|“THE ON-GOING CONFUSION BETWEEN
THE GREAT LAW AND THE HANDSOME LAKE CODE”
MNN. Oct. 28, 2007. MNN Mohawk Nation News has published another book in the “Mohawk Issues for Dummies Series”. It’s called “The On-Going Confusion Between the Great Law of Peace and the Handsome Lake Code”. Here are some comments from two people who read the book:
“Gees, I always thought I was ”traditional” because of my belief in the “Creator”! It looks like I have to question how I relate to the natural world and my responsibilities to it”, stated a Kanion’ke:haka youth who is always looking for answers.
“What a colonial conspiracy! This is the first time anyone took the Great Law philosophy and compared it with the Christian-based Handsome Lake Code ”, said a surprised elder of Kahnawake.
This book helps readers to understand the alarming turn of events at Six Nations over the land reclamation. For almost two years the Six Nations people, our friends and allies successfully took back and held Indigenous land known as “Douglas Creek Estates”, now called “Kanenhstaton”.
The Indigenous right to this land that was stolen by the settlers is well documented in the records kept by colonial society. This is why officials from Canada and Ontario have never offered to have Six Nations rights reviewed in a court or by a neutral third party. If the evidence was properly reviewed, they would lose. Their only hope to continue with the theft of the Six Nations land is to get someone to agree to terms that reduce Six Nations rights.
According to the Great Law, only the women can deal with land issues as we are the “progenitors of the nation” and the land is held by us for the future generations. The Confederacy chiefs, clan mothers, “talkers” and lawyers that are sitting with Canada and Ontario are suppose to be discussing the return of our stolen land. Instead they got suckered into setting up something called the “Haudenosaunee Development Institute” to sign our land over to white developers. Decisions were made without meeting us and coming to a consensus. Permission was given for the Ontario Provincial Police to attack those of us who objected to the illegal housing development, who are now facing charges in the colonial court.
The chiefs and clan mothers at Six Nations violated our law. The following abstract from “The On-Going Confusion Between the Great Law and the Handsome Lake Code” lays out the source of their confusion and inability to push the Six Nations sovereignty and land issue. They are influenced by the fear based colonial ideology known as the “Handsome Lake Code”.
“A “philosophy” is the basic underlying principles, conduct, thought and knowledge in how a people relate to the natural world. An “ideology” is based on doctrines, opinions or ways of thinking which set out how a people shall behave, not necessarily based on a knowledge or practical understanding of the nature of the universe. These differences can be seen in the conflict between the ”Great Law of Peace” and the ”Handsome Lake Code” which, on the surface, are seemingly similar traditional understandings in Iroquois communities.
The Great Law is a pre-contact philosophy which formed the basis of Iroquois culture. The opening thanksgiving outlines an interdependent system of relations of all elements of nature which are equal; women have powerful roles in social, political and economic life; and the people form the base of power.
The Handsome Lake Code is a post-contact Christian based ideology which outlines a hierarchical order of the “spirit” forces, offices and elements of nature arranged according to their idea of power. This ‘faith’ is trying to get rid of the Great Law in most Iroquois communities.
This book compares the principles of the two. The conflict is between the “inner directed” Great Law adherents and the “accommodationist” Handsome Lake followers. The Great Law adherents are directed by the inner core of our knowledge system and traditions. The Handsome Lake followers are influenced by outside forces to accept the modes of colonial society.”
The conflict is created by religions and how they weaken, confuse and control our people. Elders like Karonhiaktajeh, Kanietahawi and others explain their relationships with Christianity and the Church and how they had to struggle to be free. They describe their lifelong battle to get rid of the deeply ingrained psychological conditioning designed to break down their will and freedom of thought.
Today we are beginning to see how we were made to live under its shadow without realizing its effect on us. We think we’re “traditional” when we are practising Christian-based rituals such as confession while wearing Indian clothes. We also take on the traditions of a variety of other Indigenous nations. For example, the ‘pow wow’ takes native imagery from its original context, i.e., the Plains Indians, and adapts it. There are many similarities in the nature-based philosophies of all Indigenous peoples on Turtles Island and beyond.
The Great Law of Peace is the Constitution of the Iroquois, also referred to as the “Old Way”. This confederation of five nations, later six, was a powerful force before and during the colonial period of Turtle Island or North America as it is called by the European settlers. Certain principles of the constitution were adopted as the basis of the Constitution of the United States, such as the three party structure and some symbols. The Iroquois Confederacy still exists today. Most Iroquois nations are finding their way back to the original Great Law philosophy.
Basic principles, a comparison of the “Law” and the “Code” and where they contradict each other are set out. To make sense of this deep-rooted conflict in Iroquois communities, these two philosophies are examined. Iroquois followers of the Great Law see the Handsome Lake Code as deliberately attempting to disregard the ancient world view of the Iroquois. The Handsome Lake followers believe they are “traditional”.
An understanding of these matters offers key insights into methodologies that are being used by colonial officials to undermine attempts at Six Nations to uphold our sovereign rights.
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Also available from MNN Mohawk Issues for Dummies Series: “Who’s Sorry Now? The Good, the Bad and the Unapologetic Mohawks of Kanehsatake” by Kahentinetha Horn. $20 includes shipping.
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