Deganawidah

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Related to The Great Peacemaker: Deganawidah, Dekanawida

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.

Sources:

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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