Iroquois Constitution (abridged)

The First Part of

The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations

The Great Binding Law

GAYANASHAGOWA

1.  I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations' Confederate 
Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace.  I plant it in your 
territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga 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.
 
 2.  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.
 
 3.  To you Adodarhoh, the Onondaga cousin Lords, I and the 
other Confederate Lords have entrusted the caretaking and the 
watching of the Five Nations Council Fire.


     When there is any business to be transacted and the 
Confederate Council is not in session, a messenger shall be 
dispatched either to Adodarhoh, Hononwirehtonh or Skanawatih, 
Fire Keepers, or to their War Chiefs with a full statement of 
the case desired to be considered.  Then shall Adodarhoh call 
his cousin (associate) Lords together and consider whether or 
not the case is of sufficient importance to demand the 
attention of the Confederate Council.  If so, Adodarhoh shall 
dispatch messengers to summon all the Confederate Lords to 
assemble beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.


     When the Lords are assembled the Council Fire shall be 
kindled, but not with chestnut wood, and Adodarhoh shall 
formally open the Council.  
      
      [ ed note: chestnut wood throws out sparks in burning, 
           thereby creating a disturbance in the council ] 
     
     Then shall Adodarhoh and his cousin Lords, the Fire 
Keepers, announce the subject for discussion.


     The Smoke of the Confederate Council Fire shall ever 
ascend and pierce the sky so that other nations who may be 
allies may see the Council Fire of the Great Peace.


     Adodarhoh and his cousin Lords are entrusted with the 
Keeping of the Council Fire. 
 
 4.  You, Adodarhoh, and your thirteen cousin Lords, shall 
faithfully keep the space about the Council Fire clean and you 
shall allow neither dust nor dirt to accumulate.  I lay a Long 
Wing before you as a broom.  As a weapon against a crawling 
creature I lay a staff with you so that you may thrust it away 
from the Council Fire.  If you fail to cast it out then call 
the rest of the United Lords to your aid.
 
 5.  The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three 
parties as follows: Tekarihoken, Ayonhwhathah and Shadekariwade 
are the first party; Sharenhowaneh, Deyoenhegwenh and 
Oghrenghrehgowah are the second party, and Dehennakrineh, 
Aghstawenserenthah and Shoskoharowaneh are the third party.  
The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the 
first and second parties and if an error is made or the 
proceeding is irregular they are to call attention to it, and 
when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties 
they shall confirm the decision of the two parties and refer 
the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision.  When the 
Seneca Lords have decided in accord with the Mohawk Lords, the 
case or question shall be referred to the Cayuga and Oneida 
Lords on the opposite side of the house.
 
 6.  I, Dekanawidah, appoint the Mohawk Lords the heads and the 
leaders of the Five Nations Confederacy.  The Mohawk Lords are 
the foundation of the Great Peace and it shall, therefore, be 
against the Great Binding Law to pass measures in the 
Confederate Council after the Mohawk Lords have protested 
against them.


     No council of the Confederate Lords shall be legal unless 
all the Mohawk Lords are present.
 
 7.  Whenever the Confederate Lords shall assemble for the 
purpose of holding a council, the Onondaga Lords shall open it 
by expressing their gratitude to their cousin Lords and 
greeting them, and they shall make an address and offer thanks 
to the earth where men dwell, to the streams of water, the 
pools, the springs and the lakes, to the maize and the fruits, 
to the medicinal herbs and trees, to the forest trees for their 
usefulness, to the animals that serve as food and give their 
pelts for clothing, to the great winds and the lesser winds, to 
the Thunderers, to the Sun, the mighty warrior, to the moon, to 
the messengers of the Creator who reveal his wishes and to the 
Great Creator who dwells in the heavens above, who gives all 
the things useful to men, and who is the source and the ruler 
of health and life.


     Then shall the Onondaga Lords declare the council open.
     The council shall not sit after darkness has set in.
 
 8.  The Firekeepers shall formally open and close all councils 
of the Confederate Lords, and they shall pass upon all matters 
deliberated upon by the two sides and render their decision.


     Every Onondaga Lord (or his deputy) must be present at 
every Confederate Council and must agree with the majority 
without unwarrantable dissent, so that a unanimous decision may 
be rendered.


     If Adodarhoh or any of his cousin Lords are absent from a 
Confederate Council, any other Firekeeper may open and close 
the Council, but the Firekeepers present may not give any 
decisions, unless the matter is of small importance.
 
 9.  All the business of the Five Nations Confederate Council 
shall be conducted by the two combined bodies of Confederate 
Lords.  First the question shall be passed upon by the Mohawk 
and Seneca Lords, then it shall be discussed and passed by the 
Oneida and Cayuga Lords.  Their decisions shall then be 
referred to the Onondaga Lords, (Fire Keepers) for final 
judgement.
     The same process shall obtain when a question is brought 
before the council by an individual or a War Chief.
 
10. In all cases the procedure must be as follows: when the 
Mohawk and Seneca Lords have unanimously agreed upon a 
question, they shall report their decision to the Cayuga and 
Oneida Lords who shall deliberate upon the question and report 
a unanimous decision to the Mohawk Lords.  The Mohawk Lords 
will then report the standing of the case to the Firekeepers, 
who shall render a decision as they see fit in case of a 
disagreement by the two bodies, or confirm the decisions of the 
two bodies if they are identical.  The Fire Keepers shall then 
report their decision to the Mohawk Lords who shall announce it 
to the open council.


End of Constitution
 
 

110.  At the funeral of a Warrior, say:
      "Now we become reconciled as you start away.  Once you 
were a devoted provider and protector of your family and you 
were ever ready to take part in battles for the Five Nations' 
Confederacy.  The United People trusted you."  (The remainder
is the same as the address at the funeral of a Lord).
 
111.  At the funeral of a young man, say:
      "Now we become reconciled as you start away.  In the 
beginning of your career you are taken away and the flower of 
your life is withered away."  (The remainder is the same as the 
address at the funeral of a Lord).
 
112.  At the funeral of a chief woman, say:
      "Now we become reconciled as you start away.  You were 
once a chief woman in the Five Nations' Confederacy.  You once 
were a mother of the nations.  Now we release you for it is 
true that it is no longer possible for us to walk about 
together on the earth.  Now, therefore, we lay it (the body) 
here.  Here we lay it away.  Now then we say to you, 'Persevere 
onward to the place where the Creator dwells in peace.  Let not 
the things of the earth hinder you.  Let nothing that 
transpired while you lived hinder you.  Looking after your 
family was a sacred duty and you were faithful.  You were one 
of the many joint heirs of the Lordship titles.  Feastings were 
yours and you had pleasant occasions. . ."  (The remainder is 
the same as the address at the funeral of a Lord).
 
113.  At the funeral of a woman of the people, say:
      "Now we become reconciled as you start away.  You were 
once a woman in the flower of life and the bloom is now 
withered away.  You once held a sacred position as a mother 
of the nation. (Etc.)  Looking after your family was a sacred 
duty and you were faithful.  Feastings . . . (etc.)"  (The 
remainder is the same as the address at the funeral of a Lord).
 
114.  At the funeral of an infant or young woman, say:
      "Now we become reconciled as you start away.  You were a 
tender bud and gladdened our hearts for only a few days.  Now 
the bloom has withered away . . . (etc.)  Let none of the 
things that transpired on earth hinder you.  Let nothing that 
happened while you lived hinder you."  (The remainder is the 
same as the address at the funeral of a Lord).
 
[ Editors note:  the above ellipses and 'etc.' remarks are 
transcribed directly from the text I copied. ]
 
115.  When an infant dies within three days, mourning shall 
continue only five days.  Then shall you gather the little boys 
and girls at the house of mourning and at the funeral feast a 
speaker shall address the children and bid them be happy once 
more, though by a death, gloom has been cast over them.  Then 
shall the black clouds roll away and the sky shall show blue 
once more.  Then shall the children be again in sunshine.
 
116.  When a dead person is brought to the burial place, the 
speaker on the opposite side of the Council Fire shall bid the 
bereaved family cheer their minds once again and rekindle their 
hearth fires in peace, to put their house in order and once 
again be in brightness for darkness has covered them.  He shall 
say that the black clouds shall roll away and that the bright 
blue sky is visible once more.  Therefore shall they be in 
peace in the sunshine again.
 
117.  Three strings of shell one span in length shall be 
employed in addressing the assemblage at the burial of the 
dead.  The speaker shall say:


      "Hearken you who are here, this body is to be covered.  
Assemble in this place again ten days hence for it is the 
decree of the Creator that mourning shall cease when ten days 
have expired.  Then shall a feast be made."


       Then at the expiration of ten days the speaker shall say:
"Continue to listen you who are here.  The ten days of mourning 
have expired and your minds must now be freed of sorrow as 
before the loss of a relative.  The relatives have decided to 
make a little compensation to those who have assisted at the 
funeral.  It is a mere expression of thanks.  This is to the 
one who did the cooking while the body was lying in the house.  
Let her come forward and receive this gift and be dismissed 
from the task."  In substance this shall be repeated for every 
one who assisted in any way until all have been remembered.
 
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