Updated: May 12
Our hearts, filled with peace and our minds focused on the welfare of the people of the Confederacy, with endless patience we shall carry out our duty and our firmness tempered with tenderness the people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodging in our minds as we come together as one for the greater good.
Thy mind is made straight; thy head is now combed;
the seven crooks have been taken from thy body.
Now thou, too, hast a New Mind.
—Deganawida (The Great Peacemaker)
Seal of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy
Kayanere'kowa (Ga-yaa-neh-reh-go-wuh) sometimes known as the Great Binding Law or the Great Law of Peace and outlines all contents in wampum, a type of shell used to document historical events or crate political alliances woven into different designs on belts. These belts are symbols are are not worn and are still effective to this day. The Kayanere'kowa consists of over 100 wampum each outlined in detail the matter being discussed. The Great Law, predates Magna Carta in governance and dispute resolution:
Rights, Duties, and Qualifications of Statesmen
CLAN MOTHERS TO HOLD CHIEFTAINSHIP TITLES VIA WAMPUM STRINGS
A bunch of certain shell (wampum) strings, each two spans in length, shall be given to each of the female families in which the. chieftainship titles are vested. The right of bestowing the titles shall be hereditary in the family of females legally possessing the bunch of shell strings and the strings shall be the token that the females of the family have the ownership to the chieftainship title for all time to come, subject to certain restrictions mentioned here.
CHIEF DEPOSED IF HE REFUSES TO ATTEND A COUNCIL FIRE
If any chief of the League neglects or refuses to attend the Council of the League, the other Chiefs of the nation of which he is a member shall require their War Chief to request the female sponsors of the Chief so guilty of neglecting his duties to demand his attendance at the Council. If he refuses, the women holding the title shall immediately select another candidate for the title. No chief shall be asked more than once to attend the Council of the League.
AN ERRANT CHIEF DEPOSED BY CLAN MOTHER THROUGH THE WAR CHIEF
If at any time it shall be apparent that a chief of the League has not in mind the welfare of the people or disobeys the rules of the Great Law, the men or women of the League, or both jointly, shall come to the Council and scold the erring chief through his War Chief. If the complaint of the people through the War Chief is not heeded on the first occasion, it shall be uttered again and then if no attention is given, a third complaint and a warning shall be given. If the chief is still disobedient, the matter shall go to the Council of War Chiefs. The War Chiefs shall then take away the title of the erring chief by order of the women in whom the title is. vested. When the chief is deposed, the women shall notify the chiefs of the League through their War Chief and the Chiefs of the League shall sanction the act. The women will then select another of their sons as a candidate and the chiefs shall elect him. Then the chosen one shall be installed by the Installation Ceremony.
When a chief is deposed, his War Chief shall address him as follows:
"So you, ..., disregard and set at naught the warnings of your women relatives. You fling the warnings over your shoulder to cast them behind. Behold the brightness of the Sun, and in the brightness of the Sun's light, I depose you of your tide and remove the emblem of your chieftainship title. I remove from your brow the deer's antlers which was the emblem of your position and token of your nobility. I now depose you and return the antlers to the women whose heritage they are."
The War Chief shall now address the women of the deposed Chief and say:
"Mothers as I have deposed your chief, I now return to you the emblem and the title of chieftainship; therefore, repossess them."
Again addressing the deposed chief, he shall say:
"As I have deposed and discharged you, so you are no longer chief. The rest of the people of the League shall not go with you, for we know not the kind of mind you possess. As the Creator has nothing to do with wrong, so he will not come to rescue you from the precipice of destruction in which you have cast yourself. You shall never be restored to the position you once occupied."
Then shall the War Chief address himself to the Chiefs of the nation to which the deposed chief belongs and say:
"Know you, my chiefs, that I have taken the deer's antlers from the brow of ..., the emblem of his position and token of his greatness:"
The chiefs of the League shall have no other alternative than to sanction the discharge of the offending chief.
FOR THE CHIEF GUILTY OF MURDER
If a chief of the League of Five Nations should commit murder, the other chiefs of the nation shall assemble at the place where the corpse lies and prepare to depose the criminal chief. If it is impossible to meet at the scene of the crime, the chiefs shall discuss the matter at the next Council of their nation and request their War Chief to depose the chief guilty of the crime, to "bury his women relatives" and to transfer the chieftainship title to a sister family.
The War Chief shall address the chief guilty of murder and say:
"So you,..., did kill ... with your own hands! You have committed a grave crime in the eyes of the Creator. Behold the bright light of the Sun and in the brightness of the Sun's light, I depose you of your title and remove the horns, the sacred emblems of your chieftainship title. I remove from your brow the deer's antlers which was the emblem of your position and token of your nobility. I now depose you and expel you and you shall depart at once from the territory of the League of the Five Nations and never more return again. We, the League of Five Nations, moreover, bury your women relatives because the ancient chieftainship title was never intended to have any union with bloodshed. Henceforth, it shall not be their heritage. By the evil deed that you have done they have forfeited it forever."
The War Chief shall then hand the title to a sister family and he shall address it and say:
"Our Mothers, ..., Listen attentively while I address you on a solemn and important subject. I hereby transfer to you an ancient chieftainship title for a great calamity has befallen it in the hands of the family of a former chief. We trust that you, our Mothers, will always guard it and that you will warn your chief always to be dutiful and to advise his people to ever live in love, peace and harmony that a great calamity may never happen again."
CERTAIN DEFECTS RESTRICT A CHIEFCertain physical defects in a statesman of the League makes him ineligible to sit in the League Council. Such defects as infancy, idiocy, blindness, deafness, dumbness and impotency. When a statesman of the League is restricted by any of these conditions, a deputy shall be appointed by his sponsors to act for him, but in cases of extreme necessity, the restricted statesman may exercise his rights.
CHIEF MAY OR MAY NOT RESIGN IF ACTIVE CHIEFS REFUSE TO ACCEPT HIS RESIGNATION
If a statesman of the League desires to resign his title, he shall notify the statesmen of the nation of which he is a member of his intentions. . If his co-active statesmen refuse to accept his resignation, he may not resign his title.
A statesman, in proposing to resign, may recommend any proper candidate which recommendation shall be received by the statesman but unless confirmed and nominated by the women who hold the title, the candidate shall not be considered.
ON CHIEFS MAKING WAMPUM STRINGS OR BELTS
Any chief of the League of Five Nations may construct shell strings or wampum belts of any size of length as pledges or records of matters of national and international importance.
When it is necessary to dispatch a shell string by a War Chief or other messenger as a token of summons, the messenger shall recite the contents of the string to whom it is sent. That party shall' repeat the message and if there has been a summons, he shall make ready for his journey.
Any of the people of the Five Nations may use shells or wampum as the record of a pledge, contract or an agreement entered into and the same shall be binding as soon as shell strings have been exchanged by both parties.
THE SKINS OF CHIEFS SHALL BE SEVEN SPANS THICK
The chiefs of the League of Five Nations shall be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of their skin shall be seven spans nine (tsatahniioronkarakeh), which is to say that they shall be proof against anger; offensive 'action and criticism. Their hearts hall be full of peace and good will, and their minds filled with a yearning for the people of the League. With endless patience, they shall carry out their duty. Their firmness shall be tempered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodging in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.
CHIEF SEEKING INDEPENDENT AUTHORITY WILL BE DEPOSED
If a chief of the League should seek to establish any authority independent of the jurisdiction of the League of the Great Peace, which is the Five Nations, he shall be warned three times in open Council: first by the women relatives, second by the men relatives, and finally by the chiefs of the Nation to which he belongs.
If the offending chief is still persistent, he shall be dismissed by the War Chief of his Nation for refusing to conform to the laws of the Great Peace. His Nation shall then install the candidate nominated by the female name holders of his family.
THE CHIEFS AS TEACHERS AND SPIRITUAL GUIDES
It shall be the duty of all the chiefs of the League of Five Nations from time to time as occasion demands to act as teachers and spiritual guides of their people and remind them of their Creator's will and words.
They shall say:
"Listen, that peace may continue unto future days! "Always listen to the words of the Great Creator, for he has spoken. "United People, let no evil find lodging in your minds. "For the Great Creator has spoken and the Cause of Peace shall not become old. "The cause of Peace shall not die if you remember the Great Creator."
ALL CHIEFS MUST BE HONEST
All chiefs of the League of Five Nations must be honest in all things. They must not idle and gossip, but be men possessing those honorable qualities that make true leaders. It shall be a serious wrong for anyone to lead a chief into trivial affairs for the people must ever hold their chiefs high in estimation out of respect to their honorable positions.
A NEW CHIEF MUST MAKE PLEDGE VIA FOUR STRINGS OF WAMPUM
When a candidate Chief is to be installed, he shall furnish four strings of shells or wampum one span in length bound together at one end. Such will constitute the evidence of his pledge to the chiefs of the League that he will live according to the Constitution of the Great Peace and exercise justice in all affairs.
When the pledge is furnished, the Speaker of the Council must hold the shell strings in his hand and address the opposite side of the Council Fire and he shall begin his address saying:
"Now behold him. He has now become a chief of the League. See how splendid he looks."
An address may then follow. At the end of it, he shall send the bunch of shell strings to the opposite side and they shall be received as evidence of the pledge. Then shall the opposite side say:
"We now do crown you with the sacred emblem of the deer's antlers, the emblem of your chieftainship. You shall now become a mentor of the people of the Five Nations. The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans, which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Your heart shall be filled with peace and good will. Your mind shall be filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the League. With endless patience you shall carry out your duty and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodging in your mind. All your words and actions shall be marked with calm deliberation. In all your deliberations in the Council of the League, in your efforts at law-making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast away. Do not cast over your shoulder behind you the warnings of your nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the Great Law which is right and just. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people, and have always in view not only the present, but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground - the unborn of the future Nation."
THE NEW CHIEF SHALL FURNISH THE FOOD FOR THE CELEBRATIONS
When a chieftainship title is to be conferred, the candidate chief shall furnish the cooked venison, the corn bread and the corn soup, together with other necessary things and the labor for the Conferring of Titles Festival.
CHIEFTAINSHIP TITLE CAN BE CONFERRED WHEN THE GREAT LAW IS RECITED
The chiefs of the League may confer the Chieftainship title whenever the Great Law is recited, if there is a candidate, for the Great Law speaks all the rules.
A SERIOUSLY ILL CHIEF TEMPORARILY DEPOSED
If a chief of the League should become seriously ill and be thought near death, the women who are the heirs of his title shall go to his house and lift his crown of deer antlers, the emblem of his Chieftainship, and place them at one side. If the Creator spares him and he rises from his bed of sickness, he may rise with the antlers on his brow.
The following words shall be used to temporarily remove the antlers:
"Now our comrade chief, the time has come when we must approach you in your illness. We remove for a time the deer's antlers from your brow. We remove the emblem of your Chieftainship title. The Great Law has decreed that no chief should end his life with the antlers on his brow. We, therefore, lay them aside in the room. If the Creator spares you and you recover from your illness, you shall resume your duties as chief of the League and you may again labor for the people of the League."
NO COUNCIL FOR TEN DAYS WHEN A CHIEF DIES
If a chief of the League should die while the Council of the Five Nations is in session, the Council shall adjourn for ten days. No Council of the League shall sit within ten days of the death of a Chief of the League.
If the Three Brothers (ahsennihontatehkenah) (the Mohawks, the Onondaga and the Seneca) should lose one of their chiefs by death, the Younger Brother (iatatehkenah) (the Cayuga and the Oneida) shall come to the surviving chiefs of the Three Brothers on the tenth day and console them. If the Younger Brothers lose one of their chiefs, then the Three Brothers shall come to them and console them. And the consolation shall be the reading of the contents of the thirteenth shell wampum of Ayonwatha. At the termination of this rite, a successor shall be appointed by the women heirs of the chieftainship title. If the women are not ready to place their nominee before the chiefs, the Speaker shall say:
"Come let us go out."
All shall then leave the Council or place of gathering. The Speaker shall lead the way from the house by saying:
"Let us depart to the edge of the woods and lie in wait on our bellies." (Tenshakonatioswentarese).
When the women title holders shall have chosen one of.their sons, the chiefs of the League will assemble in two places, the Younger Brothers in one place and the three Older Brothers in another. The chiefs who are to console the mourning chiefs shall choose one of their number to sing the Song of Peace as they journey to the sorrowing chiefs. The singer shall lead the way and the chiefs and the people shall follow. When they reach the sorrowing chiefs, they shall hail the candidate chief and perform the rite of Conferring the Chieftainship title. (Ohkeiontentshera)
WHEN A CHIEF DIES ALL IROQUOIS CHIEFS ARE NOTIFIED
When a chief of the League dies, the surviving relatives shall immediately dispatch a messenger, a mentor of another clan, to the chiefs in another locality. When the runner comes within hailing distance of the locality, he shall utter a sad wail, thusly: "Kwa-ah! Kwa-ah!" The sound shall be repeated three times, and then again and again at intervals as many times as the distance may require. When the runner arrives at the settlement, the people shall assemble and one must ask the nature of his sad message.
He shall then say:
"Let us consider." (rakwennikonriak).
Then he shall tell them of the death of the chief. He shall deliver to them a string of shells or wampum and say:
"Here is the testimony, you have heard the message."
He then may return home.
It now becomes the duty of the chiefs of the locality to send runners to other localities and each locality shall send messengers until all chiefs are notified. Runners shall travel day and night.
NO CHIEF MAY CARRY HIS TITLE TO THE GRAVE
If a chief dies and there is no candidate qualified for the office in the family of the women title holders, the chief of the Nation shall give the title into the hands of a sister family (Kentennonteron) in the clan until such time as the original family produces a candidate, when the title shall be restored to the rightful owners.
No chieftainship title may be carried into the grave. The chiefs of the League may dispossess a dead chief of his title even at the grave.