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The First Peace-Seekers


          War has had a grip on every part of the world at some point or another, and it seems highly unlikely to go away soon. It has always seemed ever present; inevitable, even. These facts, therefore, make the legacy of Hiawatha, hero of the Iroquois, truly incredible. In a society stained by a vicious cycle of never-ending warfare, Hiawatha turned against the tide, turning the hate and enmity, into love and brotherhood.

          Long ago, in what would become New York state, lived the five tribes of the Haudenosaunee, known to us as the Iroquois. The five tribes were the Seneca, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Mohawk. They did not live in peace and harmony. While there were alliances on occasion between tribes, bloodshed and terror reigned supreme.

          Hiawatha, a warrior of the Onondaga, had fought for many years. As time weathered by, he lost much that was precious to him. First, his wife, and she was soon followed by two of his three daughters. A few years later, his final daughter joined them. He was filled with grief. Often, his thoughts wondered about the lives of those he had taken in battle, and how they also must feel about this never-ending bloodshed.

          Feeling as he did, he soon heard about a man named Peacemaker, who lived in Mohawk. He had a philosophy of nonviolence, protecting only when necessary. All of the Peacemaker's Tribe followed this philosophy, and Hiawatha became interested in it. He traveled and was accepted by the Mohawk as one of their own.

          The two men, Peacemaker and Hiawatha, became fast friends. Hiawatha wanted to unite both the Mohawk and the Onondaga into a single nation that would hold peace as its highest value. Peacemaker expanded that goal, and they decided that all of the Five Tribes must be brought together; not through war, but by peace.

          Rounding out their group, a woman named Jikonsaseh joined them. She was from Seneca, and owned a longhouse at a crossroads of trails for many warriors from each of the Five Tribes. Whenever a warrior traveled by, they often stopped her her house for a meal. Often, warriors from rival tribes sat across one another while eating. Iroquois culture dictated that anyone who ate from the same pot became kin, so Jikonsaseh was already doing what Peacemaker wanted to do, on a smaller level. When the two approached her asking for her help in uniting the nations, she enthusiastically accepted.

          They approached the Cayuga, the Oneida, and the Seneca. One by one, each accepted, becoming one nation. Each time they had succeeded in uniting another Tribe, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker traveled back to the Onondaga in attempts to persuade the leader of that Tribe, Tadodaho to join. But Tadodaho refused. He was a cruel man, always wanting to fight as a means of expanding his power.

          It seemed to Peacemaker, however, that the alliance might collapse before they could persuade Tadodaho. They needed to consolidate, and agree upon what they stood for. Jikonsaseh had already established general principles of Righteousness, Health, and Power (Gaiwoh, Skenon, and Gashadenshaa).

          Hiawatha knew they needed to go further than those broad principles. In a longhouse meeting, he set representatives from the Mohawk and the Seneca on one side of a central fire, as 'elder brothers' of the Tribes. Opposite them sat representatives from the Cayuga, and the Oneida, as 'younger brothers'. An ancient legislature, with two split parts, long before many republics and democracies.

          Finally, Hiawatha came up with a plan to persuade the Onondaga and Tadodaho to join the Five Tribes. The three founders met with Tadodaho once again. In all things, the plan benefited the Onondaga. They would make Tadodaho their leader, setting him up over all of them, with a special right of veto over any laws. In addition, the Onondaga Tribe would be allowed 14 representatives, more than any other.

          As Tadodaho mentally gloated about the powerful opportunities, Jikonsaseh foresaw what he intended and did something truly remarkable. She told him to slap her. After all, that was what he did, was it not? Rumors had spread far beyond Onondaga about Tadodaho's treatment of his wives, children, and his cruel behavior. In Iroquois culture, however, Clan Mothers (of which Jikonsaseh was one) were not to be harmed.

          Tadodaho, utterly baffled, told her he could not, and would not. Then Jikonsaseh made him see the errors of his former ways, and that if he was to become a head of the Five Tribes, a union that now sought peace, he must change as well. In a way truly reminiscent of the Image of God that all men share, Tadodaho well and truly changed his ways. It is a remarkable story of repentance.

          With that matter concluded, representatives from each tribe gathered around a tree. They uprooted it. Digging at the dirt, they placed many weapons of war underneath its roots, before replacing the tree. This event is actually why we have the phrase, "To bury the hatchet" in English.

          One final, interesting thing about the Iroquois Confederacy is its relation to the roots of the United States. Benjamin Franklin himself visited them, and sat in the Longhouse, observing how they conducted their governance. Many of the elements of the modern-United States legislature originate back with Hiawatha, Peacemaker, and Jikonsaseh. I hope this has been insightful.
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