Haudenosaunee Diversity – Part Four: Covenant Chain – the thing by which we link arms

One way of making peace between diverse groups was to extend the rafters of our longhouse to them. This was actually the underlying protocol in treaty-making. We were following an ancient pattern of trying to make peace within the “house.” To do so, we had to treat everyone as if they were part of one big family. In the mind of our ancestors this meant to make the newcomers a part of our family. We gave names and tiles to all of the colonial, state, provincial, and federal we engaged with. We told them that they are our “brothers.”

We extended to them all of the same principles and protocols required by the Great Law of Peace. Every treaty council began with the wiping of their tears, clearing of the ears and throats to restore their humanity and so that we could treat each other with dignity and respect.

The Two Row linked our vessels together forever. The Covenant Chain of Peace soon followed as a way to perpetuate the peace, through troubled political, economic and social upheavals. There are hundreds of references to the Chain in the historical documents, as our ancestors would hold council to rekindle the fire between our peoples, renew their commitments to one another and re-polish the chain to remove any sources of harm being done to one another. This is the treaty process that was in place for nearly three centuries.

In reality, this was also the premise of our treaty making. By coming to one mind to co-exist in peace, we extended the rafters of our longhouse to provide sanctuary for the newcomers. How the newcomers repaid that welcome is another matter. However, if we let historical trauma change our commitment to our cultural principles, we effectively colonize ourselves.

A lesser known part of that Chain was how it worked between Native Nations. The Haudenosaunee maintained the treaty relationship with many diverse peoples. Premised on the ideas of the Dish with One Spoon wampum, our ancestors tried to maintain the principles of sharing and caring through the Covenant Chain. However, divided loyalties to our trading partners often forced us to abandon those principles in favor of their interests.

Is individual and collective conflict always the result of the intersection of different ideologies? When our ancestors agreed to the Two Row Wampum Treaty they already had at least three generations of contact with Europeans, particularly the French. Some of those encounters were not good, especially with the introduction of firearms in 1609. However, when the treaty was made, our ancestors decided on a different strategy, one founded upon tradition. They decide to welcome the newcomers to our lands, extend the rafters of our metaphysical longhouse over them, teach them how to hunt and plant, and pledged to use rational thought instead of violence to resolve any difficulties. From that moment forward, we were to think of the newcomers as our little brothers.

The actual reading of the Two Row Wampum, unlike what you read on the Internet, states that grandchildren in the ship will be related to the grandchildren in the canoe. You must remember that we tied our vessels to one another at that time. It is true that we pledged to not interfere in each’s operation of their vessel, but we also said that we are now dependent upon each other. We understood that Europeans were diverse and we tried to make peace with each one – French, Dutch, English, Swedes, and Palatines. We went so far as to adopt their religious practices, understanding that there was also diversity in those as well. It was not the Haudenosaunee who drove their converted relatives away. The white missionaries removed them away from any influence that traditionality might bring.

Therefore there was an ironic twist to our sense of diversity. Similar to the Borg in Star Trek, our ancestors believed that once people get to know us, follow our cultural protocols, they will become like us. During the Fur trade era, our ancestors proved that resistance was futile. Haudenosaunee-ness grew to embrace many kinds of people, languages, ways of thinking, but all co-existing under the principles of peacefulness. Even when our ancestors relocated to Grand River, there were several other groups among us – Delaware, Tutelo, Munsee, Cherokee and Creek.

Eventually, they disappeared as political entities. They became us. Their blood flows through our veins. We are diverse people as a result.

When I lived in New Mexico, the Pueblo people manifested this idea by providing free access to their home and dinner tables during their annual feast days. Anyone can visit their communities, stop by any open house, and share some food. As hosts, they do not discriminate. By welcoming strangers, sharing food and good conversation, the Pueblo people extend their culture to all visitors.

If we look at the narrative of the formation of the Great Law, we can see it as a process of reconciliation of diverse social groups, nations and ideologies. Where would be today if the Peacemaker advocated exclusion to the warriors, war chiefs, Jikonsase and Todadaho? Instead, he advocated inclusion. The genius of the Peacemaker’s plan is that you have to turn the mind of the dissenters and make them part of the solution. We have to be able to see the common humanity of all people. In fact the premise of our law is that equality and fairness are the foundations for building a safe and productive society. How can we discriminate against some people and be true to the vision of the Peacemaker?

It is also true that he set up a mechanism to oust those who seek to undermine our Great Law. We need to protect the sanctity of the Council Fire, and the atmosphere in which the Good Mind can thrive. But the first course of action, in the words of the Peacemaker, was to seek peace through the power of reason, and create a strong sense of connectedness. He advocated for reasoned dialogue, not shouting and swearing. He said we were to treat ALL people as if we were members of the same family. One family, one hearth, one mind. It is simple in concept, but hard to manifest.

Today, we have to balance that intention with how we actually treat people in our community, and our neighbors. Racism, bigotry and sexism have invaded our Good Minds. Anger, fear and hatred often fuel our negative decision-making and affect our relationships, even with our own relatives.

Oneida scholar Robert Antone, Ph.D., discusses the need to decolonize and rebuild our indigenous identities by taking a hard look at ourselves. Do we demonstrate the kind of behavior that was envisioned by the Creator or the Peacemaker? Do we believe in our great tradition of diversity or not? Time has come to work this out for the sake of the coming faces yet to be born. If we want peace to prevail, as is the intention of our Creator, then we have to burying the weapons of hatred and bigotry that we turn against each other.

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