the sick or the needy".
Danassatego, a noted Iroquois, once told the English that the Great Spirit long ago had said to his Fathers: "Nourish and instruct your children as I have nourished and instructed you. Be just to all men, and kind to strangers that come among you. So shall ye be happy and be loved by all and I myself shall sometimes visit and assist you." At many different times in their history, the Iroquois adopted and gave lands to refugee and homeless people. The Oneidas Brothertons and Canestagas were among such adopted peoples. The Oneidas gave the Tuscaroras lands between the Unadillal and Chenango River. The Mohekunnuks were given lands a few miles south of Oneida Castle, south of Clinton, N.Y. The New England refugees were given land and protection. Numbers of Minnisinks, Delawates, Nanticokes, Saponi, Miami, and many others found homes in Iroquois country. There are records of over thirty-nine different Indian peoples who found peace and shelter beneath the Iroquois Tree of Preace and most of them eventually became Iroquois citizens.
Acts of hospitality and kindness were not the only gifts of the Indian and particularly the Iroquois, to the people from across the waters. Says De. William B. Newell, noted anthropologist and historian, of the way of life of the Iroquois and its effect upon the early aliens coming to these shores from Europe, "We know that many Iroquois sociological and philosophical ideas were taken to Europe with the first contact made with the American Indian. After the first 250 years, sufficient exchange had taken place to definitely establish new cultural traits which have given birth to new ideas here to fore unknown in the Old world. A discussion of the moral and ethical values of Indian culture would require a volume in itself. Indian political theories as embraced in the League of the Iroquois are important and stand out in marked contrast to the European theory of the "Divine Right of Kings" which flourished in Europe at the time of the discovery of America. The individual rights of man were recognized in Americas long before the Europeans awakened to this political philosophy. Ideas of freedom, liberty and equality existed and were engraved in the hearts of the Iroquois when Europeans were boiled or roasted alive for daring to speak against the State or church. One of the outstanding differences between the European and the American Indian was the fact that in America there are those who would shape our opinions if they could. Governor Cadwaller Colden, who wrote the first American history in 1727, some fifty years before the Revolutionary War, tells us that these (Iroquois) men were elected on the basis of their merit, because of their honesty and integrity, and that they were usually the poorest men in the nation: never keeping anything for themselves, but distributing all annuties and monies equally among the people. It was from this first history that the early colonists were informed that here existed a true democracy. Present day Americans are doing these Iroquois Indian things which were strange to them before coming to the "land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Among the Iroquois, dictators were unknown. No man could tell another what he must do. Every man and every woman was allowed freedom of expression. Every person was allowed to decide for himself what he or she should do. Even the sachems and chiefs suggested but never commanded or insisted too strongly. To do such a thing would immediately lower them in the estimation of the people and cause their removal from office. "We counsel together" was a famous phrase of the Iroquois. Felis S. Cohen, deceased, but formerly of the U.S. Dept. of Interior once said "Out of America came a vision of a Utopia and particularly from the Iroquois Government, where all men might be free, where government might rest upon the consent of the governed, rather than upon the divine right of kings or religious leaders, where no man might be dispossessed of the land he used for his sustenance. Politically, there was nothing in the kingdoms and empires of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries to equal the democratic Constitution of the Iroquois, with its provisions for initiative, referendum, and recall, and its universal suffrage for women as well as men. American Democracy, freedom and tolerance are more American than European and have deep aboriginal roots in our land. Francisco Vitoria, teacher of moral theology at the University of Salamanca, in 1532 and Hugo Grotius, both weavers of the fabric of international law, were deeply influenced by Indian examples of just government.
Is it any wonder that the greatest teachers of American democracy have gone to school with the First Nation people. It was the great Iroquois chief, Canasatego, who gave the American colonists some advice which was one of the first steps in the long story of the American Revolution. It was this chief who said to the colonial governors meeting at Lancaster in 1774: "Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations. We are a powerful confederacy: and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such strenth and power. Therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another." Franklin plainly had the Iroquois Confederation in mind when he drew up his plan of union to be presented at the Albany Congress. The author of our first Bill of Rights freely acknowledged his debt to Indian teachers. Comparing the freedom of Indian society with the oppression of European society, Thomas Jefferson struck the keynote of the great Amereican experiment in democracy."
Said the Commissioners from Congress (General Schuyler) to the Six Nation Coucil, August 25, 1775: :Our wise forefathers said to one another. The Six Nations are a wise people. Let us hearken to them, and take their counsel, and teach our children to follow it. Our old men have done so. They have frequently taken a single arrow and said, "Children, see how easy it is broken." Then they have taken and tied thirteen arrows together with a strong string, and our strongest men could not break them. See said they, that is what the Six Nations mean. Divided, a single man may destroy you. United, you are a match for the whole world.
SOME OF THESE ARE EXCERPTS OF DISCUSSIONS BETWEEN BILL FOOTE AND RAY FADDEN AT THE SIX NATIONS INDIAN MUSEUM, ONCHIOTA, NEW YORK. THERE IS MORE TO COME.