HAUDENOSAUNEE - THE GREAT LAW OF PEACE
THE FORMATION OF THE CONFEDERACY
The forty-nine men plus Tadodarho are the chosen leaders of the Confederacy, and were given the title of "Hoyaneh", which means the caretaker of the peace. Each represented the Clans of their Nations. The Mohawks have nine Chiefs; the Oneidas have nine Chiefs; the Onondagas have thirteen plus Tadodarho; the Cayugas have ten Chiefs; and the Senecas have eight. All Hoyaneh hold the same position, and no one has more power than the other.
The Chiefs all gathered around the Great Pine Tree that the Peacemaker would call the Tree of Peace. This symbolizes the strength and protection that is offered through the unity of the Five Nations to accept the Great Law of Peace. The Great Law of Peace is the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy.
"Haudenosaunee", means "People of the Longhouse." This metaphor came from the Peacemaker's vision of all the members being united as one family, living under one roof and with one mind. This stretches from East to West, across the Territory of the Five Nations.
Each Nation has a specific identity and specific duties within the Confederacy:
Mohawk Nation - Keepers of the Eastern Door
Seneca Nation - Keepers of the Western Door
Onondaga Nation - Firekeepers
Tuscarora Nation (joined in 1722)
According to tradition, the Great Law of Peace brought order and structure to the decision making in Grand Council. It stresses a principle of consensus rather than majority rule. When a decision is made, it is supported by all with no dissention.
Before an issue can be discussed in Grand Council, the Firekeepers decide whether it is suitable for debate. The Elder Brothers then introduce it into the Grand Council. Once they reach an agreement on the issue, it is then presented to the Younger Brothers. They in turn discuss the issue until they reach an agreement. Once they reach an agreement, their decision is announced to the Elder Brothers. If the Elder Brothers agree with the Younger Brothers, the Elder Brothers will then present the decision to the Firekeepers. The Firekeepers must make sure that the decision does not violate any rules or laws. Then the decision is brought to the people. If it so happens that the Firekeepers find a problem with the issue, it is returned to the Elder Brothers and the process is repeated. The process is repeated up to three times. If after three times a decision cannot be reached it must be sent back for further examination, or it must be presented in another way.
The Chiefs of the League of Five Nations are the mentors of the people. They were instructed by the Peacemaker to regard courage, patience, and honesty and virtues foremost in their responsibilities. They were instructed to think of the future welfare of the people when making their decisions. They have to consider the impact their decisions make on the seventh generation yet unborn, and their skins must be seven spans thick to ward off anger, criticism, and any offensive actions. It is because of this long range thinking that the Haudenosaunee survived with a deep respect for the past and healthy regard for the future.
According to tradition, it is said that while they were assembled in a circle around the Tree of Peace, the Peacemaker instructed them to go into the woods until he saw an animal. This animal would then be the Clan totem on the Condolence cane for that Chief. Each Title within the Haudenosaunee belongs to a Clan. Because Tadodarho's position belongs to all of the people, he holds no Clan.
The Clan System revolves around the women, giving them equal rights in the society. The Clan Mother is responsible for the welfare of the Clan which includes: arranging and approving marriages, naming the children with a Clan name, assist in resolving family disputes, and selecting the male leaders of the Clan. The authority to remove a Hoyaneh lies with the women. Three warnings are given to the Hoyaneh, and if he does not agree to correct his actions, his deer antlers are removed. (Deer antlers are a sign of his position). Women leaders also supervised the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of the crops.
The Great Law also confirmed what is known today as "human rights", or the individuals freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom from subjugation and the democratic concept of the will of the people as the ruling authority. The Leaders are directly responsible to the people, and if they failed to perform for the benefit of the people, they were removed.
Once established, the Haudenosaunee began carrying the message of peace to other Nations. The Haudenosaunee relied on a process of negotiation and mediation before any military tactics were employed. All avenues of peace were exhausted before any acts of aggression took place. Under the principles of the Great Law of Peace, conflicts are the last resort. History states that Indigenous Nations waged war against other Indigenous Nations, this is historically correct, however, they were not without reason. When the Haudenosaunee went to war and won, the defeated Nation was allowed to retain its culture and way of life under one important condition. They were never allowed to war again against its neighbors. By the mid-1600's, the Haudenosaunee had many allies and many enemies. Many Indigenous Nations share the protection offered by the Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee influence was felt as far north as James Bay, in Quebec, and as far south as the Carolinas, and as far west as the Mississippi River.
The Great Law of Peace offered a unique framework to resolving differences intertribally and in the Haudenosaunee it created a diplomatic unity that would greatly affect the history and culture of Europeans in North America.