Native American Heritage: Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy

Image from friducation.com

"Their constitution, recorded and kept alive on a two row wampum belt, held many concepts familiar to Americans today"

NPR, December 2018

Much has been said about the inspiration of the ancient Iroquois “Great League of Peace” in planting the seeds that led to the formation of the United States of America and its representative democracy.

The Iroquois Confederacy, founded by the Great Peacemaker in 11421, is the oldest living participatory democracy on earth2. In 1988, the U.S. Senate paid tribute with a resolution3 that said, "The confederation of the original 13 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."

The peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations, refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, (pronounced "hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee"). It means “peoples of the longhouse,” and refers to their lengthy bark-covered longhouses that housed many families. Theirs was a sophisticated and thriving society of well over 5,000 people when the first European explorers encountered them in the early seventeenth century.

The Iroquois Confederacy originally consisted of five separate nations – the Mohawks, who call themselves Kanienkehaka, or "people of the flint country,” the Onondaga, “people of the hills,” the Cayuga, “where they land the boats,” the Oneida, “people of the standing stone,” and the Seneca, “thepeople of the big hill” living in the northeast region of North America. The Tuscarora nation, “people of the shirt,” migrated into Iroquois country in 1722.

“The Great Peacemaker4 brought peace to the five nations,” explains Oren Lyons in a 1991 interview with Bill Moyers. Lyons is the faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations, and a member of both the Onondaga and Seneca nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

At that time, the nations of the Iroquois had been enmeshed in continuous inter-tribal conflicts. The cost of war was high and had weakened their societies. The Great Peacemaker and the wise Hiawatha, chief of the Onondaga tribe, contemplated how best to bring peace between the nations. They traveled to each of the five nations to share their ideas for peace.

A council meeting was called, and Hiawatha presented the Great Law of Peace. It united the five nations into a League of Nations, or the Iroquois Confederacy, and became the basis for the Iroquois Confederacy Constitution5.

“Each nation maintained its own leadership, but they all agreed that common causes would be decided in the Grand Council of Chiefs,” Lyons said6. “The concept was based on peace and consensus rather than fighting." ...
Read full article at NPR

Comments