THE CONSTITUTION
of the IROQUOIS NATIONS

THE GREAT BINDING LAW

The Iroquois Great Law of Peace

Primary Source Document

BACKGROUND

The five nations of the Iroquois League the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas - created a constitution, called the Great Law of Peace, that had 117 laws and customs. These laws governed all aspects of life and war. In this excerpt, Deganawida introduces the Great Law by describing a tree that symbolizes the permanence and stability of the league.

 

I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations' Confederate Lords(1) I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga(2)  Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.

I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.

We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.

Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace, one to the north, one to the east, one to the south and one to the west. The name of these roots is The Great White Roots and their nature is Peace and Strength.

If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.

We place at the top of the Tree of the Long Leaves an Eagle who is able to see afar. If he sees in the distance any evil approaching or any danger threatening he will at once warn the people of the Confederacy.

1Lord = chief

2The Onondanga word for chief

 

QUESTIONS

  1. In whose territory was the Tree of the Great Peace planted?

     

  2. Where will the affairs of the Five Nations be conducted?

     

  3. Why might Dekanawidah say that the nature of the Great White Roots is "Peace and Strength"?

     

  4. Were outsiders welcome to join the Iroquois League? Explain.

     
  5. Dekanawidah says that an eagle sits at the top of the Tree to guard the people of the Confederacy. What do you think the eagle symbolizes?

     

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