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The Six Nations:

Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth

The Tree of Peace
The Tree of Peace
by John Kahionhes Fadden

The people of the Six Nations, also known by the French term, Iroquois [1] Confederacy, call themselves the Hau de no sau nee (ho dee noe sho nee) meaning People Building a Long House. Located in the northeastern region of North America, originally the Six Nations was five and included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The sixth nation, the Tuscaroras, migrated into Iroquois country in the early eighteenth century. Together these peoples comprise the oldest living participatory democracy on earth. Their story, and governance truly based on the consent of the governed, contains a great deal of life-promoting intelligence for those of us not familiar with this area of American history. The original United States representative democracy, fashioned by such central authors as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, drew much inspiration from this confederacy of nations. In our present day, we can benefit immensely, in our quest to establish anew a government truly dedicated to all life's liberty and happiness much as has been practiced by the Six Nations for over 800 hundred years. [2]


Figure 31

Figure 31. On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as "Brothers" and told of the delegates' wish that the "friendship" between them would "continue as long as the sun shall shine" and the "waters run." The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act "as one people, and have but one heart."[18] After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed "Karanduawn, or the Great Tree." With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress.[19] Artwork by John Kahionhes Fadden.

from Exemplar of Liberty, Native America and the Evolution of Democracy,
Chp.8, "A New Chapter, Images of native America in the writings of Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine"

  1. Oren Lyons: On The Indigenous View of the World, The 11th Hour research, 2006

  2. How To Be An Ally To Indigenous Peoples, Josephine M. Cook & Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign

  3. Tree Media in collaboration with Oren Lyons, Sid Hill and the Haudenosaunee:

  4. Beaver Full Moon, 24 November 1996: Inauguration of Six Nations subtree

  5. A Basic Call to Consciousness, The Hau de no sau nee Address to the Western World, Geneva, Switzerland, Autumn 1977

  6. Forgotten Founders, Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution, complete 1982 book

  7. Oren Lyons Interview - Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Hau de no sau nee, 3 July 1991

  8. Exemplar of Liberty Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, complete 1990 book

  9. Native American Political Systems and the Evolution of Democracy: An Annotated Bibliography, complete 1996 living book

  10. Reaching the Grassroots: The World-wide Diffusion of Iroquois Democratic Traditions, April 2002

  11. Borked! Tales From the Ramparts of Multiculturalism

  12. Oren Lyons at the UN: Opening Speech for "The Year of the Indigenous Peoples", 1993

  13. Telling The Iroquois Story On CD-ROM

  14. Oren Lyons: World Bank, October 3, 1995 Ethics and Spiritual Values and the Promotion of Environmentally Sustainable Development “50 Years of the World Bank, Over 50 Tribes Devastated”

  15. Dating the Iroquois Confederacy

  16. Guest Essay, Sovereignty and Treaty Rights - We Remember

  17. Guest Essay, Haudenosaunee Environmental Action Plan
    and articles related to the 1995 United Nations Summit of the Elders:

    1. Summit of the Elders; Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration Strategy
    2. Principles for Environmental Restoration
    3. Iroquois at the UN
    4. Presentation to the United Nations
    5. Demonizing the Big Glass House

  18. Indian Magna Carta Writ In Wampum Belts

  19. Iroquois Population in 1995

  20. How Much Land Did the Iroquois Possess?

Figure 38
THE INDIAN WOMEN: We whom you pity as drudges
reached centuries ago the goal that you are now nearing

The use of Indian women to provide an exemplar of feminist liberty continued into the nineteenth century. On May 16, 1914, only six years before the first national election in which women had the vote, Puck printed a line drawing of a group of Indian women observing Susan B. Anthony, Anne Howard Shaw and Elizabeth Cady Stanton leading a parade of women. A verse under the print read:

"Savagery to Civilization"
We, the women of the Iroquois
Own the Land, the Lodge, the Children
Ours is the right to adoption, life or death;
Ours is the right to raise up and depose chiefs;
Ours is the right to representation in all councils;
Ours is the right to make and abrogate treaties;
Ours is the supervision over domestic and foreign policies;
Ours is the trusteeship of tribal property;
Our lives are valued again as high as man's. [67]

Figure 38, from Exemplar of Liberty, Native America and the Evolution of Democracy,
Chp.11, "The Persistence of an Idea, Impressions of Iroquois liberty after the eighteenth century"

On the Web:

The Guardian
The Guardian
by John Kahionhes Fadden
The eagle is the guardian bird of the Haudenosaunee,
and is often seen in images as being above the Tree of Peace.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Peacemaker presents his vision.  By John Kahionhes Fadden.
(from Chp.2, "Perceptions of America's Native Democracies", Exemplar of Liberty)


Figure 10

Figure 10. "Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another." Canassatego, the great Iroquois chief, advising the assembled colonial governors on Iroquois concepts of unity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1744.
Artwork by John Kahionhes Fadden.
(from Chp.6, "The White Roots Reach Out", Exemplar of Liberty)


Haudenosaunee Council
Haudenosaunee Council
by John Kahionhes Fadden

The Six Nations Longhouse
The Six Nations Confederacy was and is likened to a longhouse
by John Kahionhes Fadden
Images of the Six Nations are identified by the style of hat they're wearing
located about the six smokeholes.

Figure 32
Figure 32. In 1775, treaty commissioners at Albany recall the words of Canassatego. By John Kahionhes Fadden.

(from Chp.8, "A New Chapter, Images of native America in the writings
of Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine
", Exemplar of Liberty)

Akwesasne Notes New Series, Fall, 1995:

Figure 36

Figure 36. In his Defence of the Constitution of . . . Government in the United States, John Adams discussed the Iroquois political system. By John Kahionhes Fadden.

Adams' Defence was a critical survey of world governments and he included a description of the Iroquois and other Native American government in his analysis. In his preface, Adams mentioned the Inca, Manco Capac, and the political structure "of the Peruvians." He also noted that tribes in "North America have certain families from which their leaders are always chosen."[30] Adams believed that American Indian governments collected their authority in one center (a simple or unicameral model), and he also observed that in American Indian governments "the people" believed that "all depended on them."[31] Later in the preface, John Adams observed that Benjamin Franklin, the French Philosophes and other "great philosophers and politicians of the age were "attempting to "set up governments of . . . modern Indians."[32]

(from Chp.10, "Kindling a New National Grand Council Fire,
Native American liberty and the U.S. Constitution
", Exemplar of Liberty)


This collection of documents and images has been made possible
by the generosity and support of the following authors:

  1. Regarding the origination of the word Iroquois,

    Another matter that surprised many contemporary observers was the Iroquois' sophisticated use of oratory. Their excellence with the spoken word, among other attributes, often caused Colden and others to compare the Iroquois to the Romans and Greeks. The French use of the term Iroquois to describe the confederacy was itself related to this oral tradition; it came from the practice of ending their orations with the two words hiro and kone. The first meant "I say" or "I have said" and the second was an exclamation of joy or sorrow according to the circumstances of the speech. The two words, joined and made subject to French pronunciation, became Iroquois. The English were often exposed to the Iroquois' oratorical skills at eighteenth-century treaty councils.

    -- from ``Chapter 3, "Our Indians Have Outdone the Romans",'' Forgotten Founders, p. 41


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