Great Law of Peace – Gayanashagowa


1. The number of chiefs in this Confederation of the Five Nation Indians are 50 in number, no more and no less. They are the ones to arrange, to legislate and to look after the affairs of their people.

2. The Mohawks, an Indian Nation, forms a part of the body of this Five Nation Indians Confederation, and their representatives in this Confederation is 9 chiefs.

3. The Oneidas, an Indian Nation, forms a party of the body of this Five Nation Indians Confederation, and their representatives in this Confederation is 9 chiefs.

4. The Onondagas, an Indian Nation, form a part of the body of this Five Nation Indians Confederation, and their representatives in this Confederation is 14 chiefs.

5. The Cayugas, an Indian Nation, forms a part of the body of this Five Nation Indians Confederation, and their representatives in this confederation is 10 chiefs.

6. The Senecas, an Indian Nation, forms a part of the body of this Five Nation Indians Confederation, and their representatives in this confederation is 8 chiefs.

7. When the Five Nation Indians Confederation chiefs assemble to hold a council, the council shall be duly opened and closed by the Onondaga chiefs, the Firekeepers. They will offer thanks to the Great Spirit that dwells in heaven above: the source and ruler of our lives, and it is him that sends daily blessings upon us, our daily wants and daily health, and they will then declare the Council open for the transaction of business, and give decisions of all that is done in the council.

8. There are three totems or castes of the Mohawk Nation, viz. the Tortoise, the Wolf and the Bear. Each has 3 head chiefs, 9 in all. The chiefs of the Tortoise and Wolf castes are the council by themselves, and the chiefs of the Bear castes are to listen and watch the progress of the council or discussion of the two castes; and if they see any error, they are to correct them and explain where they are wrong; and when they decide with the sanction of the Bear castes then their speaker will refer the matter to the other side of the council fire, to the second combination chiefs, viz The Oneidas and Cayugas.

9. The council of the five Nations shall not be opened until all of the 3 castes of the Mohawk chiefs are present. If they are not all present it shall be legal for them to transact the business of the council if all the 3 totems have one or more representatives present, and if not it shall not be legal except in small matters; for all the 3 castes of the Mohawk chiefs must be present to be called a full council.

10. The business of the council of the Five Nation Indians is transacted by two combination of chiefs; viz first the Mohawks and Senecas, and second the Oneidas and Cayugas.

11. When a case or proposition is introduced in the council of the Five Nations, the Mohawk chiefs with the Senecas shall first consider the matter, and whatever the decision may be; then the speaker will refer the matter to the other side of the council fire; to the second combination chiefs, the Oneidas and Cayugas, for their consideration, and if they all agree unanimously then the speaker of the council shall refer the matter to the Fire-keepers; and it is then their duty to sanction it; and their speaker will then pronounce the case as passed in council.

12. If a dissension arises between the two combination chiefs in council, and they agree to refer the matter to the Fire-keepers to decide, then the Fire-keepers shall decide which of the two or more propositions is most advantageous to their people, and their decision is final.

13. When any case or proposition has passed unanimously between the two combination chiefs, and the case or proposition is then referred to the Fire-keepers for their sanction: and if the Fire-keepers see that the case or proposition is such that it will be injurious and not to the advantage of their people, then they will refer the case or proposition back to the Mohawk chiefs, and point out where it would be injurious to the people and then they will reconsider the case. When it is right the case is then referred again to the Fire-keepers and then they will pass it.

14. When there is a case, proposition, or any subject before the council of the Five Nation Indians, no chief or chiefs has any right to stand up to speak without permission from the council, and if he has anything to say by way of explanation, he can do so in a low tone to the combined chiefs whereof he is a member.

15. When anything is under the consideration of the council, they must agree unanimously if possible before it is referred to the other side of the council fire, to the second combination chiefs; otherwise it would be illegal so to do by one or more chiefs, unless sanctioned by the rest of the combined chiefs of which he or they is a member.

16. The speaker of the council of the Five Nations council shall be appointed from time to time when it is necessary, by the first combined chiefs (viz the Mohawks and Senecas) during the day or days when the council is in session.

17. The duty of the speaker of the council as aforesaid is to order the Fire-keepers to open and close the council, and to address the council when necessary and to refer cases, propositions, etc. to the second combined chiefs and to the Fire-keepers, and to proclaim sanctioned cases, or anything when passed by the council.

18. A speaker of the Fire-keepers shall be chosen from time to time, as occasion shall require; by the Onondaga chiefs themselves.

19. The speaker of the Second Combined Chiefs appointment, shall be on the same condition as the speaker of the Fire-keepers.

20. Each of the Principal chiefs has one war chief and a runner, and should war break out, then the office of the principal chief ceases during the war. The war chiefs will take their places and council for the Five Nations until the end of the war; then the office will cease and the principal chiefs shall resume their places and their duties as before.

21. If the Principal chief desires to have anything to do with the war, this he can do by giving up the emblem which he received by his relatives when he was first made chief.

22. The duty of the messenger or runner is to carry tidings from place to place by order of the Five Nation Indians Confederation session, or by his superior chiefs.

23. If the Principal chief does fail in his judgement in the five Nation Indians Confederation council, of course the duty of his war chief is to assist him, and he is bound to listen.

24. The duty of the Head Principal Chief of the Onondagas, Ododarho, is to keep the Five Nation Indians Confederation council fire clean all around, that no dust or dirt is to be seen. There is a long wing of a bird and a stick is placed by his side, and he will take the long wing and sweep or dust the dirt away from the council fire, and if he sees any creeping creature crawling towards the Five Nation Indians council fire, he will take the stick and pitch the crawling creature away from the fire, and his cousin chiefs of the Onondagas will act with him at all times, and the crawling creature signifies any case or proposition or subject brought before the Five Nation Indians council which would be ruinous and injurious to their people, and they are to reject anything which on the nature would be ruinous and injurious and not to the advantage of their people, and they are to consider first by themselves during the council, and then call the attention of the council to the fact, case or proposition, and the council are not to receive it after it had been rejected by the council.

25. The Fire-keepers of the Five Nation Indians Confederation council the Onondaga principal chiefs are combined together by themselves expressly to open and close the Five Nation Indians Confederation council and to sanction, and decide any case, proposition, subject, point or points, when referred to them and all the chiefs must be present during the session, and agree unanimously, for one or two or more chiefs to sanction, and to give decision is illegal if the rest of their cousin chiefs are present and the council shall not be organized if the Onondaga chief of chiefs are not present to open and close the council, but if he or they shall not sanction, or give decision on any case, proposition, subject, point or points until all the rest of their cousin chiefs shall be present.

26. The duty of the two head Seneca chiefs (viz, Kennonkeridawi and Deyoninhohakarawen), who are stationed at the door of the Five Nations Indians Confederation session, is to watch and if they see any crawling creature entering in the session they will disallow to enter in the session. Crawling creature signifies any case of proposition which brought before the session would be ruinous, or injurious to the people; and also if they see stranger near the door they will bring the stranger in their session and ask what is their message have they with them.

27. If any one of the Five Nation Indians confederation chiefs should die, and there being no member in the caste fit for the office to succeed him, then the chiefs of the Five Nation Indians shall take the emblem of chieftainship and put it in another family of the same caste as the deceased chief, until such time as they shall have a member qualified for the office, then the emblem of chieftainship shall be restored to the said family, on the female side.

28. If the principal chief or chiefs of the Five Nation lndians Confederation disregards (this) constitution of the Five Nation Indians, then his female relatives will come to him and warn him or they to come back, and walk according to this constitution. If he or they disregards the warning after the first and second warnings, then she will refer the matter to the war chief, and the war chief will now say to him: “So, you did not listen to the warnings, now it is just where the bright noonday sun stands and it’s before that sun’s brightness I now discharge you as a chief and I now dispossess you of the office of chieftainship. I now give her the chieftainship for she is the proprietor, and as I have now discharged you as a chief, so you are no longer a chief, you will now go where you want it to go, and you will now go alone, and the rest of the people will not go with you for we know not of what kind of a spirit has got in you, and as the Great Spirit could not handle sin, therefore he could not come to take you out of the presence in the place of destruction, and you will never be restored again to the place you did occupy once.” Then the war chief will notify the Five Nation Indians confederation of his dismissal and they will sanction it.

29. Kariwhiyho, the good message is the love of the Great Spirit, the Supreme Being. This Kariwhiyho is the surrounding guardian of the Five Nation Indians Confederation principal chiefs. And this Kariwhiyho, it loves all alike the members of the Five Nations Indians Confederation, and other nations of Indians that are attached to it through customary way of treaties, and if the Five Nation Indians Confederation principal chiefs were to submit to laws and regulations made by other people, or course he or they the chief or chiefs are now gone through outside the boundary of the Kariwhiyhos surrounding guard, but their chieftainship fell off from their heads, and it remains inside the Five Nation Indians Confederation, and he or they are now gone outside of the Kariwhiyho’s surrounding guard alone without his or their chieftainship, the emblem of his or their chieftainship, their authority and honour.

30. There is 5 arrows bound together. This is the symbol of union, power, honour and Dominion of the Five Nations Indians confederation, and if one of the 5 arrows was to be taken out then the remainder is easily broken asunder. This signifies if one of the Five Nations were to emigrate to a distant country of course they now withdrawn from the Confederation, therefore the Power of the Five Nation Indians confederation decreased.

31. Adodarho, the head chief of the Ononadagas or Fire-keepers, it is them are entrusted the care of the Five Nation Indians Confederation council fire, and if there is any business to be transacted, they will send a messenger to the head chief of the Fire-keepers Adodarho; and state the nature of the business to him. Then Adodarho will call his cousin chiefs together and hold a council by themselves and consider the matter, and if they find that the matter is worth the consideration of the council of the Five Nations, then Adodarho will send a messenger and notify the rest of the chiefs of the five nations to assemble at their council house, or wherever their residence where the council fire is kept, and its smoke ascends up perpetually to the sky, this it signifies that other Indian Nations are allies to the Five Nation Indians confederation, and as an imperial council fire, and when the chiefs assemble together and the council fire opened according to their rules, then the Fire-keepers will announce to the council the nature business for which they came together to consider.

32. And when the Five Nation Indian chief dies, the council will be adjourned 10 days if it is in session, and if it is not in session it will not be summoned before the 10 days expire; and if the 3 Brothers, viz; Mohawks, Ononadagas and Senecas, should lose one by death of their number, then the 4 brothers Yadathewah, Oneidas and Cayugas, shall come to the residence of the deceased chief on the 10th day and comfort and cheer up their spirits again and if it is to Yadathawah that loses one of their number then the 3 Brothers will perform the ceremony according to their customs by passing a certain number of strings of wampum. During the ceremony is in progress, a successor must be pointed out to them. Then the female relatives of the deceased chief shall select one out of kindreds fit for the office of a chief. And if they are not ready, then they will postpone it until another time, and when they are ready; all the chiefs will assemble together to perform a long ceremony of what is called Okayondontshera to install the new chief or chiefs.

33. Yohhedodaoe, this is the title of a chief, and it is a peculiar way of how he becomes chief when a warrior assists the chiefs in their councils and otherwise, and he is found to be a wise councilor in war and peace, and of sober habits trustworthy and honest, then the chiefs will place him among the rest of the chiefs; as a chief and proclaim in their council, that such a one has become what is called Wakadinedothese he now becomes a chief. And also if a warrior do exploits that will tend to the advantage and interest of his people, he also will become Yonedodaoe amongst them as well, so his class of chiefs are not of the same order as the principle chiefs; for when he departs this life no one is to take his place or succeed him, and if he does wrong in their councils he could not be put out of the council, but he will not be allowed any more to speak in their council, and if he resign his office no one is able to prevent him.

34. If the Five Nation Indian Confederation chief die, then, his comrades will send a messenger to notify the rest of the confederate chiefs to attend his funeral.

35. When the Five Nation Indians Confederation chief get sick, and as he is now approaching unto death, then his female relatives, or his comrade chiefs will come and dispossess him (of) the emblem of his chieftainship.

36. You can create an install a new chief or chiefs when you will hear my words again, and the way that you will hear my words again is when you will read the wampums, for it is the wampums that tells all my Laws, Rules, Customs, which I gave you, the Five Nations Indians, on this occasion you can create and install a new chief in the first combined chiefs, the second and the third as well.

37. And when one is made chief, his skin are said to be seven Niyoroekarake (each of the seven is six inches) in thickness and they were made so when they were made a chief or chiefs. This symbolizes, that when they are in council and engaged in their duties they will not willingly offend, and they are not easily to be offended, and they are not to take offence in anything that might be said in council against them; but to go one calmly, and of a good conscience to deliberate whatever is before them to council!.

38. The title of the Five Nation Indians Confederation principal chiefs are Lords, and this title was from the beginning when the Confederation first established.

39. And if any of the chiefs resign his office as a chief, he shall tell his Brother chiefs, and if he selects one to take his place and be a chief instead, and his Brother chiefs accepts his resignation and one to fill his place, but he will not be made a chief, until sanctioned by his female relatives.

40. The Great Spirit the Supreme Being has chosen to Mohawk Nation as head in this Confederation, for it is with them that the Confederation originated. Therefore if the Mohawk chiefs disallow anything, or protest any case or proposition that is brought before the council it shall not be lawful for the council to pass it, for has chosen them to be the leader of this Confederation government, and all the affairs of the Five Nation Indians, and others that are united  with them are in their hands; and he has given the Mohawk chiefs a calm and tender hearts towards their people, and if any difficulty arise amongst them the people the chiefs in council will settle it for them.

Among the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois – that is to say the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, the Oneida, and the Tuscarora) the Great Law of Peace is the oral constitution whereby the Iroquois Confederacy was bound together. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Dekanawidah, known as The Great Peacemaker, and his spokesman Hiawatha. The original five member nations ratified this constitution near modern-day Victor, New York, with the sixth nation (the Tuscarora) being added in c. 1722.

The laws were first recorded and transmitted not in written language, but by means of wampum symbols that conveyed meaning. In a later era it was translated into English and various accounts exist. The Great Law of Peace is presented as part of a narrative noting laws and ceremonies to be performed at prescribed times. The laws called a constitution are divided into 117 articles. The united Iroquois nations are symbolized by an eastern white pine tree, called the Tree of Peace. Each nation or tribe plays a delineated role in the conduct of government.

Attempts to date the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy have focused on a reported solar eclipse, which many scholars identify as the one that occurred in 1451 AD though some debate exists with support for 1142.

The narratives of the Great Law exist in the languages of the member nations so spelling and usages vary. William N. Fenton observed that it came to serve a purpose as a social organization inside and among the nations, a constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy or League, ceremonies to be observed, and a binding history of peoples. Fenton also observed some 9 common points focusing more simply on the narrative story line,: though Christopher Vecsey identified 22 points shared across some two dozen versions of the narrative or parts of the narrative both direct and indirect:


  1. The Migration and Separation of the People (pre-history of the area)
  2. The Birth and Growth of Deganawida
  3. The Journey to the Mohawks, the Situation, and the Mission Explained
  4. The Mother of Nations Accepts Deganawida’s Message
  5. The Cannibal Converts
  6. The Prophets Prove Their Power
  7. Tadadaho the Wizard Prevents Peace
  8. Hiawatha’s Relatives Are Killed
  9. Hiawatha Mourns and Quits Onondaga
  10. Hiawatha Invents Wampum
  11. Hiawatha Gives the Mohawks Lessons in Protocol
  12. Deganawida Consoles Hiawatha
  13. Scouts Travel to Tadadaho
  14. Deganawida and Hiawatha Join Oneidas, Cayugas, and Senecas to Mohawks
  15. The Nations March to Tadadaho, Singing the Peace Hymn
  16. Deganawida and Hiawatha Transform Tadadaho

Constitution of the Confederacy and social order of the member peoples

  1. Deganawida and Hiawatha Establish Iroquois Unity and Law
  2. Deganawida and Hiawatha Establish League Chiefs and Council Polity
  3. The Confederacy Takes Symbolic Images
  4. The League Declares Its Sovereignty (the Constitutional laws of the Confederacy)


  1. The Condolence Maintains the Confederacy ( a sequence of ceremonies for grieving over a deceased chief and appointing a new one)
  2. Deganawida Departs

Barbara Mann has gathered version featuring conflicting but harmonized elements (who does what varies but what happens is more consistent than not,) or stories that tell distinct elements not shared in other versions, into a narrative she includes in the Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee published in 2000.


An untranslated version has been posted by the Smithsonian Institution.

Another is mentioned being presented to Michael Foster.


There are several Mohawk versions that made it into print and several of those were printed more than once.

Horatio Hale published one in 1883 he traced somewhat earlier which was reprinted by William N. Fenton, following Arthur Caswell Parker, in 1968.

J. N. B. Hewitt published one in 1928 based on a much earlier fragment.

Joseph Brant and John Norton commented on details of the narrative as early as 1801 and published since.

Dayodekane, better known as Seth Newhouse, arranged for some versions that were published differently near 1900 – first from 1885 included in a book by Paul A. W. Wallace in 1948, and a second version published in 1910 by Arthur C. Parker.] Fenton discusses Newhouse’ contributions in a paper in 1949. Wallace also published a separate book without stating his source in 1946 called “The Iroquois book of Life – White Roots of Peace” which was later revised and extended with endorsements by Iroqouis chiefs and an Iroquoian historian John Mohawk in 1986 and 1994.


Oneida versions have been noted in various places. One from New York, has been echoed/summarized by the Milwaukee Public Museum. Another has been published by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin in two sections. Another account is also reported.

Paula Underwood, an oral historian who traces her history to an Oneida ancestor, was also related to Benjamin Franklin. Her familial oral history describing Shenandoah’s close relationship and collaboration with Benjamin Franklin on the writing of the US Constitution was published in 1997.


Parts of Horatio Hale’s work The Iroquois Book of Rites is said to have Onondaga sources. J. N. B. Hewitt recorded Chief John Buck and included his presentation in 1892.

John Arthur Gibson shared several versions that have gathered notable awareness among scholars like Fenton and others. His first version was in 1899. Gibson then participated in a collective version with many Chiefs from the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve in 1900 which was reprinted a number of times: first in 1910/1, and then included in another work. A final version was offered to Alexander Goldenweiser but wasn’t finished translated and published until 1992 by Hanni Woodbury.


Newspaper editor William Walker Canfield published a book The Legends of the Iroquois in 1902 based on found notes he was given purporting to be written from comments of Cornplanter reportedly to an employee of the surveyor company Holland Land Company, perhaps John Adlum, known friend of Cornplanter. It is the primary source of the mention of a solar eclipse.

Another Seneca version was given by Deloe B. Kittle to Parker and was published in 1923.


There is a version attributed by Wallace “Mad Bear” Anderson of the Tuscarora published in 1987. However, there is a claim this was borrowed.

United States Constitution

Some historians, including Donald Grinde of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, have claimed that the democratic ideals of the Gayanashagowa provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution. They contend that the federal structure of the U.S. constitution was influenced by the living example of the Iroqouis confederation, as were notions of individual liberty and the separation of powers. Grinde, Bruce Johansen and others also identify Native American symbols and imagery that were adopted by the nascent United States, including the American bald eagle and a bundle of arrows. Their thesis argues the U.S. constitution was the synthesis of various forms of political organization familiar to the founders, including the Iroquois confederation.

Franklin circulated copies of the proceedings of the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster among his fellow colonists; at the close of this document, the Six Nations leaders offer to impart instruction in their democratic methods of government to the English. Franklin’s Albany Plan is also believed to have been influenced by his understanding of Iroqouis government. John Rutledge of South Carolina, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, is said to have read lengthy tracts of Six Nations law to the other framers, beginning with the words “We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order…” In October 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331 to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution upon the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The extent of the influence of Six Nations law on the U.S. Constitution is disputed by other scholars. Haudenosaunee historian Elizabeth Tooker has pointed to several differences between the two forms of government, notably that all decisions were made by a consensus of male chiefs who gained their position through a combination of blood descent and selection by female relatives, that representation on the basis of the number of clans in the group rather than the size or population of the clans, that the topics discussed were decided by a single tribe. Tooker concluded there is little resemblance between the two documents, or reason to believe the Six Nations had a meaningful influence on the American Constitution, and that it is unclear how much impact Canasatego’s statement at Lancaster actually had on the representatives of the colonies. Stanford University historian Jack N. Rakove argued against any Six Nations influence, pointing to lack of evidence in U.S. constitutional debate records, and examples of European antecedents for democratic institutions.

Journalist Charles C. Mann has noted other differences between The Great Law of Peace and the original U.S. Constitution, including the original Constitution’s denial of suffrage to women, and majority rule rather than consensus. Mann argues that the early colonists’ interaction with Native Americans and their understanding of Iroqouis government did influence the development of the U.S. constitution and the Suffragette movement.

Example articles

§37: There shall be one war chief from each nation, and their duties shall be to carry messages for their chiefs, and to take up arms in case of emergency. They shall not participate in the proceedings of the Council of the League, but shall watch its progress and in case of an erroneous action by a chief, they shall receive the complaints of the people and convey the warnings of the women to him. The people who wish to convey messages to the chiefs of the League shall do so through the war chief of their nation. It shall always be his duty to lay the cases, questions, and propositions of the people before the council of the League.
§58: Any Chief or other person who submit to Laws of a foreign people are alienated and forfeit all claim in the Five Nations.
§101: It shall be the duty of the appointed managers of the Thanksgiving festivals to do all that is needful for carrying out the duties of the occasions. The recognized festivals of Thanksgiving shall be the Midwinter Thanksgiving, the Maple or Sugar-Making Thanksgiving, the Raspberry Thanksgiving, the Strawberry Thanksgiving, the Corn Planting Thanksgiving, the Corn Hoeing Thanksgiving, The Little Festival of Green Corn, the Great Festival of Ripe Corn, and the Complete Thanksgiving for the Harvest. Each nation’s festivals shall be held in their Longhouses.
§107: A certain sign shall be known to all the people of the Five Nations which shall denote that the owner or occupant of a house is absent. A stick or pole in a slanting or leaning position shall indicate this and be the sign. Every person not entitled to enter the house by right of living within upon seeing such a sign shall not enter the house by day or by night, but shall keep as far away as his business will permit.

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