How did they
Answer: The League of
The Iroquois view of nature was based on sharing
and cooperation. They took that same attitude into their daily life,
history, and government. Because of their attitude, they were able to
accomplish something spectacular, something that had never been done
before. They were able to form the League of Nations.
Legend of Hiawatha: Legend says ... Once
upon a time, there was a Mohawk leader named Hiawatha. He was tired of
the endless fighting between the five nations. He wanted things to
change. One day, he met a great Iroquois speaker named Dekanawida.
Dekanawida convinced him that the way to bring peace was to form a new
nation, a single Iroquois Nation, where all five nations would have
voice in government, so that things could be solved peacefully.
An old Iroquois legend says this is what he told
"We bind ourselves together by taking hold
of each other's hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that
if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so
that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle of
security, peace, and happiness."
And so it was done. Each of the five great
Iroquois Nations banded together to form the League of Nations.
Iroquois Indians: There were many
woodland Indians, but the most powerful group were the Iroquois
Nations - the Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga.
the Iroquois people spoke the same language. They believed in the same
gods. They had many similar customs. They believed in
Government: The Iroquois Indians had a unique
form of representative central government. It was called the League of
Nations. These were not tribes that joined
together to form a nation. These were nations that joined together to
form the League of Nations. Much later in their history, these five
nations were joined by the Tuscaronra Nation, bringing the League to a
total of six.
Constitution: The League had a written
constitution, a set of rights and agreements that all the people had
to honor. The constitution was recorded on 114 wampums.
The League had a Council. Each Iroquois Nation
had a set number of seats on the Council. The decisions of the Council
were binding on every person in all Iroquois Nations.
Purpose: The League's primary purpose was the
Great Law of Peace. This law said that the Iroquois should not kill
The League did not try to create rules for each
tribe and village. That was the job of local government or regional
government - the village council and the tribal councils. Only major
issues were debated on the floor of the League of Nations.
Council speakers were eloquent and persuasive.
Some members of the council were selected not because they were great
warriors, but because they were great speakers.
There were groups inside the League that acted a
great deal like today's political parties. The war-like Mohawk and
Oneida often teamed up in the debates. The peaceful Seneca and Cayuga
speakers would team up to oppose them. Fortunately, one of the
League's constitutional rules was that the Chief of the League would
always be selected from the Onondaga Nation. The peace loving Onondaga
held 14 seats in the council. That was a lot of seats. The Onondaga
were able to keep peace simply by reminding all representatives that
their block of votes could swing either way.
Although each member's vote carried the same
weight, there was a pecking order. The Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca
were addressed as "elder brothers" and the Oneida, Cayuga,
and Tuscarora were addressed as "younger brothers".
Decisions: If there was a weakness to this
system, it was that all decisions had to be unanimous. By the 1600's,
the Iroquois knew it was essential to present a united front to the
colonists. Debates, although heated, nearly always led to a unanimous
decision. The Nations stood together, and that made them strong.
During the American Revolution, the clan mothers
could not decide whether to fight on the side of the colonists or on
the side of the British. The Iroquois Nations tried very hard to not
take sides at all. When that did not work, they let each village
decide for themselves. Some fought on the side of the colonists. Some
fought on the side of the British.
Ideas: When the early colonists began to design
a system of government for what would become the United States of
America, they borrowed many ideas from the League of Nations. It was
an incredible system of government. It worked for Iroquois, and it worked for
the new American government. Both governments - the Iroquois League of Nations and the
Government of the United States are still in operation today.