The Peacemaker, Hiawatha, and the Formation of the Longhouse

Hey, everybody:

I feel like this post is actually a little behind. While I have been discussing various aspects of Haudenosaunee culture and their traditions, I have not given you, the reader, a solid foundation from which Haudenosaunee ideals are derived from. So, this post will survey a general discussion on the formation of the Six Nations: the Peacemaker, Hiawatha, The Great Law of Peace, and the New Mind. All of these people and aspects serve central functions within the Longhouse tradition and further scholarship cannot fully be understood without this background. Sorry for the delay!

The story of begins with the birth of the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was born to a Huron virgin, north of Lake Ontario. Prior to his birth, the Peacemaker’s Grandmother had a vision from the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit spoke to the Peacemaker’s role in the coming world. As quoted from Paul A. Wallace’s White Roots of Peace, the Great Spirit revealed the child “brings with him the Good News of Peace and Power … His office is to bring peace and life to the people on earth.”  The Grandmother and Mother were told to not interfere in the child’s plans, as he would leave the village when he was ready.  The day came when the Peacemaker, now ready to spread the God News, told his family his plans. “It is my bidding to stop the shedding of blood among human beings,” the Peacemaker told his family, as Wallace told. The Peacemaker built a canoe of white stone and sailed it across Lake Ontario towards the sunrise and Hotinonshonni. This is according to the North American Indian Travelling College’s (NAITC) Traditional Teachings.

On the eastern banks of Lake Ontario, the Peacemaker was greeted by hunters from a settlement upon the hill. The land was bare, without cornfields. The hunters told the Peacemaker that they had come down to the banks because their settlement was marred by strife and discontent. The Peacemaker told them to return to their settlement, to tell their chief of the message of “Good News of Peace and Power.” The hunters were curious, for they had know strife entirely. When, they asked. “It will come,” the Peacemaker replied. So the hunter returned to their settlement and told of this Good News to their chief. The chief, elated by this news, awaited for the day that the Peacemaker’s vision would come true. Before this, though, the Peacemaker had to travel across the lands and meet people yet unmet.

In his travels, the Peacemaker first met a women who would lure wandering travelers with hot meals and then devour them. The women, serving the Peacemaker his meal, asked him about his message. The Peacemaker told the wicked woman, “the message I brig is that all people shall love one another and live together in peace,” as accorded by the NAITC. He continued, “this message has three parts: peace, righteousness, and power, and each part has two branches. Health means soundness of mind and body. It also means Peace, for this what comes when minds are sand and bodies cared for. Righteousness means justice practiced between men and between Nations … It also means religion for justice enforced is the will of the Creator.” The Longhouse, the culmination of the Good News, would feature separate, but equal, fires for each nation that resided within. Each people would be treated fairly as accorded by the Good News. The wicked woman, knowing the truth behind the Peacemaker’s message, believed and accepted the Good News and New Mind of thinking. She vowed to end her evil ways and live true to the message of peace, righteousness, and power. Because the woman was the first to accept the Good News, the Peacemaker gave her the name Jigónhsasee, “New Face.” Jigónhsasee would become the Mother of Nations for her role in the Good News of Peace and Power.

The next portion has names which are debated within my studies. In the next portion, the Peacemaker meets a man who eats the flesh of other men, as warned by Jigónhsasee, while on his way to the Mohawk Nation. The Traditional Teachings of NAITC ascribed the name Tekarihoken to this man, while Wallace’s account gave the role to Hiawatha. In the NAITC account, Tekarihoken became the first sachem of Mohawk Nation. In Wallace’s, Hiawatha became the traditional leader known throughout the Longhouse. For our purposes, we will assume the latter and take Wallace’s position on who this man was.

As the Peacemaker continued his travels, he saw the house of “the man who eats human flesh,” Hiawatha. Knowing this, the Peacemaker climbed the cabin of Hiawatha and laid flat over the smoke opening. As the Peacemaker peered down the hole, Hiawatha put of kettle of water over the fire to boil. Here, Hiawatha saw the face of the Peacemaker reflected in the water and believed it to be his own. Hiawatha, overcome with the beauty of the face, could not believe it could be his own. After stepping back, Hiawatha went back and realized the face was still there. Knowing this reflective face could not be the same that devoured human flesh and lived by evil ways, Hiawatha went out to toss the water and renounced evil ways. Hiawatha, though, became miserable knowing that his mind could not reconcile the actions he had taken and the new life he wished to live.

While Hiawatha was out, the Peacemaker climbed down from his porch and sat down by the fire. Here, when Hiawatha returned, the Peacemaker heard of his sorrows and trouble of mind. The Peacemaker told Hiawatha of the Good News of Peace and Power and shared the same three branches of peace, righteousness, and power as Jigónhsasee had heard. Hiawatha, as Jigónhsasee did, accepted the Good News and converted to the New Mind of though. But he knew not what to do first. Here, the Peacemaker made a meal of venison for Hiawatha and told him the people of the Longhouse would feast upon this game and other animals which the Creator had afforded them. The Peacemaker placed the antlers of the door upon Hiawatha’s head as a symbol of authority. “By these emblems,” the Peacemaker spoke, “all men shall know those who administer the new order of Peace and Power which I am come to establish.” The order, the Peacemaker told an inquisitive Hiawatha, would be known as the Longhouse or Kanonsionni, the confederacy, and Kayanerenhkowa, the Great Law. It is with this, Hiawatha became the first man to accept the Good News.

The Peacemaker spoke to Hiawatha about an evil sorcerer named Atotarho, who would hold the Onondaga Nation back from accepting his message. Hiawatha, the Peacemaker told, would be the one to “comb the snakes out” of Atotarho’s hair and heal his seven bodily crooks. Without Atotarho, the Longhouse could not be completed.  While Hiawatha went to the Onondage, the Peacemaker traveled to the Mohawk Nation to convince them of his message.

In the Mohawk Nation, the Peacemaker spoke to their chiefs about the Good News of Peace and Power. Though the people took is well, for their nation had also been marred by strife, the chiefs were cautious and slow to believe. They wished to test the Peacemaker and his message, to give them a sign that his message was true. The Peacemaker agreed to climb the tallest Mohawk tree and be cut down from it. If here to survive and been seen the next morning, the chiefs stated, than the Mohawks would ally themselves and follow the Great Law. So, the Peacemaker did exactly so and the next day a man saw smoke from the Peacemaker’s fire not far from the village. The man brought the chiefs and people to the Peacemaker’s camp and there they accepted the his message. The Mohawk were then the first nation to accept the Great Law and would be considered the foundation of the confederacy.

While the Peacemaker traveled among the Mohawk, Hiawatha attempted to convince the Onondaga of the Good News and Great Law. While the nation followed  the message, Hiawatha was unable to convince Atotarho, the evil sorcerer. Three times, Hiawatha sent council to the Atotarho, and thrice was he unsuccessful. Atotarho, up to his old tricks, caused mischief within Hiawatha’s life. Soon, each of Hiawatha’s three daughters would become ill and die. (Some version have seven of Hiawatha’s daughter dying.) The Onondaga, wishing to calm the mind of Hiawatha, staged a lacrosse game for him to watch. At this game, according to Wallace’s account, a bird fell from the sky and there was a scramble to retrieve it. During this, Hiawatha’s wife was trampled and she too died. Hiawatha, now consumed by grief, ventured into the forest alone, unreachable by most men.

In the forest, Hiawatha came upon a lake filled with ducks. Hiawatha, as told by the NAITC tradition, wished to test his powers and asked the ducks to raise the waters and allow him to cross. The ducks did as they were told, and Hiawatha was able to cross without getting his moccasins wet. While walking, Hiawatha gathered shells from the lake bed. Once across, Hiawatha took these shells and strung them together as markers of his grief.  He spokes words of condolences while holding these shells and promised that he would repeat them to any other person who felt grief as he had. It was told by a village elder elsewhere that this man, Hiawatha, would be found by the Peacemaker and the two would then bring the Great Law to each nation. A small girl, knowing of this elder’s version, saw Hiawatha one day and immediately returned to her village to tell the Peacemaker where Hiawatha was camped. On the twenty-third day of Hiawatha’s flight from Onondaga, the Peacemaker came to his camp and pulled the wampum that hung by the fire. Here, the Peacemaker spoke the Words of Requickening, a condolence message, to Hiawatha. As he did this, the Peacemaker would move the wampum, string by string, through his hand and attributed those words of condolence to the wampum themselves. And thus Hiawatha was cleared from his grief and the tradition of wampum began. The two men continued their mission of spreading the Great Law to other nations.

The Mohawk, again, were the first to accept the message. Next, the two men received confirmation from the Oneida, who were persuaded with the help of the Mohawk. The ever-helpful Cayuga, then, also accepted the Great Law. With three nations behind them, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha convinced the Onondaga, without Atotarho, to join the Longhouse. By Canandaigua Lake, the men were able to convince the powerful Seneca as well. NAITC’s retelling states this process took five years in all. With each nation behind them, the group traveled once again to convince Atotarho to accept the Great Law. “His mind is twisted,” the Peacemaker spoke of Atotarho as quoted by Wallace, “and there are seven crooks in his body. These must be straightened if the League is to endure.”

Once at Onondaga Lake, with leaders of each nation behind him, the Peacemaker chose Hiawatha alone to come with him. Atotarho had grown impatient and greeted the men rudely. The Peacemaker recounted his message to Atotarho, who at first cared very little for it. “What is that to me,” Atotarho asked, adding, “who shall bring this about?” The Peacemaker replied that Atotarho, if he would accept Great Law, would become the Head Chief of the Five Nations and would tend to the Grand Council and the Central Fire as Onondaga. Atotarho desired this, but was still skeptical. How could such a thing be? The Peacemaker and Hiawatha returned to the shores of Lake Onondaga and order the chiefs of each nation, who had been waiting, to paddle across and meet them before Atotarho. Atotarho attempted to stop them, but was unable. “Behold,” the Peacemaker shouted, in Wallace’s text. “Here is Power. These are the Five Nations. Their strength is greater than thy strength. But their voice shall be thy voice when thou speakest in council, and all men shall hear thee. This shall be thy strength in future: the will of a united people.” The Peacemaker was able to straighten Atotarho’s mind towards the Good News and Hiawatha then combed the snakes from his hair. His crooks were then straightened and Atotarho became a man once again, given a New Mind. “Thy voice shall be the voice of the Great Law,” the Peacemaker assured Atotarho and thus placed a crown of antlers upon his head. To this day, the role of “Tadodaho,” derived from irAtotarho, is a position of great power and unity within the Longhouse.

With the five nations brought together, and Atotarho their leader, the Peacemaker brought the people back to the Onondaga village. Fifty sachems, representative of each nation, gathered around the Peacemaker. Here, he proclaimed, the Central Fire would be kept and the Great Tree of Peace would be planted. The Peacemaker then uprooted the Great Tree of Peace and told the people to throw their weapon into the river below, never to be used against each other again. The people happily obliged and the Great Tree was once again rooted. A root, extending in each cardinal direction, assured the people that their peace and Great Law extended to each corner of the earth. An eagle, planted atop the Great Tree, would keep vigilance upon the nations and warn them of impending violence. Finally, the Peacemaker, using wampum to enforce his message, delivered the Great Law of Peace in its entirety to the crowd of sachems and villagers. This taught them how to govern themselves and how to follow the principles of Peace, Righteousness, and Power. As such, the united Haudenosaunee was created.

The Peacemaker then left the people, but assured them that he would return have they ever a need for him.


So, there it is. That is the tradition as far as I can recount it from my studies. It is taken as truth and defines the system of governance and lifestyle from which the Haudenosaunee of history and today still follow. The Tuscarora, the eponymous sixth nation within the Six Nations would join the Haudenosaunee officially in 1722. While there are several important aspects missing, such as the over 100 wampum strings which define the rules of governance in the Great Law of Peace, the role of Handsome Lake in the religious renewal prior to the 19th century, and much else, this should provide a general overview of the creation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as we know it. I hope this helps explain past posts and provide insight for future posts!

All the best,



North American Indian Travelling College. Traditional Teachings. Cornwall Island: North American Indian Travelling College, 1984.

Wallace, Paul. White Roots of Peace: The Iroquois Book of Life. Sante Fe: Clear Light Publishers, 1994.


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