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Deganawidah (fl. 1550–1600)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Deganawidah was the legendary founder, along with Hiawatha, of the Iroquois Confederacy, an association of five Native American peoples—the Senecas, Cayugas, Oneidas, Onondagas, and Mohawks—that brought them a political, cultural, and religious unity. His dates of birth and death are unknown, but he is believed to have worked on the Confederacy in the last half of the sixteenth century.

Various legends have surrounded Deganawidah, including one that attributed his birth to a virgin mother of the Huron people. According to the story, she’d had a dream that she would bear a son who was destined to plant the Tree of Peace. He is remembered as the one who was able to bring the different groups into a peaceful relationship and, among other things, end the practice of cannibalism. Deganawidah advocated the formation of a council of chiefs drawn from each of the participating groups to constitute the new government. Each of the five groups had an equal vote on matters that came before the Confederacy, although the attempt was made to make decisions by consensus.

Hiawatha, his disciple and assistant, was a Mohawk. Together, they performed several miracles that helped convince the Onondaga chief, Atotarho, of the truth of their message. The formation of the Confederacy was marked by the planting of a peace tree at a spot over which weapons had been symbolically buried in what is now Syracuse, New York.

The Confederacy became the most powerful organization of Native Americans in the American northeast woodlands. Their power was increased in 1722 when the Tuscaroras joined. The Iroquois were able to prevent European movement into their territory for many years and were still an active force as late as the American Revolution.


Gibson, John Arthur. Concerning the League: The Iroquois League Tradition as Dictated in Onondaga. Winnipeg, MB: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics, 1992.
Graymont, Barbara. Indians of North America: The Iroquois. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
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The periodic oral recitation of the Great Binding Law, although it follows the traditional story-telling forms of Native American religious rituals - Deganawidah was, after all, a shamartistic visionary - amounts to an introductory government course for the Iroquois.
In the words of Fenton, "seen as an historical discourse, it is comprised of three main parts: (1) the myth of Deganawidah ...
The myth of Deganawidah and the founding of the Iroquois League holds that war among the five nations was widespread before the formation of the League, and archaeological evidence supports that history.(55) The dominant form of precolonial warfare among those nations that would later form the Iroquois League is called "blood feud" or "mourning war."(56) War as a result of boundary disputes appears to have been uncommon, although there is good evidence that the Iroquois and other groups did have clear notions of territory and sovereignty.(57) Rather, war more commonly began as feuds.
When I use the term "morals" I mean neither Moses's commandments nor the teachings of Deganawidah. I mean it in the most generic sense--the fundamental beliefs that shape what we each see as what is right and what is wrong.
That goal is typified in the Deganawidah Epic which sees the fruit of human endeavors as that of solidarity of brother with brother in the fellowship of peace.(2)
However, Waters has introduced little-known leaders Deganawidah (Huron), Irataba (Mohave), and Manuelito (Navajo).
Richter's discussions of gender, clan, and community patterns of obligation and authority, based on analyses of the Iroquois origin story and the Deganawidah myth about the formation of the Iroquois League, is especially interesting for showing how ethnohistorians could make better use of Indian oral traditions.
The Iroquois opens with the story of the peace forged by Hayenwatha and Deganawidah, the basis of the League of the Iroquois and the Condolence Council.