Day 3: Dekanawida, The Great Peacemaker

Legend has it that Dekanawida (“The Great Peacemaker”) was born to a virgin mother in the nation of the Hurons and became known as a visionary thinker in the 15th century. The modern-day NY state region consisted, at the time, of five indigenous tribes with distinct languages and customs that were in endless cycles of war. Dekanawida received an idyllic vision of peace that he would dedicate his life to.

He wandered east toward the conflicts and into the land of the Mohawks with his great Dekanawidaplan, but due to a speech problem, he had little ability to express his genius. The Mohawks had been stuck in endless war with the neighboring Onandagas. Then from out of the wilderness came Dekanawida—an objective man of no tribal loyalty, only a vision of great peace. He proposed his great vision to the Mohawks but they were unconvinced.  So what he lacked in mortal speech, he decided to prove in supernatural deed.  He climbed a tall pine over a deep gorge that descended into the Mohawk River and then asked the Mohawks to cut down the tree.  They accepted the test.  Dekanawida plunged into the rapids below and a few moments later mysteriously climbed out of the gorge completely unharmed.  The Mohawks needed no further proof but convincing their Onondanga foes of the vision would be quite another matter.

At this point, Dekanawida met an Onondaga man whose wife and seven daughters had recently been killed in the senseless violence at the hands of his own chief Ododarhoh.  Ododarhoh ruled with an iron fist.  He was said to be an evil man whose hair crawled of snakes. The depressed wanderer was a very articulate man.  Dekanawida respected this attribute and soon taught the wanderer his vision for Great Peace and the importance of loving everyone, including enemies.  The wanderer’s vengeful heart underwent a miraculous transformation and he became Dekanawida’s loyal disciple.

Together with Dekanawida, the wanderer approached the evil Ododarhoh. The wanderer, through his moving speech, managed to convert the monster into a dedicated adherent to the Great Peace.  In so doing it is said the wanderer combed the snakes from Ododarhoh’s hair, thus receiving the name Hiawatha or “he-who-combs.” With the Mohawks and Onondagas as the nucleus, the Cayugas, Oneidas and Senecas soon saw the wisdom in joining the confederacy that came to be known as the League of Five Nations.

Dekanawida crowned the achievement with this speech:

            I Dekanawida with the confederate lords of the Five Nations plant the tree of the Great Peace.  I plant it in your territory, Ododarhoh, and in that of the Onondaga nation, in the territory of which you are the firekeeper.

             We spread the soft, white, feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you and your cousin lords.

             If any man of any nation outside the Five Nations shall desire to obey the laws of the Great Peace he may trace the roots to their source and he shall be welcome.

             The shadow of the tree will be pleasant and beautiful.  Never again shall man walk in fear.  All the peoples of mankind will dwell there in peace and tranquility.  We will have one head, one tongue, and one blood in our bodies.  And at the top of the tree sits Skajina, the eagle.  He watches all ways and will warn us when he sees approaching that which brings destruction and death.

             So I, Dekanawida, and the confederate lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the hole we cast all the weapons of war.  We bury them from sight forever and plant again the tree.

With his mission complete, Dekanawida said, “Now I shall be seen no more and go Dekanawida1whither none can follow.”  Then Dekanawida boarded a luminous white canoe on the shore of Lake Onondaga and paddled toward a setting sun, never to be seen again.

Three centuries later Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington would all become familiar with the Iroquois Confederacy and its Great Law of Peace.  In the European examples of governance, they found no effective model for how to unite the colonies or frame a democratic constitution but in the Iroquois system, a clear blueprint was drawn from which to begin work on both of these tasks. In 1988 the US Senate formally recognized the contributions of the Iroquois Confederacy to the confederation of the original Thirteen Colonies and to the development of the United States Constitution itself. (From


Day 33: Mike Gray

Mike Gray is a Quaker who is a steadfast ally to many Native American, immigrant and indigenous communities groups in the US and Mexico. Like so many people in the 1960’s and early 70’s, Mike’s life was heavily influenced by the turmoil of the times, but in his late twenties his life took on deeper meaning and purpose when he found Quakerism. Initially, Mike got involved in the anti-nuclear weapons movement. Even more fundamental to Mike was the position he took with the American Friends Service Committee leading Quaker Workcamps and becoming an advocate for Native and indigenous communities.

Mike Gray                    Mike

After the corporate Quaker Workcamp support ended, Mike continued and continues to this day to stay deeply committed to the Lakota community of Pine Ridge and the Seri Indians along the US/Mexico borders. From building projects to helping to transport wares to festivals, Mike is a deeply trusted F/friend to many. There is not a place on Pine Ridge where Mike has not left his mark. For us at William Penn House, it has been and continues to be an honor to spend a few weeks on Pine Ridge every summer, continuing to learn from him that “service” is not fixing things, but being in fellowship and going as way opens. His quiet, sometimes gruff nature and commitment to the world and to Quakerism is inspiring. In the best of Quaker Workcamp fashion, he reminds us of the importance of deep commitment to people, not causes, as a vital part of breaking the cycles of violence, and shows us one way to do this. Thanks to Mike, hundreds of people have deepened their own commitments from having spent time with him.

For today, in the spirit of Mike, take a moment to reflect on these words by Malcolm Fraser that invoke thoughts of Mike’s life work:

“Solutions will not be found while Indigenous people are treated as victims for whom someone else must find solutions.”

Day 18: Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph was the leader of a people who suffered great injustice, and is a constant reminder of how vigilant we must be in trying to break the cycles of violence. (From “The History Place”): “Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (1840?-1904) was known to his people as ‘Thunder Traveling to the Loftier Mountain Heights.’ He led his people in an attempt to resist the takeover of their lands in the Oregon Territory by white settlers. In 1877, the Nez Perce were ordered to move to a reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph agreed at first. But after members of his tribe killed a group of settlers, he tried to flee to Canada with his followers, traveling over 1500 miles through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Along the way they fought several battles with the pursuing U.S. Army.


Chief Joseph spoke these words when they finally surrendered on October 5th, 1877: ‘Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.’”