Chapter 6; THE GREAT LAW OF PEACE
The Confederacy arose centuries ago among separate warring communities as a way to create harmony, unity and respect among human beings. Implicit to Iroquois political philosophy is a commitment to the highest principles of human Liberty, where laws in recognition of individual liberty and justice surpasses any European parallel. Faithkeeper, Oren Lyons, an Onondaga, states that "the Great Law of Peace includes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right of women to participate in government. Separation of power in government and checks and balances within governments are traceable to our Iroquois Constitution, ideas learned by colonists". The central idea underlying Iroquois political philosophy is that Peace is the will of the Creator and the ultimate spiritual goals and natural order among humans. The principles of Iroquois government embodied in the great law of peace or transmitted by a historical figure called the Peacemaker, his teachings emphasize the power of reason to insure righteousness, justice and health among humans. Peace came to the Iroquois not through war and conquest but through the exercise of reason guided by the spiritual mind. The Iroquois League is based not on force of arms or rule of law but spiritual concepts of natural law applied to human society. By David Yarrow
At the planting of a Tree of Peace in Philadelphia in 1986, Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp explained, "in the beginning when our Creator made humans, everything needed to survive was provided. Our Creator asked only one thing, never forget to appreciate the gifts of Mother Earth. Our people were instructed how to be grateful and how to survive."
When the people forgot the Original instructions to survive, there was a dark age of war, and injustice.
"The creator sent a Peacemaker with a message to be Righteous and Just and make a good future for our children, seven generations to come. He called all warring people together and told them as long as there was killing there would be no peace of mind. There must be an effort by humans for peace to prevail. Through logic, reasoning and spiritual renewal, he inspired the Warriors to bury their weapons, and atop planted a Tree of Peace.”
Legend of the Peacemaker and the Founding of the Great Law of Peace
A long time ago an event took place on the shores of Onondaga Lake in upstate New York that was to have far reaching effects even to this day. The event took place long before written history, long before Europeans came to America. It was so paramount in fact that we can envision all of creation being present.
There was much bloodshed among the five separate warring nations that the people lived in fear of death. Everywhere there was death, mourning and pain, the people had no hope. The Peacemaker, born of a virgin, heard of the distress of the people and was sent by the Creator to put an end to war. He held the Vision for Peace on Earth.
Traveling from nation to nation he first came to a house where a woman lived on the path between the warring nations. As she listened to the Peacemaker speak of his idea of peace, a seed was planted in her mind and she took hold of the idea saying, "I agree with you, this is indeed good news that you bring." Because she was the first person to take hold of the idea of Peace the Peacemaker honored her as the Mother of Nations and therefore the clan mother's held the honored position of holding the titles for the Chiefs and appointing new chiefs.
Again the Peacemaker set out to spread the good news from nation to nation saying, "tell your Chiefs the Peace is on its way.” In the wilderness, the Peacemaker met Hiawatha, an Onondaga chief who was grieving the loss of his daughters. His mind was bent low in sorrow as he built a fire each night he wove words into wampum saying, “if only there was someone to console me with these words, I could get my mind up and see the light of a new day". Hearing the words of Hiawatha, the Peacemaker came and speaking the words of condolence held in the wampum, he dried the tears from Hiawatha's eyes using the white fawn skin, wiping away the clouds from his mind, so he could think clearly once again. As Hiawatha listened, he took hold of the idea that there is no death. The Peacemaker honored Hiawatha, the man of fire, to be his speaker and together they sent out word to all First Nation peoples to gather on the shores of Onondaga Lake to await the Great Peace that was coming.
The event was so great in time that it took many days for the multitude to gather around their council fires on the shores of Onondaga, the animals too drawing near. Legend states that as the people gathered awaiting the arrival of Hiawatha a great darkness came over the sky blocking out the smiling face of the Great Spirit or the Sun. Arriving in his mystical canoe made of white granite, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha arrived on the third day. There were reports of a sound of great wings flapping overhead but because of the darkness, people could not see and fear surrounded them.
The Peacemaker gathered all the people who were at war in a great circle around the tree of War. Selecting the Great White Pine of the North East woodland he then uprooted the tree and instructed the people to bury all their weapons beneath the upturned roots. A stream ran beneath and washed the weapons away so that future generations would never pick them up again. Then the tree was made to stand upright, it became the Tree of Peace with white roots spreading in the four directions. Placing the eagle at the top of the tree, the people were to be like the tree made upright in the Law, and to use the high mind of the Creator, like the Eagle that sits on top of the tree. Appealing to the highest and clearest thinking of the Chiefs of the five nations, the only evil blocking the formation of the Confederacy was Atotaro, an Onondaga chief whose mind was so twisted that it was as snakes growing out of his head and his body had 7 crooks in it. To complete the peace meant all of the people must put their minds together in agreement for peace. To bring about the new man the new mind in Atotaro meant that the Peacemaker and Hiawatha by singing the song of peace so perfectly as to reach deep into the heart of the man and by appealing to his high mind, the spirit of the man, bring about the new being. Together the Peacemaker and Hiawatha traveled to where Atotaro was waiting for them; the Peacemaker sang the song of peace and Hiawatha explained the words of the Law, so that the spirit and the Law worked together bringing about the change of mind in Atotaro.
Traveling in the Whitestone canoe, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha set out to persuade Atotaro of the Great Peace. The Peacemaker singing the peace hymn and Hiawatha holding the wampum in his hand, thus the words of the Law were spoken:
Moving swiftly, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha returned to the awaiting Chiefs, saying, "come quickly, the time is now arriving on the shore where Atotaro was waiting. The Peacemaker explained, “here is power, these are the five nations, their strength is greater than your strength but their voice shall be your voice when you speak in Council, and all men will hear you, this will be your strength in the future, the Will of a United People." then the mind of Atotaro was made straight and Hiawatha combed the snakes out of his hair, the Peacemaker laid his hand on his head and said, " the work is finished, your mind is made straight your head is now combed, the seven crooks have been taken from your body, now you have a new mind, now you will henceforth preside over the Council, and shall strive in all ways to make Reason and the Peaceful Mind prevail. Your voice will be the voice of the Great Law. All men will hear you and find Peace. “Then the Peacemaker placed the antlers on the heads of the chiefs in sign of their authority and gave them the words of the Law”.
Quotes from White Roots of Peace, by Paul Wallace
Significance of the Great Law of Peace
Perhaps it was at that time when the Great Peace was established that the disc blocking the sun moved, and the Light of a new Dawn for the Human being and for all the sacred circle of life. The Tree of evil was uprooted and the Great Law of Peace, was planted in the Planetary heart and consciousness of Mother Earth.
Using nature and the atmosphere of the forest to set the pattern for peace, life, unity and equality for eternity, the Peacemaker continued. Holding the Sacred Wampum in his hand, he gave the condolence of the confederate lords appointed as chiefs to represent the 5 nations. Stating, "the designs signify the fourteen sachems who are the keepers of the Central Council Fire of the Five Nations Confederacy and it shall be the duty of Tadodaho, the principal Onondaga Chief and his colleges to be the keepers of the Great Council at Onondaga.". The Central Council fire symbolized the Fire that never dies, the eternal flame of love that is the spiritual essence or "orenda" residing in the heart of every human being.
Continuing, the Peacemaker spread out a great white belt of wampum under the Tree of Peace, signifying Purity and Peace. And a great wing to use whenever any evil approaches the great white wampum, the great wing will be used to sweep it away.
Continuing, the Peacemaker said, "Now we shall combine our individual power into ONE GREAT POWER which is the Confederacy. And we shall symbolize the union of these powers by each Nation contributing one arrow which we shall tie together in a bundle which when it is made and tied together, no one can bend or break."
Therefore, bringing the people together in a Circle, the Peacemaker continued, "You Chiefs shall be symbolized as Trees of the Five Confederate Nations. We therefore bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other's hands firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree shall fall on it, it could neither shake nor break it, and thus our people and our children and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness"
"And if any chief who is crowned with the emblem of the Deer's horns shall break through this circle of unity, his horns shall become fastened in the circle, and if he shall go through it, the horns shall remain in the circle and he shall no longer be a chief. You chiefs shall always be guided in all your councils and deliberations by the good tidings of Peace and Power. You chiefs of the different nations of the confederacy, I charge you to cultivate the good feelings of friendship, love and honor among yourselves. I have now fulfilled my duty in assisting you in the establishment and pattern of the Confederacy, and if this confederation is carefully guarded it shall continue and endure from generation to generation and as long as the sun shines."
"The pure white wampum strings will be the emblem of the Council Fire and it shall be that when the firekeepers open the council, he will pick up this string of wampum and hold it on his hand while he is offering thanksgiving to the Great Ruler of the Heavens. (The Formal Thanksgiving Address is offered before and after every council meeting.) And there will be a custom that whenever the annual confederate council meets, we will smoke the pipe of Peace."
"The Pattern for Peace given first Nations People by the Peacemaker is rich with symbolism. The Circle represents the Universe and all sacred life forms, within the circle all the kingdoms of Nature are represented as sacred, each with it'[s sacred point of view. The Peacemaker set a foundation for Peace based on Communication. That by putting their minds together as the "One Mind of Creator" all problems could be solved through reasoning. As agreement is reached, the identification becomes one of Peace."
"The Great Peace was founded upon the sovereignty of a common Law of Truth, as statesmanship lies in the Will of the People for Peace. First United Nations people were united in spirit for the purpose of Peace on Earth. Given the sacred duty as Peacekeepers, their function was to maintain the Peace in their own Six Nations while extending the Peace to all Nations". Through their ceremonies, they maintain the balance of the Earth by reciting the Thanksgiving Address, giving thanks to the Earth and giving thanks to their Creator and acknowledging the Creator's Law of ONE.
Quotes from: “Great Law of Peace” by Yvonne and Jacob Thomas Dec. 14, 1990