Native American Legends
The Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace
An Iroquois Legend
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
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
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
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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