|Tribe||Onondaga, adopted Mohawk, or Huron|
|Born||12th or 13th century|
|Native name||Skennenrahawi; (May be referred to as Deganawida or Dekanawida in special circumstances by tribal members)|
|Known for||Orator and statesman who founded the Haudenosaunee, with Hiawatha.|
The Great Peacemaker, sometimes referred to as Deganawida or Dekanawida (note that as a mark of respect, some Iroquois avoid using his personal name except in special circumstances) was, along with Hiawatha, by tradition the founder of the Haudenosaunee, commonly called the Iroquois Confederacy, a political and cultural union of several Native American tribes residing in the present-day state of New York. The union created a powerful alliance of related Iroquoian peoples around the Great Lakes. Historians believe the confederacy may have formed in the 13th or 14th centuries.
The Haudenosaunee name for the Great Peacemaker (Skennenrahawi in Mohawk) means “Two River Currents Flowing Together.” There are numerous legends about the Great Peacemaker, some with conflicting information. It is reported that he was born a Huron, and by some accounts, his mother was a virgin, so the birth was miraculous. Others say he was born an Onondaga and later adopted by the Mohawk. By all accounts, he was a prophet who counseled peace among the warring tribes, and he called for an end to cannibalism. His follower Hiawatha, a Mohawk renowned for his oratory, helped him achieve his vision.
According to the archaeologist Dean R. Snow, the Great Peacemaker converted Hiawatha in the territory of the Onondaga; he next made a solo journey to visit the Mohawk tribe who lived near what is now Cohoes, New York. Initially, the Mohawk rejected the message of the Great Peacemaker, so he decided to perform a feat to demonstrate his purity and spiritual power. After climbing a tree high above the Ga-ha-oose, the cataract now known as Cohoes Falls, the Great Peacemaker told the Mohawk braves to chop the tree down. Many onlookers watched as the Great Peacemaker disappeared into the swirling rapids of the Mohawk River. They believed he had perished until they saw him the next morning sitting near a campfire. Greatly impressed by the Great Peacemaker's miraculous survival, the Mohawk became the founding tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The dates Dekanawida lived have not been identified with certainty. After the Mohawk joined the union, the Seneca nation debated joining the union; they have an oral tradition of a solar eclipse occurring at that time. The most likely eclipse for this tradition occurred in 1142AD, which was visible in the land of the Seneca. Carbon dating of sites of habitation of the Onondaga shows dates starting close to 1200AD ± 60 years.
Prophecy of the boy seer
His vision for all the nations was so compelling that the Great Peacemaker worked all his life to bring it to fruition. He prophesied that a "white serpent" would come to his people's lands and make friends with them, only to deceive them later. A "red serpent" would later make war against the "white serpent", but an Indian boy would be given a great power. He would be accepted as a chosen leader by the people of "the land of the hilly country." The boy stays neutral in the fight, and he speaks to the people, who number as the blades of grass, but he is heard by all. After a season, a "black serpent" would come and defeat both the "white" and "red serpents". According to the prophecy, when the people gathered under the elm tree become humble, all three "serpents" would be blinded by a light many times brighter than the sun. Deganawidah said that he would be that light. His nation would accept the "white serpent" into their safekeeping like a long-lost brother.
The Great Peacemaker established a council of clan and village chiefs to govern the confederacy. In each tribe, which had matrilineal systems of descent and property-holding, power was shared between the sexes. Most decisions in council were made by consensus to which each representative had an equal voice. Using the system of the Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha, the Iroquois became the dominant Native American group in the northeast woodlands. The oral laws and customs of the Great Law of Peace became the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, established by the 16th century or earlier.
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- Nelson Greene, editor. "Chapter 9: Dekanawida and Hiawatha", History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925, at Schenectady Digital History Archive
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- The Great Peacemaker Deganawidah and his follower Hiawatha Theater play by Living Wisdom School