The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy, established by Five Nations in Upper State New York borderlands, provides a window onto Indigenous governance structures and democratic principles. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Dekanawidah, known as the Great Peacemaker, and his spokesperson, Hiawatha.
The Great Law of Peace, or Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy constitution, provided a statement of the core principles of cooperation and set of laws committed to mutual support for group strength and support, survival, and respectful relationships with others. The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy was made up of five nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. A sixth nation, the Tuscarora, was added in 1722.
The Great Law Of Peace established how the confederacy would be governed, how conflicts would be resolved, and how peace would be upheld. Each nation would maintain its own council, with chiefs chosen by the clan mothers, to address community matters. The grand council addressed overall issues affecting the whole confederacy and was intended as a way to unite the different nations and create a peaceful means of decision making to live in harmony.
The Iroquois Confederacy was a matrilineal society, where women, clan mothers, had considerable political authority and influence and the clans were made up of extended family who took responsibility for protection, leadership, peacemaking, wisdom, and spirituality. Membership in a clan could be hereditary or through community appointment, marriage, or adoption.
The people of the longhouse: A longhouse was a dwelling for several families and also functioned as a central place for decision making and cultural gatherings.