THE GREAT LAW OF THE IROQUOIS
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
[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
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.
11. If through any misunderstanding or obstinacy on the
part of the Fire Keepers, they render a decision at variance
with that of the Two Sides, the Two Sides shall reconsider
the matter and if their decisions are jointly the same as
before they shall report to the Fire Keepers who are then
compelled to confirm their joint decision.
12. When a case comes before the Onondaga Lords (Fire Keepers)
for discussion and decsion, Adodarho shall introduce the matter
to his comrade Lords who shall then discuss it in their two
bodies. Every Onondaga Lord except Hononwiretonh shall deliberate
and he shall listen only. When a unanimous decision
shall have been reached by the two bodies of Fire Keepers,
Adodarho shall notify Hononwiretonh of the fact when he shall
confirm it. He shall refuse to confirm a decision if
it is not unanimously agreed upon by both sides of the Fire
13. No Lord shall ask a question of the body of Confederate
Lords when they are discussing a case, question or proposition.
He may only deliberate in a low tone with the separate body
of which he is a member.
14. When the Council of the Five Nation Lords shall convene
they shall appoint a speaker for the day. He shall be
a Lord of either the Mohawk, Onondaga or Seneca Nation.
The next day the Council shall appoint another speaker, but
the first speaker may be reappointed if there is no objection,
but a speaker's term shall not be regarded more than for the
15. No individual or foreign nation interested in a case,
question or proposition shall have any voice in the Confederate
Council except to answer a question put to him or them by
the speaker for the Lords.
16. If the conditions which shall arise at any future time
call for an addition to or change of this law, the case shall
be carefully considered and if a new beam seems necessary
or beneficial, the proposed change shall be voted upon and
if adopted it shall be called, "Added to the Rafters".
Rights, Duties and Qualifications of Lords
17. A bunch of a certain number of shell (wampum) strings
each two spans in length shall be given to each of the female
families in which the Lordship titles are vested. The
right of bestowing the title shall be hereditary in the family
of the females legally possessing the bunch of shell strings
and the strings shall be the token that the females of the
family have the proprietary right to the Lordship title for
all time to come, subject to certain restrictions hereinafter
18. If any Confederate Lord neglects or refuses to attend
the Confederate Council, the other Lords of the Nation of
which he is a member shall require their War Chief to request
the female sponsors of the Lord so guilty of defection to
demand his attendance of the Council. If he refuses,
the women holding the title shall immediately select another
candidate for the title.
No Lord shall be asked more than once to attend the Confederate