Called the Iroquois Confederacy by the French, and the League of Five Nations by the English, the confederacy is properly called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy meaning People of the long house. The confederacy was founded by the prophet known as the Peacemaker with the help of Aionwatha, more commonly known as Hiawatha. The exact date of the joining of the nations is unknown and said to be time immemoriall making it one of the first and longest lasting participatory democracies in the world.
The confederacy, made up of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas was intended as a way to unite the nations and create a peaceful means of decision making. Through the confederacy, each of the nations of the Haudenosaunee are united by a common goal to live in harmony. Each nation maintains it own council with Chiefs chosen by the Clan Mother and deals with its own internal affairs but allows the Grand Council to deal with issues affecting the nations within the confederacy.
The Haudenosaunee symbol of the long house, provided by the Peacemaker, is recognized in traditional geographic locations. Upon confederation each nation took on a role within the metaphorical longhouse with the Onondaga being the Keepers of the Fire. The Mohawk, Seneca and Onondaga acted as the Elder Brothers of the confederacy while the Cayuga and Oneida were the Younger Brothers within Grand Council. The main meeting place was and still exists today on Onondaga territory.
Often described as the oldest, participatory democracy on Earth, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s constitution is believed to be a model for the American Constitution. What makes it stand out as unique to other systems around the world is its blending of law and values. For the Haudenosaunee, law, society and nature are equal partners and each plays an important role
The Haundenosaunee Confederacy has been in place since time immemorial. The Peacemaker was sent by the Creator to spread the Kariwiio or “good mind ”. With the help of Aiionwatha commonly known as Hiawatha, the Peacemaker taught the laws of peace to the Haudenosaunee. Travelling from community to community they both succeeded in persuading the Chiefs of each nation to join in the Great League of Peace and founded the only government with a direct connection to the Creator.
Asking the Clan Mothers of each tribe to present their Chiefs, he placed deer antlers on each of their heads to symbolize their authority to the five nations. The Mohawks had nine Chiefs of the bear, wolf and turtle clans, the Oneida also had nine of the bear, wolf and turtle clans, Onondaga presented 14 of the turtle, snipe, bear, hawk, deer, wolf, eel, and beaver clans, Cayuga had 10 from the heron, deer, turtle, bear and snipe clans and finally Seneca presented eight Chiefs from the bear, snipe, turtle, wolf and eagle clans.
The Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Onondaga accepted the long house as a symbol of their unity. In the Onondaga community the Peacemaker planted a tree naming it the Great Tree of Peace. He directed the Chiefs of the council to sit beneath the shade of the tree and watch the council fire of the confederacy of the five nations. He told them that all issues concerning the confederacy would be discussed and deliberated under this tree.
The roots outstretching from the tree reached north, south, east and west and were labeled the Great White Roots. The Peacemaker declared that any nation choosing to follow the guidelines of the Great Peace should follow the Great White Roots and make themselves known to the Chiefs of the confederacy. If they promised to obey the laws of peace they would be welcomed beneath the shade of the tree.
Above the tree an eagle was placed to see far and alert the confederacy of approaching enemies. Beneath the tree the Peacemaker asked that all men throw in their weapons to bury any greed, hatred and jealousy.
Finally the Peacemaker took an arrow from each of the five nations and bound them together. In this way the nations were united in their powers and the union was complete. Each nation retained their own council with Chiefs chosen by Clan Mothers of families holding hereditary rights to office titles. The rights and duties of Chiefs are explained to them as they stand up as Chiefs and it is the Clan Mother who maintains his moral obligations and keeps him in a straight line.
One by one the Peacemaker took wampum strings, one for each of the laws of the Great Peace and described what each signified. With this action the Great Confederation of the Five Nations was formed. With his mission fulfilled the Peacemaker vanished promising that if the Great Peace should fail the people were to call his name in the bushes and he would return.
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.
The 8 Points of Jurisdiction were key in the role of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. They are as follows:
The Great Law
Installation of Chiefs
INFLUENCE ON DEMOCRACY
While many debate the validity of the claim that the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was a model for the United States of America’s Constitution, much evidence leads us to believe that the U.S. Constitution developed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson was indeed influenced by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Both models stress the importance of unity and peace and provide freedom to seek out one’s success. Similarities can also be seen in the symbols of each nation. While the Great Law features five arrows bound together as a symbol signifying the unity and strength of the five nations, the seal of the United States uses an eagle clutching a bundle of 13 arrows signifying the 13 original colonies.
The way the U.S. Congress operates is also similar to the actions made by the Grand Council as outlined by the Peacemaker. Within Grand Council meet the Chiefs of each nation which then divide into sections of Elder Brothers and Younger Brothers. This model is very similar to the U.S. Constitution’s two-house congress.
The founding fathers of the United States had ample opportunity to study and learn from the Haudenosaunee. During the 1730s and 1740s English allegiance with the Haudenosaunee was essential if the English hoped to prevent the French from encroaching on the territory. During this time colonists intermingled with the Haudenosaunee in an attempt to build trust and establish treaties that would ensure their alliance.
In 1744 Benjamin Franklin ran a successful printing company in Pennsylvania running newspapers, money, and legal documents. It was during this period he began to become immersed in the treaty councils which were brought to him by Conrad Weiser, a man who had gained the respect of the Haudenosaunee and had even been adopted into the Mohawk nation. The treaty council proceedings were of high interest in Europe making them a profitable venture for Franklin.
It was one such treaty council that brought to life the proceedings of the confederacy. This particular meeting also saw Canassatego, the then Chief of the Onondaga, impressing upon the colonists the importance of forming a union of all the colonies. Canassatego expressed the difficulty they had faced in dealing with each separate colony and how forming one union could repair the problem. The Haudenosaunee did not want to cement a union until the colonies were united.
In 1747 Franklin became involved with Cadwallader Colden over the subject of colonial union suggested by Canassatego. Colden had written History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York in America in 1727 and revised and reissued it in 1744 with Franklin reviewing and appraising it. During this time Franklin and Colden often discussed the issue put forward by Canassatego of colonial union, an idea which Franklin took seriously and began to execute.
During 1750 it was clear that the colonist’s ideals were beginning to diverge from those of Europe and Franklin began to look at a new system of government. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy model presented a society free of oppression and definition of class. But issues with the alliance faced the colonists with the Haudenosaunee complaining of too many traders and no regulation among them. Franklin, who had already become immersed in English-Haudenosaunee alliance politics, took the next logical step and took the position of Indian Commissioner for Pennsylvania.
June 19, 1754 marked a monumental meeting of the Albany Congress with members from each colony with the Haudenosaunee in attendance. While Franklin was one of the most influential in attendance at the Albany Congress during which was discussed the English-Haudenosaunee alliance against the French and a plan of union for the colonies, Sir William Johnson played an integral part.
It was Johnson, a well respected man among the Haudenosaunee, whose friendship with the Mohawk Chief Hendrick helped to persuade the Haudenosaunee to attend the Albany Congress. Johnson played a major role in ensuring the alliance between the English and Haudenosaunee while pushing the French out of the territory. By special invite, Hendrick was asked to explain the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s model.
Following the Albany Congress Franklin drew up a plan that had all the British American colonies federated under a single legislature with a president-general who would be appointed by the Crown, a very similar model to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Like the confederacy all states had to agree on a course of action before it could be implemented. Unfortunately at the time the colonies were not ready to unite and the crown disapproved of the freedom it provided and the plan failed.
It took two decades for the colonies of America to form a union and representatives to share the news with the Haudenosaunee that they had united.
While in the mid-1770s Franklin was the most obvious choice when considering a person to draft the Declaration of Independence, he chose not to write it and instead sat on the committee as Thomas Jefferson’s editor. Having much respect for Franklin, Jefferson shared Franklin’s respect and views of the Haudenosaunee.
Both shared the same frame of mind that the Haudenosaunee way of life was one to be admired and respected and his writings showed that as America claimed its independence.
Each council meeting must have representation from every nation. The Onondaga opened council by greeting other members and offering thanks to the Earth and to the Creator. The Fire Keepers, the Onondaga, formally open and closed all councils and were responsible for passing on all matters deliberated upon by both sides and render their decision. Adodarhoh and the Chiefs of the Onondaga announce the issue for discussion.
The method for debating policies began with the Senecas and Mohawks. Once their decision is achieved it is then thrown across the fire to the Oneida and Cayuga for discussion. With their decision made the Oneida and Cayuga then give the discussion back to the Senecas and Mohawks for confirmation. The matter is then put before the Onondagas who shall make the final decision in the case of a disagreement between the Younger and Elder brothers or shall confirm the decisions if they agree.
With the decision before the Onondagas they may at this point raise objections only if they believe the plan of action is inconsistent with the Great Law. With the Onondaga agreement in place it is then passed on to Tadadaho and Honowireton, ceremonial leaders, to confirm the decision that has been reached. This decision is shared with the Mohawks and Senecas who are at will to announce it to the open council.