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PEACE TALKS: PEACEKEEPING TRADITIONS OF THE IROQUOIS CONFEDERACY
(KUNM Airdate: 11/25/05)

On this edition of Peace Talks, we hear about The Great Law of Peace, the founding constitution of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. Also known as the Haudenosaunee, the confederacy, according to oral tradition, came together in ancient times through the efforts of one who came to be known as the Peacemaker. Well be hearing the story of the Peacemaker today from Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee. Lyons, an American Studies professor at State University of New York at Buffalo, tells us more about the principles of the great law of peace. In addition, well be featuring comments from John Mohawk, also a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Hes been active in diplomatic circles for the Seneca nation for years as well as being a farmer, writer and magazine editor. John Mohawk expands on the peace principles and talk about how they could be applied by individuals and other nations, to help create a more peaceful world today.

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SHOW EXCERPTS
(Transcription Courtesy Rogi Riverstone)

Chief Oren Lyons

What are some of the key components of the Great Law of Peace?

OREN LYONS: The first principle is peace. The second principle equity, justice for the people. And third, the power of the good minds, of the collective powers to be of one mind: unity. And health. All of these were involved in his basic principles. And the process of discussion, putting aside warfare, as a method of reaching decisions, and now, using intellect.

The Peacemaker laid down a very precise process for our governance, which is, basic, that it is the people's will, as is their agreement to government. They are the ones that will consent to government. And he established two houses, the elder brothers and the younger brothers. Mohawks, Onondagas, Senecas were the older brothers. The Cayugas and Oneidas were the younger brothers. Later, around 1713 to 1721, the Tuskarora Nation joined with the younger brothers. A process was established of discussion and consensus.

Then, he planted a great symbol of the great tree of peace, which is the white pine. He illustrated that this pine had four, white roots of truth that reach in the four, cardinal directions of the earth. Those people who had no place to go could follow the root back to its source and come under the shelter of the great law of peace. He established the idea of disarmament, when he uprooted this great tree and he commanded the men to come forward and throw their weapons of war into this hole. And they did. He then replaced the tree on top. Often, in the depiction of the great tree of peace, you will a war club or arrow or hatchet underneath it. That is where the term, "burying the hatchet," comes from.

He gave the women the responsibility to choose all leaders and to oversee their conduct. And they had the power of recall. That was an enormous responsibility for the women, but I think it was a genius that has us still existing today. That process is still being used: the abilities of women to choose a different style of leader.

JOHN MOHAWK: For the most part, when people are at war, they have a grievance. They feel that they are being mistreated, that justice is not a clear thing. So the principle of the great peace is that justice, in the end, has to prevail. But everybody knows that people aren't satisfied with justice. They'll get justice today, and then, tomorrow, their demands will go up. So they also knew that the process of dealing with people was ongoing. You didn't get a closure, and then go home. You got somewhere, and then you had a process by which you talked about the next layer of things that are causing conflict. Things must have been pretty busy at Onondaga and people had to be pretty good at remembering what it was that different groups had come with as their complaints, and what had been agreed upon before. The protocol was to remind people what it was that we had done until now. It was an ongoing, continuous, scoreboard of, "here's where we are today."

The rules were very complicated. I don't want to reduce these to simplicity. There's a thing of, "all we have to do is hold hands and sing songs and we'll have peace." Wasn't like that. They said that they understood, pretty clearly, that people weren't always rational and that they don't always keep their word. So, they devised ways of talking about this. But the first requirement that was "on the books," on the ground, was that, first, you have to do no harm. It was almost like how doctors are supposed to do no harm. The diplomats required that the warriors who came to talk about peace first stop killing people while we're talking. The idea was, as long as we're talking, nobody's killing anybody. There was an idea of facilitating what you would call, "truces." The people on the other side of the conflict often didn't have any leadership. There was no single person or group on the other side of somebody's war who could end the war. So, you'd have to bring them all, if you could - or as many of them as you could.

John Mohawk

OREN LYONS: Politics of abundance for Indians was to always be respectful of the natural world and to have ceremonies and to make sure that the next generations were taken care of. Indeed, the peacemakers said to our leaders that every decision we make must regard the seventh generation coming. And we shouldn't think of ourselves, nor our family, nor even our generation, but make our decisions on behalf of seven generations. Most Indian nations, that I know (and I know most of them) all have the same respect and reverence for life and for the future, and responsibility. So, that was a politics of abundance. Politics of scarcity comes from our brothers. Which is to say: when things get scarce, then they make rules and laws. And they make things scarce. The salmon discussion (is an example): when there was abundance beyond comprehension of so many salmon coming up so many rivers, just full of salmon. And today, today, it's hard to find them there. That's a politics of scarcity. That is the idea of taking more than you need, and taking at the expense of your grandchildren.

JOHN MOHAWK: This idea is very relevant today. If you go to Washington, or London, or anywhere, world leaders don't have a plan about how to address the violence of chaos. They haven't a clue. How do you? The plan was to go someplace and beat the army. Ok, you went there, you beat their army, but you didn't get the result you were hoping for. Nobody stepped forward and surrendered their sword. The country, itself, didn't surrender. What you got was, you just beat up their army. No modern, nation state has ever been able to hold out against an insurrection and the face of chaos. When a society collapses, and you have guerilla warriors and different, competing groups inside, you have a civil war going on - the one thing they're unified on is to get rid of the invader. It's practically the only unified thing. But once they get rid of the invader, they'll be perfectly happy to kill one another. That's the secondary thing. In a chaos like that, right now, there's no agreed-upon method. How do you respond to it? The answer has been, "you use more force," and more force until you get to the point where you cannot apply any more force. You don't have any more force. You've maxed out. But the chaos is still happening.

I say that the Six Nations, the Confederacy, under the Great Law, actually was born in that kind of environment and devised ways to address that kind of environment. But, there's a trick. The people who are going to manage that, if you're going to stand for us: "OK, I'm going to lead the way out of that jungle," those people can never lie. They have to be completely honorable, all the time. They can't take sides. They have to be neutral. They have to be peacemakers. Peacemakers aren't people with an agenda. They don't come to your country to take your forest. They don't come there to kill your buffalos. They're there to end the violence. That's all. So, they have to be completely honorable, completely honest. That's what I think the Six Nations Confederacy had as its thing. It was a culture, actually, The culture that was around the Council was a culture of people who were dedicated to pursuing peace.

 

WEBSITES AND OTHER RESOURCES

WEBSITE: The Great Law of Peace

WEB INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: BILL MOYERS WITH OREN LYONS

ONLINE ARTICLE: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM NATIVE AMERICA ABOUT WAR AND PEACE? by John Mohawk

ONLINE INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MOHAWK BY BBC NEWS