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Brilliant Tribal Leader Helped Frame American Constitution

By James Donahue

The early European settlers referred to the native tribal people already living on the North American soil as “primitives” and “savages” because their ways of life were different and obviously less cultivated.

While they lived in tents and buildings made of clay and were illiterate in the ways of the Europeans, the natives of North America were not dumb. They had advanced mentally and spiritually in a different direction and had much to teach the white settlers. For example, they introduced the Europeans to corn and tobacco, taught guerilla forms of warfare, and served as guides in the exploration of the forests.

There is a legend that has been passed down about a man known as Deganaweda who had an idea so brilliant that it brought peace among the various Algonquin tribes throughout the Northeast, and was used to frame the republic form of government established at the time the U.S. Constitution was written.

It was said that Deganaweda was born among the Huron people, a warlike tribe that once existed in what is now New York State. But Deganaweda would not accept the teachings of his elders. Even as a child he spoke of seeking a peaceful way of existence and harmony among the tribes. He was interested in the ways of the heart and he spoke among the elders of bringing an end to the tribe’s warlike ways and sacrifices of blood. But they would not listen.

As the story is told, Deganaweda left his home among the Hurons and began a pilgrimage, visiting numerous other tribes, expressing his ideas. He proposed what amounted to a confederation of tribes, with selected representatives gathering at a central location at regular intervals to discuss mutual concerns and to settle disagreements. He saw such a union as a way for each tribe to maintain their own identity and yet cooperate among the other tribes to avoid warfare.

Daganaweda’s words were discussed around the council fires of the elders. They agreed to form what became known as the Great Iroquois Confederacy. Included in the original agreement were the Mohawk, Onandaga, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Oneida people. The confederacy later grew to include the Seneca and Mohicans. Their meeting place was known as the Long House.

Tragically, the Mohicans were later wiped out by the Hurons, thus leaving the Confederacy composed of the six nations. What the organization lacked was the formation of a central military designed to protect its members from outside attacks.

Daganaweda, who became known as the Pale Prophet, accomplished this despite the fact that he was hampered by a speech impediment. They said he suffered from a severe stuttering problem. Later, when he confronted Hiawatha, a powerful and angry man living alone in the forest, he won the heart of this man with his words of peace and harmony. Hiawatha, who was in no way related to the woman with that name in the Longfellow poem, was so moved by Deganwaweda’s message that came from the heart that he joined Deganwaweda, becoming his chief spokesman in seeking peace among the tribes.

The two men moved among the tribes, teaching that the human race was one great family. They taught of love and unity, with reverence for the Creator of all and the sacredness of all life. They taught of an inner balance of male and female within the self and the importance of a mother and father relationship in every home. They established what was called the Way of the Great Peace and a natural order of living that is still shared among the tribal people to this day.

That Deganwaweda earned the nickname “Pale Prophet” suggests that he may have been of European origin, and that his skin color was Caucasian rather than that of the natives. Some contemporary writers have suggested that he was a prophet sent to Earth to help bring order to chaos, much like Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad. That such a person even existed is even subject to question. His story was passed down through native mythology.

This much is true, however. The Iroquois Confederacy existed, and because of it, the various tribes of Northeastern America lived in peace with one another.

The early colonists developed a good relationship with the tribes of the Long House. It was through that relationship that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson became familiar with the teachings of Deganwaweda, and the successful set-up of the Iroquois Confederacy. They drafted many of the principles of the confederacy when they were writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The concept of states electing representatives to meet regularly in a central place, which eventually became Washington, D.C., to deal with issues common to all of the states, and later to establish a military to defend the confederation of states, came largely from the mind of Deganwaweda. They chose to refine the plan to better meet the needs of the new nation.

Yet it was from the doctrine of life expressed by the Iroquois Confederacy that the Europeans forged the foundations of what was to be the American Constitution. And from this has spread the concept of all Western Democracy.