Jump to content

Great Peacemaker

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Great Peacemaker
  • Skennenrahawi
  • Deganawida or Dekanawida
    (in special circumstances)
Onondaga, adopted Mohawk, or Huron orator and statesman
Personal details
Born12th century[1] (or 15th century)[2][3]
Huron or Onondaga
Died12th century[1] (or 15th century)[2][3]

The Great Peacemaker (Skén:nen rahá:wi[4] [skʌ̃.nːʌ̃.ɾahaːwi] in Mohawk), sometimes referred to as Deganawida or Tekanawí:ta[4] (as a mark of respect, some Iroquois avoid using his personal name except in special circumstances) was by tradition, along with Jigonhsasee and Hiawatha, the founder of the Haudenosaunee, commonly called the Iroquois Confederacy. This is a political and cultural union of six Iroquoian-speaking Native American tribes governing parts of the present-day state of New York, northern Pennsylvania, and the eastern portion of the provinces of Ontario, and Quebec Canada, recognized as sovereign by both the USA and Canada.


The Great Peacemaker's name means 'Two River Currents Flowing Together'. Some of the numerous legends about the Great Peacemaker have conflicting information. It is reported that he was born a Huron, and by some accounts, his mother was a virgin, making the birth miraculous.[5] Others say he was born an Onondaga and later adopted by the Mohawk.[6]

Arthur C. Parker's book The Constitution of the Five Nations describes how the Great Peacemaker travelled to different settlements to spread his message of peace. At one settlement, when asked who he was, the Great Peacemaker answered, "I am the man who is called on earth by the name of Dekanahwideh, and I have just come from the west and am now going east for the purpose of propagating peace so that the shedding of human blood might cease among you." When the settlement agreed to his plan, he explained, "This day is early and yet young, so is the new mind also tender and young, so also is the Good Tidings of Peace and Power, and as the new sun of Good Tidings of Peace and Power arose, so it will proceed on its course and prosper; so also will the young mind, and the Good Tidings of Peace and Power shall prevail and prosper. Therefore in the future, your grandchildren forever shall live in peace."[7]

Haudenosaunee confederacy[edit]

Cohoes Falls in the 18th century AD by Pehr Kalm.

By all accounts, the Great Peacemaker was a prophet who counseled peace among the warring tribes. According to some legends his first ally was Jigonhsasee, who became known as the Mother of Nations.[6] She lent her home for the meeting of the leaders of the rival tribal nations. The Great Peacemaker's follower Hiawatha, an Onondaga renowned for his oratory, helped him achieve his vision of bringing the tribes together in peace.

According to the archaeologist Dean Snow, the Great Peacemaker converted Hiawatha in the territory of the Onondaga; he traveled alone to visit the Mohawk tribe who lived near what is now Cohoes, New York.[full citation needed] Other traditional accounts hold that the Great Peacemaker consulted with Jigonhsasee about which tribal leaders to approach and she facilitated that meeting to create the confederacy.[6]

According to some legends, initially the Mohawk rejected the message of the Great Peacemaker, so he decided to perform a feat to demonstrate his purity and spiritual power. After climbing a tree high above Kahon:ios (Cohoes Falls), the Great Peacemaker told the Mohawk warriors to chop the tree down. Many onlookers watched as the Great Peacemaker disappeared into the swirling rapids of the Mohawk River. They believed he had died but the next morning they found him sitting near a campfire. Greatly impressed by the Great Peacemaker's miraculous survival, the Mohawk became the founding tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy.[5] The tribes gathered at Onondaga Lake, where they planted a Tree of Peace and proclaimed the Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Mackinac natives record that Hiawatha came to Mackinaw Island to see Giche Mantitou Rock, also known as "Sugarloaf Rock", where Peacemaker taught as well references that Peacemaker walked upon Lake Ontario.[8] It is additionally recorded by them that Peacemaker's canoe could fly including a story where Peacemaker stated to Hiawatha, "this canoe can be rowed across these waters or do you want it to see it fly across". He traveled through the narrow neck of land near Niagara Falls healing the sick and all that he touched.


The dates Dekanawida lived, and thus the founding of the Confederacy, have not been identified with certainty.

Historians and archeologists have researched an incident related in the oral history of the founding of the Confederacy. As recorded by later scholars, one account relates there was a violent conflict among the Seneca, who were the last Iroquois nation to join the confederacy as a founding member. Their violence stopped when the sun darkened and the day seemed to turn to night. Since 1902 scholars have studied the possibility that this event was a solar eclipse, as William Canfield suggested in his Legends of the Iroquois; told by "the Cornplanter" .[9] As scholars have learned more about the representation of natural events in oral histories, scholars into the 21st century have noted eclipses that could serve to date the founding of the Confederacy, in addition to the archeological evidence. Scholars referring to an eclipse have included (chronologically): Paul A. W. Wallace,[10] Elizabeth Tooker,[11] Bruce E. Johansen,[12][13] Dean R. Snow,[14] Barbara A. Mann and Jerry L. Fields,[15] William N. Fenton,[16] David Henige,[17] Gary Warrick,[2] and Neta Crawford.[3]

Since Canfield's first mention,[9] and the majority view,[10][11][14][16][2] scholars have widely supported a date of 1451 AD as being of a known solar eclipse and the likely founding date based on this oral account and other evidence. Some argue it is an insufficient fit for the description, and favor a date of 1142, when there was also a documented solar eclipse.[12][15] A few question dating the founding of the confederacy based on the mention of the eclipse.[17]

Archeological investigation has contributed to discussions about the founding date, as its evidence can be dated and correlated to natural events. In 1982 archeologist Dean Snow said that evidence from mainstream archeology did not support a founding of the confederacy for any dates of an eclipse before 1350 AD (thus ruling out the 1142 AD date.)[14] By 1998 Fenton considered an eclipse earlier than the 1451 AD majority view unlikely, but possible as long as it was after 1000 AD.[16] By 2007/8 reviews considered an 1142 AD eclipse as a possible point of reference, even if most scholars supported 1451 AD as the safe choice.[2][3]

Influence on the United States constitution[edit]

This confederacy influenced the United States Constitution and Anglo-American ideas of democracy, as recognized by Concurrent Resolution 331 issued by the U. S. Congress in 1988, which states in part:[18]

Whereas the original framers of the Constitution, including, most notably, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, are known to have greatly admired the concepts of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy; Whereas the confederation of the original Thirteen 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

Iroquois dominance[edit]

The Great Peacemaker established a council of clan and village chiefs to govern the confederacy. In each tribe, which had matrilineal kinship systems of descent and property-holding, power was shared between the sexes. Men held the positions of hereditary chiefs through their mother's line; clan mothers ruled on the fitness of chiefs and could depose any that they opposed. Most decisions in council were made by consensus, to which each representative had an equal voice. Early anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan attributed the regional dominance achieved by the Iroquois to their superior organization and coordination compared to other tribes; George Hunt also thought there was a factor of economic determinism, with their need for furs for the European trade and their superior geographic position controlling most of central and western New York.[19] The oral laws and customs of the Great Law of Peace became the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, established by the 16th century or earlier.

Prophecy of the Boy Seer[edit]

The Great Peacemaker worked all his life to bring his vision to fruition. He prophesied that a "white serpent" would come to his people's lands and make friends with them, only to deceive them later. A "red serpent" would later make war against the "white serpent", but a Native American boy would be given a great power. He would be accepted as a chosen leader by the people of "the land of the hilly country." The boy stays neutral in the fight, and he speaks to the people, who number as the blades of grass, but he is heard by all. After a season, a "black serpent" would come and defeat both the "white" and "red serpents". According to the prophecy, when the people gathered under the elm tree become humble, all three "serpents" would be blinded by a light many times brighter than the sun. Deganawidah said that he would be that light. His nation would accept the "white serpent" into their safekeeping like a long-lost brother.[20][unreliable source?]

In the Baháʼí Faith[edit]

Some members of the Baháʼí Faith have connected the signs of a Prophet, as described by Bahá'u'lláh (Prophet-founder of the Baháʼí Faith), with the Peacemaker. As such, many Native American Baháʼís in North America (and some non-Native) revere the Peacemaker as a Manifestation of God.[21]

In film[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Saadia, Zoe (May 30, 2018). "The Great Peacemaker, the founder of the Great League of – the Iroquois Confederacy". Pre-Columbian Americas. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Gary Warrick (2007). "Precontact Iroquoian Occupation of Southern Ontario". In Jordan E. Kerber (ed.). Archaeology of the Iroquois: Selected Readings and Research Sources. Syracuse University Press. pp. 124–163. ISBN 978-0-8156-3139-2.
  3. ^ a b c d Neta Crawford (15 April 2008). "The Long Peace among Iroquois Nations". In Kurt A. Raaflaub (ed.). War and Peace in the Ancient World. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 348–. ISBN 978-0-470-77547-9.
  4. ^ a b "Peacemaker, the". KANIEN'KÉHA LANGUAGE INITIATIVE (Mohawk Dictionary). 23 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b Nelson Greene, editor. "Chapter 9: Dekanawida and Hiawatha", History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925, at Schenectady Digital History Archive
  6. ^ a b c Anna Grossnickle Hines. "The Peacemaker and the Great Law: A Legend of the Haudenosaunee". Peaceful Pieces. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  7. ^ Parker, Arthur C. (1916). The Constitution of the Five Nations. The University of the State of New York. pp. 71, 74.
  8. ^ Committee of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve (July 3, 1900). Arthur C. Parker (ed.). "The Code of Dekanahwideh (together with) The Tradition of the origin of the Five Nations' League". New York State Museum Bulletin (184: The Constitution of the Five Nations) (published April 1, 1916): 61–64.
  9. ^ a b William W. Canfield (1902). The Legends Of The Iroquois: Told By "The Cornplanter". A. Wessels Co. pp. 219–220.
  10. ^ a b Wallace, Paul A. W. (October 1948). "The Return of Hiawatha". New York History Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association. XXIX (4): 385–403. JSTOR 23149546.
  11. ^ a b Elizabeth Tooker (1978). "The League of the Iroquois: Its History, Politics, and Ritual". In Sturtevant, William; Trigger, Bruce (eds.). Handbook of North American Indians. Government Printing Office. pp. 418–41. GGKEY:0GTLW81WTLJ.
  12. ^ a b Johansen, Bruce (1979). Franklin, Jefferson and American Indians: A Study in the Cross-Cultural Communication of Ideas (Thesis). University of Washington. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  13. ^ Bruce Elliott Johansen (January 1982). Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shaped Democracy. Harvard Common Press. ISBN 978-0-916782-90-0.
  14. ^ a b c Snow, Dean R. (September 1982). "Dating the Emergence of the League of the Iroquois: A Reconsideration of the Documentary Evidence" (PDF). Historical Archeology: A Multidisciplinary Approach. V. Rensselaerswijck Seminar: 139–144. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Barbara A. Mann; Jerry L. Fields (1997). "A Sign in the Sky: Dating the League of the Haudenosaunee". American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 21 (4): 105–163. doi:10.17953/aicr.21.2.k36m1485r3062510. ISSN 0161-6463. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  16. ^ a b c William Nelson Fenton (1998). The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-8061-3003-3.
  17. ^ a b Henige, David (1999). "Can a Myth Be Astronomically Dated?". American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 23 (4): 127–157. doi:10.17953/aicr.23.4.f7l127282718051x. ISSN 0161-6463. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  18. ^ "H.Con.Res. 331 (100th): A concurrent resolution to acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution". GovTrack.us. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  19. ^ PAUL A. W. WALLACE, "THE RETURN OF HIAWATHA", New York History, Vol. 29, No. 4 (October, 1948), pp. 385-403, Published by: New York State Historical Association (subscription required), accessed 18 May 2015
  20. ^ Buck, Christopher (1996). "Native Messengers of God in Canada? A test case for Baháʼí universalism". Baháʼí Studies Review. London: Association for Baháʼí Studies English-Speaking Europe: 97–132. Retrieved 2015-04-24.
  21. ^ "Two Peacemakers: Bahá'u'lláh and Deganawidah". Willmette Institute. May 15, 2015. Archived from the original on May 15, 2015.
  22. ^ Kissed by Lightning

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]