Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mohawk Nation News: Great Law and the Handsome Lake Code


MNN. Oct. 28, 2007. MNN Mohawk Nation News has published
another book in the "Mohawk Issues for Dummies Series". It's
called "The On-Going Confusion Between the Great Law of
Peace and the Handsome Lake Code". Here are some
comments from two people who read the book:

"Gees, I always thought I was "traditional" because of my belief in the
"Creator"! It looks like I have to question how I relate to the natural
world and my responsibilities to it", stated a Kanion'ke:haka youth
who is always looking for answers.

"What a colonial conspiracy! This is the first time anyone took the
Great Law philosophy and compared it with the Christian-based
Handsome Lake Code ", said a surprised elder of Kahnawake.

This book helps readers to understand the alarming turn of
events at Six Nations over the land reclamation. For almost
two years the Six Nations people, our friends and allies
successfully took back and held Indigenous land known as
"Douglas Creek Estates", now called "Kanenhstaton".

The Indigenous right to this land that was stolen by the
settlers is well documented in the records kept by colonial
society. This is why officials from Canada and Ontario have
never offered to have Six Nations rights reviewed in a court
or by a neutral third party. If the evidence was properly
reviewed, they would lose. Their only hope to continue with
the theft of Six Nations land is to get someone to agree
to terms that reduce Six Nations rights.

According to the Great Law, only the women can deal with
land issues as we are the "progenitors of the nation" and
the land is held by us for the future generations. The
Confederacy chiefs, clan mothers, "talkers" and lawyers
that are sitting with Canada and Ontario are suppose to be
discussing the return of our stolen land. Instead they got
suckered into setting up something called the
"Haudenosaunee Development Institute" to sign our land
over to white developers. Decisions were made without
meeting us and coming to a consensus. Permission was
given for the Ontario Provincial Police to attack those of
us who objected to the illegal housing development, who
are now facing charges in the colonial court.

The chiefs and clan mothers at Six Nations violated our law.
The following abstract from "The On-Going Confusion
Between the Great Law and the Handsome Lake Code"
lays out the source of their confusion and inability to push
the Six Nations sovereignty and land issue. They are
influenced by the fear based colonial ideology known as
the "Handsome Lake Code".

"A "philosophy" is the basic underlying principles, conduct,
thought and knowledge in how a people relate to the natural
world. An "ideology" is based on doctrines, opinions or ways
of thinking which set out how a people shall behave, not
necessarily based on a knowledge or practical understanding
of the nature of the universe. These differences can be seen
in the conflict between the "Great Law of Peace" and the
"Handsome Lake Code" which, on the surface, are seemingly
similar traditional understandings in Iroquois communities.

The Great Law is a pre-contact philosophy which formed
the basis of Iroquois culture. The opening thanksgiving outlines
an interdependent system of relations of all elements of nature
which are equal; women have powerful roles in social, political
and economic life; and the people form the base of power.

The Handsome Lake Code is a post-contact Christian based
ideology which outlines a hierarchical order of the "spirit" forces,
offices and elements of nature arranged according to their idea
of power. This 'faith' is trying to get rid of the Great Law in most
Iroquois communities.

This book compares the principles of the two. The conflict
is between the "inner directed" Great Law adherents and the
"accommodationist" Handsome Lake followers. The Great Law
adherents are directed by the inner core of our knowledge
system and traditions. The Handsome Lake followers are
influenced by outside forces to accept the modes of colonial

The conflict is created by religions and how they weaken,
confuse and control our people. Elders like Karonhiaktajeh,
Kanietahawi and others explain their relationships with
Christianity and the Church and how they had to struggle to be
free. They describe their lifelong battle to get rid of the deeply
ingrained psychological conditioning designed to break down
their will and freedom of thought.

Today we are beginning to see how we were made to live
under its shadow without realizing its effect on us. We think
we're "traditional" when we are practising Christian-based
rituals such as confession while wearing Indian clothes. We
also take on the traditions of a variety of other Indigenous nations.
For example, the 'pow wow' takes native imagery from its original
context, i.e., the Plains Indians, and adapts it. On the other hand
there are many similarities in the nature-based philosophies of all
Indigenous peoples on Turtles Island and beyond.

The Great Law of Peace is the Constitution of the Iroquois,
also referred to as the "Old Way". This confederation of five
nations, later six, was a powerful force before and during the
colonial period of Turtle Island or North America as it is called
by the European settlers. Certain principles of the constitution
were adopted as the basis of the Constitution of the United St
ates, such as the three party structure and some symbols. The
Iroquois Confederacy still exists today. Most Iroquois nations
are finding their way back to the original Great Law philosophy.

Basic principles, a comparison of the "Law" and the "Code"
and where they contradict each other are set out. To make sense
of this deep-rooted conflict in Iroquois communities, these two
philosophies are examined. Iroquois followers of the Great Law
see the Handsome Lake Code as deliberately attempting to
disregard the ancient world view of the Iroquois. The Handsome
Lake followers believe they are "traditional".

An understanding of these matters offers key insights into
methodologies that are being used by colonial officials to
undermine attempts at Six Nations to uphold our sovereign

Kahentinetha Horn
MNN Mohawk Nation News

To order: $20 Canadian or U.S. funds includes shipping;
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"Who's Sorry Now? The Good, the Bad and the Unapologetic
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Speaking & Contemporary Native Issues Workshops


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