Simply put the Great Law of Peace (180kb/2sec) is the founding constitution of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and is the underlying basis for Haudenosaunee society. Originally it outlined the path to harmony and unity among the warring nations and set out a proper form of government which allowed for the ideas of peace (124kb/1sec) , power and righteousness.
Throughout its verses it explains the function of the Grand Council and outlines a plan for nations to resolve disputes and uphold the peace. It outlines all processes which may face the Haudenosaunee as explained by the Peacemaker. Leadership within the system is from the ground up making the leaders truly accountable to their people. It outlines the responsibilities of all Chiefs as well as the method of impeachment in the event that a Chief does not perform his duties to the satisfaction of his people.
Within the text it also highlights many of the symbols of the Haudenosaunee including the Great Tree of Peace (227kb/2sec) . As a symbol of peace all the Chiefs stand around it in a circle, arms linked, to support it and prevent it from falling over. Atop the tree sits an eagle to see far and wide and warn of danger.
Because Haudenosaunee history is an oral history there have been many versions of the Great Law written. It is shared from generation to generation through oral tradition using a series of wampum belts, held by the confederacy, to help to share the story. No one version of the Great Law is preferred over another as all the same themes still exist to emphasize its main principles.
Outlined in the Great Law, also known as Gayanashagowa or The Great Binding Law, are many of the teachings provided by the Peacemaker. Within the text are three main principles which stand out to govern the rest: peace (124kb/1sec) , power and righteousness. Each principle depends on the other to support the framework of the constitution. The peace element signifies ones own peace and being of a good mind and the ability to use our minds to negotiate rather than going to war. In order to have peace one must have balance in their life with health of mind and body. This peace allows one the good mind needed for the next principle, power.
Again power does not necessarily mean having power over another. Among the Haudenosaunee, power (177kb/2sec) comes from unity for there is strength in numbers. Living a family based existence with unity at its core, the power comes from the unity of each nation into a family. Like the symbol of the five arrows bound together, singularly we are easily broken but together we are unbreakable. Being of a good mind one is able to use reason in their decisions and respect this power.
The Haudenosaunee believe that the Creator has for us all a life path and a responsibility. It is by achieving these goals outlined for us that we gain the final principle of righteousness. Righteousness is found through living a proper life and following the will of the Creator as set out in the original instructions.
The main idea is that peace is the overall will of the Creator and using the tools of peace, power and righteousness it can be attained.
Born of a Huron virgin, The Peacemaker, a man whose name is never spoken other than under special circumstances as a mark of respect, was the main figure in the Confederation story. Labeled the Peacemaker, and only called such now by the Haudenosaunee people, his story really began when he left the Huron people.
Prophesizing that a baby would be born that would be indirectly responsible for the fall of the nation his grandmother decided to destroy the child. Three times she tried to drown him but each morning upon waking up she would find him nestled safely in his mother’s arms. Realizing they could not defeat the prophesy they raised him as best they could.
Growing up he was an outsider because he talked only of peace, friendship and unity. He also caused resentment and jealousy among his people because he offered advice on how to live and govern themselves. Finally he told his mother and grandmother that it was time for him to embark on his journey and crafted a canoe out of white stone and crossed Lake Ontario.
He first happened upon a party of hunters who doubted his abilities. After proving to them his powers he shared with them the word of peace and encouraged them to spread the message among their people. Leaving them he traveled further and happened upon the house of a woman along the hunting path. She provided him with food and accepted the message he shared. Because of her acceptance the Peacemaker declared that when the nations were united it would be the women who would possess the titles of chieftainship and impart them on the men.
He then entered Mohawk territory and set up camp at the edge. Alerted of his presence the leaders of the Mohawks approached him to find his intent. When approached he proclaimed himself to be sent by the Creator to establish a great peace. The five nations, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca had long been in a circle of hate and war, constantly battling each other. The Peacemaker shared with them a plan to unite the nations and bring about peace.
Adopted into the Mohawk nation, it is among them that he met Ayonwatha, meaning “he gets up early”, commonly known as Hiawatha. While mourning the loss of his daughters Ayonwatha (146kb/1sec) stumbled upon the Mohawk territory. Brought to the Peacemaker, Ayonwatha was consoled for his loss and his sorrow was removed to allow his mind the capability of accepting the message of peace. Ayonwatha joined him in his quest and aided him in uniting the five nations. Ayonwatha spoke for him as the Peacemaker had a speech impediment.
Traveling from nation to nation Ayonwatha and the Peacemaker shared their message and one by one each decided to join except the Onondaga. Finally, after healing the mind of Todaharo, a powerful shaman, the Peacemaker broke down the resistance of the Onondaga nation and succeeded in uniting the five nations. The Peacemaker placed antlers on each of the leaders heads to signify their authority within the confederacy and henceforth making them chiefs and taught them the Great Law (180kb/2sec) .