Two Great Laws
Back in 2012 the late Jagwadeth (Chris) Sandy wanted to bring the Great Law of Peace (Kaianerekowa) to Ohsweken. He has since passed on but his inspirational legacy of restoration remains.
Jagwadeth invited me and others to attend Grand River Chiefs Council with him as he was on the agenda and would be asking permission from the Chiefs to host the event.
So even though I was a nobody I went along with him and I can still remember it was so shocking to hear his request get denied. As a newcomer to my own identity I could not grasp how or why the Confederacy would ban a reading of its own constitution. To my basic understanding it seemed like the Catholic Church banning its own bible – kind’a weird right?
But it happened.
That day, Chief Pete Skye stood up and spoke in the language for a very long time and explained that the Law was read every year at longhouse ceremonies. It was very intimidating when he pointed towards the Mohawk bench and stated, “You don’t know the Great Law unless you first know the Code.”
The code he spoke of is apparently the Code of Handsome Lake which is a culturally-based religion of the Haudenosaunee which made its way to Grand River Territory in the 1850’s according to Chief Jake Thomas’ Book “Teachings from the Longhouse.”
So even though he met resistance even from his own government Jagwadeth continued to put on the Great Law reading of 2012 with help of the Elected Council and knowledge keepers from other territories.
Lots of people went and I went too. The things that were presented at the Original Great Law reading of 2012 were very political and organizational, not ceremonial or religious. The roles and responsibilities of different people were explained. The process of council was outlined. The ten day presentation was very logical and seemed like a overview of the checks and balances to keep a clan society working. It was beautiful. These wise teachers showed us how unity and diversity was theoretically achieved in olden times.
Many years before in the 1990s Chief Jake Thomas himself used to do readings of the Law for the people of Six Nations who did not attend longhouse. I can remember one that happened at Number 3 school. People say that Jake would differentiate between Code of Handsome Lake and the original Great Law of Peace – something which in recent years is being packaged together as one identical thing.
Who has the understanding to sort out what teachings are from the pre-colonization era and which ones are newer? Even the most knowledgeable people among us cannot seem to agree. Leroy “Jock” Hill said that he is familiar with eight different versions of the Great Law of Peace.
As someone who has been paying attention for the last 10 years the most recent iteration of the Great Law is being condensed into a nice story of the Peacemakers Journey.
At the most recent Great Law reading at Ohsweken I didn’t hear them explain why all three Mohawk clans must be represented for Confederacy to be a legitimate council. Instead I heard this familiar tale:
A young man, born of a virgin, crosses a great water, befriends a woman, gets a bunch of male followers who reform their society by travelling around the country side, overcoming an evil man and declaring the good news of peace.