Tree of Peace
The Iroquois Tree of Peace finds its roots in a man named, Deganawidah. The legends surrounding his place amongst the Iroquois is based in his role in creating the Five Nations Confederacy, which consisted of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, and his place as a cultural hero to the Iroquois tribe. The official title of the confederacy is, Kayanerenh-kowa (the Great Peace) as described by Paul A. Wallace, “it is also known as Kanonsionni (the Long-House), a term that describes both its geographical extent and its constitutional form.” The myths and legends surrounding Deganawidah have the roots in the oral histories that followed many Native American tribes throughout their histories. As Anthony F.C. Wallace stated, “The Deganawidah myth analyzed that may have been the projection of an Indian prophet’s vision. Undoubtedly popular imagination has contributed much to the growth of the legend over centuries of oral transmission.” Whether myth or reality the association of Deganawidah and the Tree of Peace within the culture of the Iroquois nation is founded in its place within multiple Native American tribes. Deganawidah on his travels to bring the Five Nations together talked only of peace, friendship, and unity. As Barbara Graymont states, “Deganawidah’s ideas and acions were noticeably separating him from his people. The Wendots could not understand a man who loved peace more than war.” The Great Peace associated with Deganawidah came with three parts
The Good Word, which is righteousness in action, bringing justice for all.
Health, which is a sound mind in a sound body, bringing peace on Earth.
Power, which is the establishment of civil authority, bringing with it the increase in spiritual power in keeping with will of the Master of Life.
The creation of the Five Nations was given a symbol by Deganawidah that would symbolize the newly accepted peace and unity of the five nations. The symbol chosen for the League of the Five Nations was the great white pine tree, “the tree of the Great Long Leaves”
The tree had four symbolic roots, the Great White Roots of Peace, spreading north, east, south, and west. If any other nation ever wished to join the League, it would have to follow the White Roots of Peace to the source and take shelter beneath the tree. Atop the tree, he placed an eagle to scream out a warning at the approach of danger. He symbolically planted the tree in the land of the Onondagas, the place of the Grre, the confederate lords, or peace chiefs, would sit beneath it and be caretakers of the Great Peace.
This tree of peace became the symbol of solitude amongst the chiefs. The creation of the tree of peace figuratively gave the chiefs the ability never to die, “because their chiefly titles would be passed down to their successors forever. In this way, the League of Nations would always be kept alive.”
The Tree of Peace has its roots in the creation of the League of Five Nations, but its place within the Iroquois nation is crucial to its role in the continuation of its existence to this day. As AC Parker states, “The Tree of Peace is an important symbol of peace in Iroquois tradition and in the historical record of diplomacy between the Iroquois and Westerners. Weapons would be buried under a tree to seal a peace agreement. A tree might even be uprooted to create a cavity for the weapons. The replanted tree on top would become a tree of peace.” This concept of creating a new Tree of Peace is rooted in the tradition created by Deganawidah’s initial ceremony for the Tree of Peace. The roots will stretch in all directions and it is upon these roots our future brothers and sisters must forge their own peace and continue to the path we have created. As Barbara Graymont states,
This transformation of the historical account shows the extent to which these events had taken on a sacred character for the Iroquois. The exact details were not nearly as important to them as testifying to the authenticity of their confederacy and the significance of what their ancestors had done for them. In establishing unity and preserving their nationhood, the ancestors had provided for all time a purpose and a way of life for the people of the Extended lodge.
Its characteristic bundles of five needles became the symbol of the Five Nations joined together as one. According to Iroquois tradition, the Great Law of Peace ended the ancient cycle of enmity and continuous conflict between the separate tribes and united them into the Iroquois Confederacy that made them into the most powerful force in North America until the rapid expansion of European colonization in the 18th century.
The traditions passed down through generations of Native American cultures and tribes set a precedent for the continuation of these practices outside of Indian societies. Even today in modern society we see the tree of peace associated with various cultures and traditions. The meaning behind the Tree of Peace stands true to this day, whether north, east, south, or west the roots of peace spread awaiting to have a new tree planted and another culture or society taken into the tree.
- Paul A. Wallace. “Dekanahwideh (The Heavenly Messenger)” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol 1 (University of Toronto, Toronto, 1979)
- Anthony F.W. Wallace. Ethnohistory Vol. V (1958) 118-130.
- Barbara Graymont. The Iroquois (Infobase Publishing, New York, 2009) page 13
- Barbara Graymont. The Iroquois (Infobase Publishing, New York, 2009) page 17
- Barbara Graymont. The Iroquois (Infobase Publishing, New York, 2009) page 21
- AC Parker. “Certain Iroquois Tree Myths and Symbols” American Anthropologist. Vol. 14 608-620
- Barbara Graymont. The Iroquois (Infobase Publishing, New York, 2009) page 23