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Indigenous Stories

The Peacemaker And The Tree Of Peace

Categories : Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) , Iroquois Stories

The story of the Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace as we know it today originated in a time of terrible conflict. It was a time when people forgot to be thankful, and a time when almost all of the people had strayed from the Creator. This is the dark period and perhaps the most violent time of our history. Once again discontentment settled in our people and bloody wars took place in every village.

A vicious cycle of war and revenge was running out of control among the Five Nations. It was amidst all of this chaos that the Creator sent a messenger of peace to be born amongst his people. The Traditional Haudenosaunee people consider his actual name to be sacred and therefore never use it. He was called the "Peacemaker." His mission was to restore love, peace and harmony back to the people. To do this, he proposed a set of laws which the people and Nations could live in peace and unity. It was a system of self-rule and was guided by moral principles called the Great Law of Peace.

The Peacemaker was born a Huron, to a young virgin woman who had not yet gone through her puberty rites. The young woman had not yet reached her time for the ceremony when she became pregnant. Her mother was worried of what the people of the village would say, so she hid her away during her pregnancy until she gave birth. She convinced her daughter that they had to get rid of the baby. The grandmother tried three times to kill the baby and failed each time. She then realized that he must be someone special and with special powers and knew that they should raise him carefully.

As he got older, it was realized that he had great powers of persuasion and of good mind. When he reached manhood it was time for him to leave on his mission to restore peace and unity to the warring villages to the east. He built a canoe of white stone and set out on his journey to establish a great peace. All the people of the village gathered to see him off and were amazed at the sight, for they had never seen a stone float before. They noticed how swift that canoe was moving as it disappeared into the distance. We are told that this event took place on the northern shores of Lake Ontario.

The first person to accept and embrace the words of the Great Peace was a woman by the name of Jikonsahseh. Her place was a neutral zone for anyone passing through. Even war parties, who would leave all their weapons outside of her dwelling. She fed them and offered them a resting place. As he spoke his words she broke down in tears for she had never heard anything so beautiful and said she'd follow it for the rest of her days. Because she accepted and embraced the words of peace, the Peacemaker told her that at the successful formation of the Great Law of Peace and for all time, she would be the symbol of the leadership of the women, which is the Clan Mothers. In this way she would never be forgotten.

The Peacemaker visited the Mohawks first. There he was to confront the most evil of them. He had to change their minds and behavior to accept the Great Peace. He was often tested and had to prove himself. Because the Kanienkehaka people were such a fierce and warring Nation, the Peacemaker worked very long and hard to convince them to accept the Great Law of Peace. With his powers of persuasion he won them over. He then left for the other Nations of the Iroquois, the Seneca, Oneidas, Cayuga and Onondaga.

The Peacemaker met two special people who were instrumental in the establishment of the Great Peace. One of these men was Ayonwatha, whose family had been killed by the evil and powerful sorcerer, Tadodarho, the other man.

The Peacemaker used the first Condolence Ceremony on Ayonwatha to remove his grief using Wampum shells. This event was the first time the Wampum was used. Wampum is used to remember words, ceremonies and agreements, and was not money. However, Wampum was used as an exchange tool. The Peacemaker asked Ayonwatha to be his spokesperson and together they traveled to spread the message of peace.

His travels brought him to the Onondaga Nation, where he met with a lot of resistance from the evil Tadodarho. Tadodarho was an evil man and is described as having snakes in his head and a crooked body. This symbolized a very evil person and because of his evil deeds it reflected on him. Tadodarho would not give in to the many attempts by the Peacemaker to get him to accept the peace.

The Peacemaker and Ayonwatha moved on to the other Nations and were successful in convincing them to accept the peace. He then gathered the forty-nine men whom he had convinced to accept the peace to converge back to the center and there they all worked together on the evil mind of Tadodarho of the Onondaga Nation. They tried many times in many ways to convince him that peace was the only way, and many times they failed. Finally all the forty-nine men sang the Great Song of Peace, the 'Hai, Hai'. The song kept in focus with the one purpose of winning over the evil mind of Tadodarho. Once Tadodarho's mind was pacified, his body straightened and the snakes were combed from his hair.

The Peacemaker offered him a special position in the Confederacy. That position was to watch over the Fire on behalf of all the 5 Nations. The offer appealed to him and he accepted. He agreed to live in peace and tend the fire to make sure that it would burn forever.

After successfully winning over Tadodarho, the Peacemaker then looked upon the men and saw that they still carried their weapons. He then said that they needed a symbol that would remind them of the promise made to each other, the promise of peace. As he looked around, he saw this very tall tree. He thought that because the tree was so tall, it could be seen from distant places, and because the top of the tree pierced the sky, attention would be drawn to it.

On the branches of this very tall tree, the needles are in clusters of five. He used this as a symbol of the Five Nations being bound together as one. He took some needles off the branch and told them that even with the changes of the seasons, the tree stays green for all time. So shall the Great Peace stay among the Five Nations, for all time.

He then uprooted the tree and it created a cavity. He instructed the men to cast down their weapons of war into the cavity to bury their greed, hatred and jealousy. The tree was then replaced and the Peacemaker then said:

"Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under earth currents of water flowing into unknown regions, we cast all weapons of strife. We bury them from sight forever and plant again the tree. Thus shall all Great Peace be established and hostilities shall no longer be known between the Five Nations but only peace to a united people."

The roots that spread out from the tree are called the Great White Roots of Peace, and they spread in the four directions: one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west. On top of this Great Tree was placed an Eagle. The meaning of planting the tree symbolizes the Kaienerakowa, Great Peace and Strength. The Eagle symbolizes keeping a watchful eye on the roots and if any evil or danger approaches, he will scream loudly, sounding the alarm and all the Nations of the Confederacy will at once come to the defense and rescue. This symbolizes that everyone has the responsibility to protect the peace.

The Peacemaker then took an arrow from each one of the Five Nations and bound them together. By each Nation contributing an arrow, it symbolized the combining of individual powers into one great power. The union had now been complete, a union which no one can bend or break. The Peacemaker then said:

"We have now completed our power so that we the Five Nations Confederacy shall in the future have one body, one mind, and one heart. If any evil should befall us in the future, we shall stand or fall united as one man."

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