Great Law of Peace - Spiritual Democracy Teachings
-Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Hau de no sau nee in an address to the World Bank, October 3, 1995
"Everything starts where our feet are placed-on Mother Earth.
The purpose of The Great Law of Peace is to help us remember the natural laws of creation."
-Vincent Powless, Sr., Oneida Spiritual Advisor-
The vision for Spiritual Democracy was birthed out of the soil and the land of the United States of America and yet its roots in a true democracy go back much further to the shared land of Turtle Island, which Native Americans refer to when they are speaking of the land shared between what is now known as Canada and the United States. It was on this land over 500 years ago, before any of the colonists had even set foot on this soil that the Iroquois Great Law of Peace provided a living, sustainable and highly effective example of what Spiritual Democracy could be.
The Iroquois Great Law of Peace profoundly influenced the founding fathers of America. The Great Law is the Constiution of the Iroquois Confederacy, one of the oldest continuously operating democracies in the world. From the Great Law the founding fathers derived the concept of a governmental sytem with internal checks and balances, a separation of the judicial and the legislative, and elected representatives from around the nation. They integrated these ideas into the Constitution of the United States. A crucial component, however, that the founding fathers chose to omit from the US Constitution was the vital and unique role of women in the creation and ongoing leadership of a true democracy.
The Peacemaker, a legendary and historical figure who brought together warring tribes with his vision and message of peace, continues to be a source of inspiration for what is possible and what has been before. The Indigenous peoples of this world have an important message and teaching to share of how to live in balance with each other and our earth and it is time to embrace the gifts of all people on our planet to be able to create this new world that is awaiting us. By bringing forward the best of both traditional wisdom and modern-day science and technology, infused with the spiritual principles of a true democracy and equality for all, we will be able to create a sustainable model for living peacefully on this planet.
The Great Law of Peace
September 17th, 1987, America celebrated the 200th birthday of the United States Constitution, a brilliant jewel of human liberty and reason, fashioned by the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution to prescribe the structure of their new American government.
As a government, America was a bold new experiment, based on—what were at their inception—radical ideas in European political philosophy. These ideas were given practical expression in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. For Europeans, these historic documents represented a great leap forward towards realizing the ideal of "liberty and justice for all."
Conference speaker Bruce Barton, Chair of English at Castleton College, has written a novel on the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy. Barton summed up the evidence to support that proposal: "Modern democracy was first established here, and is not the evolutionary result of European political theories. The modern age of democracy had its origin in the vast recesses of this continent, and from here it spread throughout the world. American democracy owes its distinctive character of debate and compromise to the principles and structure of American Indian civil government."
The first Europeans in the New World northeast encountered strong, well organized communities of the Iroquois League. This powerful alliance of five nations controlled a vast sweep from the St. Lawrence south into Pennsylvania and west to Illinois. They controlled both Hudson-Mohawk and St. Lawrence valleys, and controlled access to the Great Lakes. This strategic position on passages into North America gave them control of trade routes, and destined them to play a major role in North American history.
It is no coincidence that the U.S. Constitution strikingly resembles, in both principle and form, the Great Law of Peace of the Six Nations Confederacy of the Iroquois League. When the Founding Fathers looked for examples of effective government and human liberty upon which to model a Constitution to unite the thirteen colonies, they found it in this New World society—not in Europe, usually considered the cradle of modern civilization.
The Confederacy arose centuries ago among separate, warring communities as a way to create harmony, unity and respect among human beings. Implicit in Iroquois political philosophy is commitment to the highest principles of human liberty. Iroquois Law"s recognition of individual liberty and justice surpasses any European parallel. Faithkeeper Oren Lyons, an Onondaga, states The Great Law of Peace includes "freedom of speech, freedom of religion, [and] the right of women to participate in government. Separation of power in government and checks and balances within government are traceable to our Iroquois constitution—ideas learned by colonists."
"But during a dark age in our history 1000 years ago, humans no longer listened to the original instructions. Our Creator became sad, because there was so much crime, dishonesty, injustice and war.
The Peacemaker legend is a central tale of Iroquois history, constituting an Iroquois Bible, Declaration of Independence and Constitution. This inspiring story describes a people mired in violent bloody feuds who, guided by a spiritual teacher, set aside war to adopt a Path of Peace. It's a mythic tale of struggle between good and evil, order and chaos, and the triumph of Reason. It's a morality play depicting the transformation of humans rising above suffering and tragedy to establish a higher order of human relations. It's also a practical guide to establishing unity and balance amongst diverse human communities. It's a successful model of how to distribute power in a democratic society to assure individual liberty.
Upon hearing the Peacemaker legend, Dr. Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, remarked, "This profound action stands as perhaps the oldest effort for disarmament in world history."
By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Iroquois had practiced their own egalitarian government for hundreds of years. The Iroquois reputation for diplomacy and eloquence reveals they had securely evolved a sophisticated political system founded on reason, not on mere power. Accounts of the "noble savage" living in "natural freedom" had inspired European theorists John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to expound ideas that had ignited the American Revolution and helped shape the new direction of government.
George Washington, after a visit to the Iroquois, expressed "great excitement" over the Iroquois" two houses and Grand Council. Ben Franklin wrote, "It would be strange if ignorant savages could execute a union that persisted ages and appears indissoluble; yet like union is impractical for twelve colonies to whom it is more necessary and advantageous."
In 1776, the Continental Congress appointed George Morgan the first Indian agent to promote peace with Indian nations. Congressional President John Hancock told Morgan to follow the custom of the Iroquois "forest diplomats" by taking a "great peace belt with 13 diamonds and 2,500 wampum beads" to invite Indians to the first U.S.-Indian Peace Treaty. This historic Washington Covenant belt was given to the chiefs and clan mothers at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 as a promise that they would never be forced to fight in U.S. wars, and that Indian land rights would be respected. As in the Peacemaker legend, the war hatchet was buried beneath the Tree of Peace and prayers of peace were offered through the sacred pipe.
After meeting with the Iroquois in 1754, Ben Franklin first proposed creating a colonial Grand Council in the 'Albany Plan of Union': 'One Government may be formed administered by a President, and a Grand Council chosen by representatives of the people.' Franklin's plan for a Grand Council of United Colonies resembles the Iroquois Grand Council."
Today the Iroquois League remains alive—the last surviving sovereign nations of native Americans in North America. Its capital still sits at the center of New York State in Onondaga County, just south of the City of Syracuse. On a bend of Onondaga Creek Valley is the Onondaga Nation, a 35 square mile island of still sovereign native soil inhabited by 1500 survivors of the once great Iroquois Confederacy. It was nearby, at Hiawatha Point on the Onondaga Lake shore, that Peacemaker taught the Iroquois to "bury the hatchet" and imparted The Great Law. The Onondagas, Firekeepers of the League, still host meetings of the Grand Council of Iroquois government.
To Iroquois traditionalists the Great Law of Peace isn't merely a form of government, but religious practice of an ancient spiritual legacy. Peacemaker wasn't a military hero or social leader, but a messenger of the Creator. Following The Great Law is a spiritual practice, and those who follow the Longhouse tradition are "faithkeepers."
Hundreds of years ago in North America a spiritual Teacher appeared in the Finger Lakes region to communities of the red race who guarded the eastern gate into the continent's interior. This messenger from the Creator transmitted an instruction to these people of how to live together in honor, dignity and peace.
It is unfortunate that the Iroquois' central role in the creation of the United States government has apparently been a well kept secret. For The Great Law provides uniquely valuable instruction in the arts of politics and law, negotiation and diplomacy, disarmament and government.
The search for world peace is of utmost concern to all men and women of good will today. As American democracy celebrates its 200th birthday, we must assure this deeper heritage of freedom is rediscovered and exposed to national attention once more. Beneath the great gushing growth of modern American culture, hidden and forgotten, lie the true roots of freedom, democracy and peaceful co-existence.