150+ Canadians Day 88: Great Law of Peace

The Great Law of Peace contributed to peace as core principle of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which has and will influence policies for generations to come. #Canada150

A map showing the rough area covering the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – from TransformationDay.info

Among the Haudenosaunee – that is to say the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, the Oneida and the Tuscarora, the Great Law of Peace is the oral constitution of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Dekanawidah, known as The Great Peacemaker (born near the Bay of Quinte, in southeastern Ontario, Canada in the mid 1400s), and his spokesman Hiawatha.

When peace had successfully been spread among the five nations and the strength of unity recognized, the people gathered together to celebrate. They uprooted a white pine tree and threw their weapons into the hole. They replanted the tree on top of the weapons and named it the Tree of Peace, which symbolizes the Great Law of Peace that the Haudenosaunee came to live by. The four main roots of the Tree of Peace represent the four directions and the paths of peace that lead to the heart of Haudenosaunee territory, where all who want to follow the Great Law of Peace are welcome. At the top of the Tree of Peace is an eagle, guardian of the Haudenosaunee and messenger to the Creator.

Illustration of the Tree of Peace (click to enlarge)

The Great Law of Peace rested on principles foreign to western nations of the day. It considered leaders to be the servants of the people, rather than their masters, and included provisions for their impeachment should it become necessary. Freedom of expression in political and religious matters was promoted, and the unauthorized entry of homes forbidden. It was ahead of the European laws in valuing the political participation of women and the relatively equitable distribution of wealth. It could be argued that the early colonists’ interactions with First Nations peoples and their understanding of Haudenosaunee government exerted some influence on the development of the U.S. constitution as well as the Suffragette movement.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy thrives today and continues to enjoy the support of the Six Nations as their representative government even though an elective system was established in 1924.

For more information, visit the Haundenosaunee Confederacy website.

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