What is Haudenosaunee Food Sovereignty?

10 The Great Law & Highlighting the Dish with One Spoon

Stevie D. Jonathan

The Great Law of Peace united the Five Nations (the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Onondaga) under a constitution of peace so that they might handle political dealings as one united entity, protect the Haudenosaunee peoples and their culture, and provide aid to member nations. In 1722, the Tuscarora were adopted, making the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Barreiro, 2010; Hill, 2017; McCarthy, 2010; Porter, 2008; White, 2018). Prior to the Great Law’s inception, occurring long before Contact, the nations were separate and in a state of crisis, resulting in war amongst one another. As Porter (2008) notes, “the elders tell us this was another one of those dark times in our history, when the culture, ceremonies and peaceful ways of life were almost lost” (p. 272). During this period, a boy was born near the Bay of Quinte. This boy came to be known to Haudenosaunee people as the Peacemaker. At a young age he began demonstrating unique gifts and acts of peace that no one had seen before. As a young man, he travelled to each nation spreading his message of peace and other principles found within the Great Law. One of these principles included political and spiritual elements; human beings must have governments that serve to protect one another from abuses, so that all may live in peace and harmony as the Creator intended. Peace is the ultimate goal, which must be continually aimed for and practiced. Within his message of peace, the Peacemaker also said that the nature of human beings is peace, and that healthy minds enable this peace; thus, the teaching of a Good Mind was born (Barreiro, 2010). The Great Law is explained by Barreiro (2010) as a complex enactment of participatory democracy. A key feature of the Great Law, which contributes to peace being achieved, was the ability to extend the Great Law to other nations outside of the Confederacy by sustaining absolute justice. Additionally, the abolishment of separate territories by the Peacemaker increased the capacity for peace because all nations who wished to have peace had shared access to lands and resources, ensuring food security and sustainability (Barreiro, 2010; Barreiro & Akwesasne Notes, 2005; Hill, 2017; McCarthy, 2010; Williams, 2018). The Peacemaker said, “We shall have one dish in which shall be placed one beaver’s tail, and we shall all have a co‐equal right to it, and there shall be no knife in it, for if there be a knife in it there will be danger that it might cut someone and blood would thereby be shed” (Gibson et al., 1992, p. 458).

Today’s recital of the Great Law (told annually in Haudenosaunee communities, with the host community varying each year) consists of two parts. The first part is the meta-narrative of the birth of the Peacemaker and his journey of bringing this message to the Five Nations. The second part of the story consists of the legislative nature of the law. The law highlights many principles, including mutual aid and consensus. It uses “family” as the foundation for a social and legal system (McCarthy, 2010; Williams, 2018). Both parts detail the proper functioning of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy; further, they also detail the steps necessary to both maintain and restore that functioning and peace. Presently, there is no other constitution in the world that matches this level of pragmatism, thoroughness, and foresight. This may be due to the fact the structure of the Great Law was built on and for peace (Williams, 2018). The system is a system of support amongst the people and between the people and the land. The interconnectedness of the land is represented within the Great Law; for example, the rings of a tree show us how to move from inward to outward, which is a model for decision-making. Our decisions and actions are not separate but have ripple – effects – to each of those rings. This can also be said of food sovereignty and sustainability.


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Exploring Indigenous Foods & Food Sovereignty Copyright © by Stevie D. Jonathan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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