Note: This article was written by Kanatiiosh as a tribute to Chief Leon Shenandoah who held the Onondaga title of Tadodaho and was truly a good man who lived his life according to the original instructions given by the Creator. In this article, I share Shenandoah's recounting of an important event that occurred in his childhood, and then I write about the founding of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the importance of Tadodaho's acceptance of the Peacemaker's message.
Leon Shenandoah, Fire Keeper for the Haudenosaunee
(Onondaga, Eel Clan)
"In our ways, spiritual consciousness is the highest form of politics.
We must live in harmony with the natural world and recognize that excessive exploitation can only lead to our own destruction. We cannot trade the welfare of our future generations for profit... We are instructed to carry love for one another, and to show great respect for all beings of the earth. We must stand together, the four sacred colors of man, as the one family that we are, in the interest of peace... Our energy is the combined will of all people with the spirit of the natural world, to be of one body, one heart, and one mind." Leon Shenandoah (1)
Leon Shenandoah was the Fire Keeper of the Central Fire for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for over a quarter of a century. Leon Shenandoah held a very sacred and ancient title. He was the "Tadodaho" from 1967 to his passing in 1996. Shenandoah was a great orator who served the people well and preserved the traditions of the people. When Shenandoah was a small child, as he crawled along the floor, a pot of hot water was accidentally spilt on him scolding his entire body, which almost killed him. He was taken to a medicine man to be healed. A sacred ceremony was performed for Shenandoah, and during the ceremony a man stood up and said "You are that Boy!" (2) This same man predicted that someday Shenandaoh would hold a special position amongst his people. As we know, Leon Shenandoah did grow up to hold the special title of Tadodaho, and he was highly admired by all. He worked hard even in the face of great hardship to promote the teachings of the Great Law of Peace, Kaianeraserakowa. The proceeding account tells of how the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was founded and how the Tadodaho came to accept the Great Law of Peace.
The Founding of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy
Before the Europeans came to North America, and the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse), the Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Mohawk accepted the Great Law of Peace, Kaianeraserakowa, there was much conflict and turmoil amongst the Onkwehonwe, the people. It was a civil war. The old ones always said that when there was much trouble, a messenger would come from the home of our Creator to help the people. Soon, the Peacemaker came to the Onkwehonwe, he was born to a Huron woman near the Bay of Quinte. It is said that during his birth, there was very unusual circumstances, which was a sign to the Onkwehonwe that this baby was special and had special spiritual powers, for his very being was imbued with the Creator's message of Skennen (Peace), Kariwiio (the Good Word), and Kasastensera (strength).
Spreading the Message
When the Peacemaker was very young, he spoke of bringing the people together in Great Peace, Skennenkowa. The Peacemakers' own people did not accept his message of Great Peace, so he traveled to the Kahniakehaka, the People of the Flint, which is what the people prefer to call themselves, but are commonly known as the Mohawk. On his journey to the Mohawk, the Peacemaker arrived at a waterfall where on the eastern side of the river lived a woman. This woman's name was Jikonsahseh. Jikonsahseh promoted the warring of the Onkwehonwe by feeding the warriors and allowing them to rest in her house as they traveled from the east and the west along the warpath. The Peacemaker sat down with Jikonsahseh, and he spoke to her. The Peacemaker said that he knew that she was purposely feeding warriors and that by doing so Jikonsahseh was helping the warring to continue. The Peacemaker reasoned with Jikonsahseh as he explained to her that he was sent to spread the message of Great Peace, and that she must listen to him and stop facilitating the warring because her actions were wrong.
Jikonsahseh & the Role of Women
Once the Peacemaker had Jikonsahseh's ears open to listen, her told her of his message that all people are to love and respect each other. They are to live in Peace and Unity with each other, and all the Natural World that surrounds them. The Peacemaker then began to explain the parts of his good message. He explained that Skennen (Peace) would unite the Nations, and that Skennen would follow the Onkwehonwe wherever they went. He explained that Kasastensera (Strength/Power) would bring all the Nations together under the Great Law of Peace to become one extended family. Righteousness would stop the warring and bloodshed, and would allow peace to flourish. After the Jikonsahseh heard the message, she knew it to be right, and she vowed to stop promoting war and accepted the Great Law of Peace, Kaianaraserakowa.
Jikonsahseh was the first woman to accept the Peacemaker's message of Peace, and she was very influential in promoting peace amongst the Onkwehonwe. Today she is known as the Mother of the Nations. The Peacemaker told her that the women will always have an important role amongst the Haudenosaunee and in maintaining Peace. The Haudenosaunee are a matrilineal society. In other words, clans are passed on from mother to child. The Peacemaker told Jikonsahseh that each Chief, Royaner, which literally translates to nice or good, would be selected and put into his position by the Clan Mother. In other words, the Iotiianehshon, Clan Mothers hold the titles and if a Chief goes astray, then it is the duty of the Clan Mother to remove him from his position and to raise another in his place.
The Peacemaker's Journey Continues
While amongst the Mohawk, the Peacemaker found leaders who were willing to listen to and to accept his teachings of the Great Law of Peace. The warrior leaders were causing much unrest and violence. It was a horrible time for the Onkwehonwe.
The Peacemaker sought out the war leaders, for he wanted them to listen to his good message of Peace, Power, and Righteousness, and he wanted them to accept the message; thereby, becoming of sane mind and abandon the warring and bloodshed. The nine Mohawk men who accepted the message, the Great Law of Peace, were given titles of chiefs. Since the Mohawk were the first to accept the Peacemaker's message, they were made the foundation of the Confederacy. Today the original names of these nine chiefs, who first accepted the Great Law of Peace are preserved, and when a chief is condoled, which is done through a ceremony, the newly raised chief relinquishes his old name and takes the original name.
The Peacemaker & Ayonwentha Spread the Message
While amongst the Mohawk, the Peacemaker called for Ayonwenta an Onondaga, who later became a Mohawk by adoption, to come and stand by his side. Interestingly, one should be aware that the name Ayonwenta, or Hiawatha, which may be more familiar to the reader, has nothing to do with Longfellow's poetic creation. Ayonwenta had isolated himself from his people, and sought solace in the woods after his daughters had been murdered. Ayonwenta was an excellent orator. He stood by the side of the Peacemaker. Ayonwenta was a loyal friend and helper in promoting the Great Law of Peace.
The Peacemaker then traveled to the Oneida to spread his message. The Peacemaker, as he had done with the Mohawk, sought out the violent leaders who were fighting and killing and told them of his good message from the Creator. These leaders listened to the Peacemaker's good message, and as did the Mohawk, they agreed to replace their negative thinking and actions. The Oneida agreed to accept the Great Law of Peace, if the other Nations would be bound and live by the law also, which required them to live in Peace and Unity. As with the Mohawk, there were nine leaders, who agreed to follow the Great Law of Peace and they became chiefs.
Atodaho Refuses the Message
The Peacemaker then traveled to the Onondaga, and, as he did with the Mohawk and the Oneida, he sought out the leaders who were causing havoc and told them of the good message. Most of the leaders accepted the Great Law of Peace, except one very evil twisted man who dealt in bad medicine. His name was Tadodaho. Tadodaho was very strong and wicked, and he refused to listen to the Great Law of Peace. The Peacemaker tried to reach Tadodaho with the good message, but Tadodaho refused, so the Peacemaker moved on to spread his message to the Cayuga.
Peacemaker continues to the Cayuga & Seneca
Ten of the Cayuga leaders accepted the Peacemakers message and agreed to be bound by the articles of the Great Law of Peace. The Peacemaker then traveled on to the Seneca. The Seneca had a large number of warriors, but after awhile, eight of the leaders agreed to accept the Great Law of Peace. All of the Nations had agreed to accept the Great Law of Peace, all but, the Onondaga leader Tadodaho. All efforts to talk with the Tadodaho, and get him to accept the Great Law had failed.
Jikonsahseh, the Mother of all Nations, also known as the Peace Queen, called the Peacemaker and Ayonwenta into her house, for she had a plan to bring the Tadodaho under the Great Law of Peace. Jikonsahseh, since she had lived a life like Tadodaho, called the Peacemaker and Ayonwatha, for she had a plan that if they would sing to Taodaho the special song she taught them that his mind would become be transformed and he would be able to hear the good message. The Peacemaker and his followers went to find the Tadodaho. After a long time they found the Tadodaho in a swamp. His body was dirty and twisted, and it is said that he had snakes woven into his hair that gave him a frightful look. His face bore the look of the cruelty that was in him.
The Cayugas had learned the song that Jikonsahseh had taught them, and they began to sing the song to Tadodaho. However, the Cayugas made a mistake in singing the song, so it did not work. The Peacemaker then sang the song without mistakes, and he sang the song in a strong clear voice. The Peacemaker's singing worked, for the Tadodaho was able to hear the Peacemaker's good message and his twisted mind and body became straightened. Then, Ayonwenta was able to comb the snakes from the hair of the Tadodaho. Although the Tadodaho was wicked, and often thought to be so evil that he appeared not human, the singing released him from the evilness and he listen to, and accepted the Peacemaker's message of the Great Law of Peace. Jikonsahseh knew that the songs and words would heal his mind, and it worked.
Tadodaho Accepts the Peacemaker's message
When Tadodaho accepted the Great Law of Peace, he become the Fire Keeper of the Grand Council. The responsibility and duty of the Tadodaho, from that day on, is to promote the Good Word, Peace, Power, and Righteousness. After the Tadodaho accepted the Good Message, the Onondaga were than represented by fourteen chiefs, and the Nations became bound together in Unity, Peace, and Strength under the Great Law of Peace.
Interestingly, although I have not been able to find confirmation, It appears that the number of feathers that are worn in the feathered hats, gustowehs, of each Nation of the Haudenosaunee coincides with the order in which they accepted the Great Law of Peace from the Peacemaker. For example, the Mohawk were the first to accept the Great Law of Peace, and they wear three eagle feathers standing straight up in their gustowehs. The Oneida second to accept the Great Law of Peace wear three eagle feathers also; but two of the feathers are worn straight up and one is tilted downward. The Onondaga next to accept the great law, all but the Tadodaho, wear two eagle feathers in their gustowehs one up and one tilted downward. The Cayuga, the forth to accept the Great Law of Peace, wear one eagle feather tilted slightly downward, while the Seneca wear one single eagle feather straight up in their gustowehs. The feathers worn also allow the Haudenosaunee to easily recognize each other. The Tuscarora do not wear any eagle feathers in their gustoweh, which may be explained by the fact that they did not originally accept the Great Law of Peace from the Peacemaker, for the Tuscarora joined the Confederacy and accepted the Great Law of Peace around 1714.
This is how the Peacemaker stopped the warring and bloodshed amongst the many nations. The only man that stood in the way of the Great Law of Peace from being accepted and taking root, was the Tadodaho. Once the Tadodaho was sung to, and the snakes were combed from his hair, he was able to hear the Peacemaker's good message. Only then were all the Nations joined in Unity, Strength, and Peace. The Onondaga chiefs were given the duty of being the Keepers of the Fire, and they are the record keepers of the Confederacy. Chief Leon Shenandoah filled the place of the Tadodaho for over a quarter of a century as he upheld the Great Law of Peace. Shenandoah was a great spiritual advisor and a truly good man that will be fondly remembered! Nia:wenkowa
(1) Akwesasne Notes, Spring April-May-June 1997
(2) Shenandoah, Leon. "Forward" to Paul A.W. Wallace, WHITE ROOTS OF PEACE 9-12, Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishing, 1994.
Buck, Roy. "The Great Law" Traditional Teachings. Ed. Barbara K. Barnes. Ontario, Canada: North American Indian Travelling College, 1984.
"The Women's Nomination Belt." Indian Time 19 July 1996:3.
"Leon Shenandoah, Fire Keeper for the Haudenosaunee Dies at 81 After Serving As Tadodaho for More Than a Quarter of a Century." Indian Time 26 July 1996:1.
Jemison , Peter G.. Mother of Nations-The Peace Queen, A Neglected Tradition, Indian Roots of American Democracy, Northeast Indian Quarterly, 1988: 68-69.
Mitchell, Mike Kanentakeron, "The Birth of the Peacemaker" Traditional Teachings. Ed. Barbara K. Barnes. Ontario, Canada: North American Indian Travelling College, 1984.