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Gayanashagowa, “The Great Law of Peace”

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01 August 2012
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Kenneth Deer, Mohawk Nation


I've been sitting back here and listening to all the statements and feel that there’s something I have to say on on behalf of the people I represent.

I sit here today as a citizen of the Haudenosaunee or, what is more commonly called, the Six Nations, or Iroquois Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee comprises of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. We have a long history and a rich culture in North America. We view our language and culture holistically, to include all aspects of our lives. These are not limited to song and dances, and beads and feathers. Our culture includes our constitution – gayanashagowa, or “The Great Law of peace”, as it is loosely translated. This constitution includes our political structure the duties our men, the duties our women and our spiritual cycle, and everything in between.

We have our own creation stories and our own world view, and our own concepts of our place in creation. We believe we are created for a purpose and we are on this Earth to fulfill that purpose. We exercise that purpose every day of our lives.

One of the great accomplishments was to bring the original five warring nations together in peace, to form the Haudenosaunee. We learned to bury our weapons of war under the tree of peace, and to put aside our hate, anger and thirst for revenge, and use only good words with each other to settle our differences, with words that do not cut or injure each other.


Kahnawake Pow wow, Mohawk Nation

We learned the art of diplomacy and mutual respect, and by doing so we created a federation of nations that was powerful and well-respected.

The United States of America received inspiration from our constitution, when writing their own. We continue to use this constitution today. Its lessons transcend time and oppression. The strength of our culture is in our minds.

We are taught who we are, and why we exist. We believe in ourselves and in our place in creation. We believe the creator has put us here for a purpose, and for a reason, and we are here to carry that out. To maintain our culture we have to control our education, our economy, our sacred sites, our politics and all our other social structures.

I sit here because of our culture, because of the protocols that we have in our society, because of our diplomacy, because we have made treaties, because we have our own world view, because we believe that we have a right to be here.

But we do not belong in the back of the room. We believe that as nation we should be all here equal and sitting side by side with each other. We believe that culture is our sovereignty. And our culture, like we believe that sovereignty, is culture. And culture is sovereignty.




Statement by Kenneth Deer

Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Fifth session, 9-13 July 2012

United Nations of Geneva



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