The Great Law is the founding constitution of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. It is an oral tradition, codified in a series of wampum belts now held by the Onondaga Nation. It defines the functions of the Grand Council and how the native nations can resolve disputes between themselves and maintain peace.
The Peacemaker traveled among the Iroquois for many years, spreading his message of peace, unity and the power of the good mind. Oral history says that it may have taken him forty some years to reach everyone…[and that] he was met with much skepticism…he continued and was able to persuade fifty leaders to receive his message. He gathered them together and recited the passages of the Great Law of Peace. He assigned duties to each of the leaders…he selected the women as the Clan Mothers, to lead the family clans and select the male chiefs…The Peace Maker then established clans among the Haudenosaunee as a way to unite the Five Nations and as a form of social order.
…A clan is a group of families that share a common female ancestry. Members of one clan are considered relatives and intermarriage in the same clan is forbidden. Clans are named after animals that give special assistance to the people – water (turtle, eel, beaver); land (bear, deer, wolf), sky (snipe, heron, hawk). Clanship identity is very important to the Haudenosaunee. The Chiefs were to use the power of their minds to reason, to figure what was best for the welfare of the people… We are to view the chiefs like a circle of standing trees, supporting the Tree of Peace that grows in the middle. They help to keep it from falling over…
The hardest part of the Great Law is to understand the meaning of the concept of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. In the Iroquoian mind, peace is a state of mind…Each individual has a base spiritual power. As you go through life as Haudenosaunee, experience different things, learn more, comprehend more and tap into other forms of spiritual power, your own spirit grows as well. The old timers called it orenda. Everyone is thought to have it to some degree. It effects how we do things. Good minds have strong orenda. So the ultimate power of the Great Law rests in how well the individual person develops their sense of self…in regard to the well-being of the others in the clan, in the village, in the nation and in the Confederacy of the Six Nations.