The Great Law Of Peace | The Old New World

The Great Law Of Peace | The Old New World

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what was the first democracy in North
America I imagine your first instinct is to think the United States their
Republic was founded in the 18th century and very often the way that Americans
teach history they think that they were the first democracy or at least the
first one since Greece so I imagine the more astute step back viewers will know
that if I started with such a simple question that there’s probably something
going on and there is fewer there is you might have heard of the Haudenosaunee
Confederacy it’s the name the people of the Confederacy prefer for themselves
Haudenosaunee means people of the longhouse you might know them as the Six
Nations or the Iroquois our story today is about the legend of the founding of
this League of peace and the resilience and future of the nations within this
great Confederation according to the oral tradition of the Haudenosaunee we
begin with an Onondaga man named hiawatha his story is very much a legend
passed down by many generations of oral storytellers he was likely a historical
figure but with lots of edits and flourishes over the centuries he lived
during a time in history known as the time of the blood feuds it was a violent
period before the unification of the Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Oneida and Mohawk
violence from one nation to another sparked retaliation which would repeat
in an endless cycle of bloodshed Hiawatha’s story begins with tragedy as
an Onondaga warrior he lost his wife and daughters to the endless conflict
scarring the land the loss sent him into a deep depression and he wandered the
land mourning in his travels he met Deganawida
the peacemaker the Haudenosaunee portrayed Deganawida
as a wise wanderer from the far north he came to this land with a mission to end
the blood feuds and bring peace the two men met somewhere in the Mohawk nation’s
territory a nomad who wanted to bring peace to a war-torn land and a grieving
husband and father in self-exile they both wanted to see an end to the war and
violence plaguing the people of a long time
but Hiawatha was in a deep depression the loss clouding his thinking and he
could barely keep himself together if he were to move forward to save those
people from the endless cycle of war he’d need to process his grief Deganawida taught him an important ritual still held in sacred practice today by
the Haudenosaunee it’s a ceremony of prayer and song used to say way to
process grief for the dead this was meant to replace a practice known as
mourning wars these were Wars not for resources or territory but for revenge a
part of their spiritual healing process the battles included capturing captives
to become spiritual successors of those they’d lost the ceremony was one of the
first concrete steps towards peace a way to put an end to violence met with
retaliatory violence and endless blood feuds and mourning wars that just
rampaged every society and left everyone full of grief and hatred this was a way
to heal the wounds between these groups and for the first time in a long time
make peace the ritual requires a practitioner of a calm mind one
unaffected by grief they would clear the eyes of the mourner from the tears to
clear their vision they’d open their ears to help them hear clearly and their
throat so that they may speak the cloud of pain and suffering would lift and
reason would return if the Haudenosaunee nations were entire tribes in mourning
clouded by the grief of endless cycles of violence than the role of Deganawida would be as a clear-headed outsider who came to this land to perform this
condolence ritual for an entire country Deganawida had healed hiawatha and soon
hiawatha became his follower they traveled along the five original nations
of the confederacy to spread knowledge of the condolence ceremonies they
immortalized the condolence ritual with an intricate pattern of beads on strings
known as wampum to this day the Haudenosaunee use wampum to remember
their history and laws they trace the origin of this
practice to this moment with Hiawatha the pair’s first stop was the Mohawk
nation from there they moved west spreading the knowledge of the
condolence ritual the Mohawks accepted it as well as the Oneida Nation their
third stop was Hiawatha’s home nation the Onondaga there they met with a war
chieftain named a Tatar ho the legends say he had snakes for hair and wielded
dark magic if you don’t choose look at him literally though you could see at
haut our hoe as sort of a counterpoint to Hiawatha both of them representing
the two things that were creating the great pain and sickness of the
Haudenosaunee people before the confederation Atotarho represents the
resistance and the legacy of all of the anger and hatred that had been pent up
through years of war so Atotarho was also a chief who owed his position of power to
war he was a war chieftain and so many before the founding of the Confederacy
held their positions of power based on being part of the warrior caste to stop
the endless cycle of war meant to give up some of their prestige in their
position so while Atotarho represented the anger and the vitriol and the
violence hiawatha represented the pain and the loss both would need to be
overcome in order to build this Confederacy of peace and so when the
pair went to see Atotarho he rejected their proposal they did not let this
rejection defeat their mission soon Hiawatha and Deganawida met with the
Cayuga and Seneca who agreed to join they returned to Atotarho with the
Four Nations backing them he still refused their offer
unable to see past his own rage and hurt the other foreign nations proposed
attacking the Onondaga to force them into the Confederacy but hiawatha did
not want a black mark on the birth of an era of peace he offered Atotarho a
sacred position that of the great chief or chief such ‘m the Onondaga Nation
would also become the home of the Grand Council it would be the meeting spot for
all of the nations to discuss Confederacy
and you know what he agreed the message of peace had gone through from this
moment the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was born after Atotarho experienced his
own condolence ceremony he and Hiawatha were his brothers the early Haudenosaunee
Confederacy was a massive power in the region their ability to cultivate the
three sisters of corn squash and beans led to a vast population hold on I think
I’m getting a collaboration thing one sec hi I’m cogito you can tell it’s
someone from another channel because the art is a better I’ve made a video in
collaboration with step back on the amazing agricultural technology that the
Native Americans possessed if that sounds like something that you’re
interested in then head over to my video once you finish watching this one with
this superior population they were able to expand in two regions less populated
that is until they got farming as well and even the odds I will mention though
these archaeological theories clash with the Haudenosaunee themselves who dispute
this things seem to be going well until the 15th or 16th century the
Haudenosaunee began to face their greatest threat a force which threatens
their existence to this day they met Europeans historians dispute whether
their first interactions with Europeans was in 1535 meeting Jacques Cartier or in
1608 meeting Samuel de Champlain regardless they soon became well known
to the French the French would forgo calling them the Haudenosaunee or the
name of the nation they belonged to opting for the name Iroquois contact was
a disaster the European diseases brought mass deaths to the Haudenosaunee
people as well as every indigenous nation on the hemisphere estimates range
from 80 to more than 90% of the population of North and South America
this mass dying represented about a fifth of the human population in a
never-ending drive to secure more hunting territory for beaver pelts the
Haudenosaunee launched a conflict against the French and their Huron
allies known as the beaver wars they purchased guns from their Dutch allies
in modern-day Albany to fight back scholars now believe this conflict was a
new emergence of the mourning wars they looked for people to bolster their
population captives would become symbolic reincarnation
of the many many lost though they managed to dodge and even expand their
territory by the early 18th century the Haudenosaunee were a major power in
north america they could play the rival empires of the British and French
against each other to their benefit displace from their homes in North
Carolina the Tuscarora asked to join the great Confederacy and they became the
sixth nation today you might hear the Haudenosaunee referred to as the Six
Nations other nations became subjects of the Confederacy and something called
overlordship the Confederacy assimilated them as part of the Covenant chain they
were essentially made tributaries during the Seven Years War the Haudenosaunee
allied with the British against the French
after the British victory they signed a tree ensuring them land to live upon
which settlers could not expand into just want to mention though that many
citizens of the thirteen colonies both ignored this treaty and complained about
it frustration over this qurban expansion as well as many other issues
from the Seven Years War prompted the thirteen colonies to rise against the
British in the American Revolution the Haudenosaunee initially tried to
keep neutral in the conflict as the war dragged on though loyalties to the
British or Americans split the Confederacy they weren’t able to
recreate their great bonfire until after the war in Buffalo but now the nation
straddled two separate countries the Americans demanded through a series of
treaties a majority of Haudenosaunee territory the governor of New York tried
to convince them to sell their land to white settlers even exploiting an
alcohol dependence epidemic to strong-arm them into giving up their
ancestral territory by the 1950s the US was still confiscating land from the
Confederacy after World War two the US began something they called Indian
termination they went through the act of trying to dismantle indigenous
governments in favor of forced assimilation into American culture they
attempted to officially terminate relations on a nation to nation level
nowadays in America the legal status of indigenous people is a messy oppressive
patchwork of laws depending upon who could lobby for their existence to this
day the Haudenosaunee government still exists it still strives to keep a secure
future for its people while resisting colonization this is the
part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy I really want to impress they’re still
alive we tend to conceive of the stories of indigenous people as being past tense
on this long era of decline on this inevitable path towards oblivion but
they are alive they are current they have not just a present but a future and
it’s a future that we can all do something to make better I want to give
a huge shout out to my patrons who without which there would be no step
back at this point I would not be able to afford to do it by the way I’m very
close to making step back my full-time job which will mean more and better
content for you so if you want to be one of those fantastic people who want to
step up and help step back succeed who believe in its mission of improving
historical literacy and combating reactionary abuses of the past then
please go to to understand if you’re not a commitment
type and you want to give just a one-time gift maybe there was a video
you particularly liked then please you can go to and give anything
anything really will help and if you’re unable to or you don’t want to help
monetarily trust me I completely understand you could help out step back
by sharing a video that you like with a family member with friends with a
community that you belong to online or offline it would really help
word-of-mouth is really the way that spread step back because I’ll tell you
from the backside the algorithm does not like this channel of course go and check
out Cogito’s video down in the description and come back soon for more
step back

29 thoughts on “The Great Law Of Peace | The Old New World

  • Step Back History Post author

    What we call the "new" world is actually really ancient with lots of amazing history often not given attention. This series tells those stories:

  • Emil Øvretveit Post author


  • Maksimiljan Gale Post author


  • - Cogito - Post author

    Having snakes for hair and being the embodiment of war itself is METAL AF

  • James Gardner Post author

    There is a great video about the system of government used by the Iroquois Confederacy from a channel called Historia Civilis. It goes into great detail about the specific workings and talks about how effective it was. (Link below)

  • Tyrone Chillifoot Post author

    Igbo society was deeply democratic they would elect the king both men and women were eligible due to the religion they practiced thought that to keep balance men and women needed to be equal

  • MajoraZ Post author

    The Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy is probably not the first democracy in North America, depending on how you define "democracy" and "north america". Assuming North America includes Mexico, then that title probably goes to one of a few Mesoamerican states; Mesoamerica being the cultural region and cradle of civilization the Aztec and Maya belonged to. Tlaxcala, for example, was a unified Republic of 4 major city-states in Central Mexico which was likely founded in the 11th or 12th century AD, with the Tlaxcaltecs being one of a few groups belonging to the Nahua culture migrating down from northern mexico and transitioning from tribal nomadism into Mesoamerican style urban statehood (The city-states that would form the Aztec Empire were also Nahuas groups from this migration). Tlaxcalan senators had to undergo a period of public beatings and humiliation to ensure they were up to par, and then undergo a year of legal training and lessons on ethical philosophy prior to becoming senators.

    Another potential example would be the Metropolis of Teotihuacan, which existed from 200BC to around 600AD, and was probably the most important city in Mesoamerica (and the Americas as a whole) during that period: It had wide reaching cultural and political influence, with it's armies conquering Maya cities around 1000 miles away, and spreading artistic and archtectural conventions such as the Talud-Taburo construction across the region. It itself had running water, a sewage system, and reaching a population of 150,000 people, with it's dense urban grid of stone structures, roads, and temples covering 22 square kilometers, and the city as a whole including it's suburbs covering over 60 square kilometers, making it larger then Rome in physical expanse; easily in the top 10 largest cities in the world in both area and population at that time. We don't know how exactly Teotihuacan was governed, but there's a notable lack of royal iconography or many things suggesting a singular ruler, and most impressively, virtually the entire city's population was living in lavish, well furnished, stone multi-room complexes with open air courtyards frescos adorning their walls, and, sculpture, fine pottery in them; which would have been noble homes or palaces in any other ancient city. If you use the GINI inequality scale, Teotihuacan scores a mere .12 vs the typical roman city of the time having a score of .6. The fact that there were such egalitarian and high quality living conditions suggests some sort of representative or democratic rule.

    There's probably other examples, as contrary to people only being familiar with the Aztec and Maya, Mesoamerican had civilization for over 2500 years (since before/around 1000 BC) before the Spanish showed up, with dozens of other major civilizations and hundreds of specific city-states, kingdoms, and empires, but sadly given the Spanish burned every book they came across, melted down art, and leveled structures, most of the written records we would have had are gone, though there's still way more info left then people realize: We have hundreds of Nahuatl (Aztec/Nahua language) and Spanish documents from the conquest and colonial period documenting their history and society and great detail; to the point where we probably know more about the Aztec then some periods of Egyptian history and most of Mesopotamia; and plenty of Maya cities have surviving inscriptions detailing their political histories in terms of dates of marriages, alliances, ascensions, wars, construction projects, etc; and a handful of other civilizations have surviving books or colonial period sources here and there as well.

    Unfortunately most public education doesn't go into any of this at all, which is a shame: We destroyed most of their records and neglect to teach the records that are left.

  • Comrade Jeb Bush Post author

    where i live there 2 shrines about 2 christian Mohawk girls and i remember in 4th grade we visited a Iroquois place and made wampums

  • Patrick Blanchette Post author

    I’ve seen articles that suggest the US was at least somewhat inspired by this confederacy.

  • Christos Nicolaou Post author

    This is very good, Tristan! This video does something very different, which is address the story of the Haudenosaunee after contact. It's not something that I've seen covered on YouTube.

    Some other good videos are the ones by Extra Credits and Overly Sarcastic Productions. They focus on other aspects of their history I cannot recommend both channels enough!

    I) Extra Credits video Part I:
    II) Extra Credits video Part II:
    III) Overly Sarcastic Productions video:

    In addition, there are some academic articles that talk about Haudenosaunee notions of person-hood and even go into the emotional aspect of Iroquois longhouse life. That was by far the most interesting part of this video, and I think the articles are good complements.

    1) Creese, J.L. (2012). The Domestication of Personhood: a View from the Northern Iroquoian Longhouse. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 22, pp 365-386.
    2) Creese, J.L. (2016). Emotion work and the archaeology of consensus: the Northern Iroquoian case. World Archaeology, 48(1), pp.14–34.
    3) Creese, J.L., 2016, “Extending the Rafters”: Assemblage Theory and the Iroquoian Longhouse.

    It's always fun learning about ancient democracies. It shows how deep our history of collaboration, deliberation and consensus goes. From Athens, to Tlaxcalla, to the Haudenosaunee, there's so many good things to learn from that can help us build better societies today. And the best part about the Internet is that everyone who has WiFi can be inspired by this knowledge. Great work on this video, Tristan!

  • BENY0HAMA Post author

    I'm Mohawk, and it's cool that you're using the proper name for Haudenosaunee, but the proper name for Mohawks is Kanien'keha:ka, or People of the Flint

  • Aleesa Tana Post author

    I'm a little disappointed that you left out Jigonsaseh – women so often get left out of historical narrative. I appreciate your review of this, and its echoes through to the modern day, and I encourage viewing the in depth look at the Conferacy by Extra History

  • Benedict Case Post author

    This channel is so criminally underrated

  • LawfulGoodGuy Post author

    This is the first video of yours I've seen and it's pretty good. I'm Oneida and I've just finished my Bachelors in Indigenous Studies. I really liked this one. More people should know about the first democracies in North America, as there is much misinformation about what kind of lives the people of Turtle Island lived. Thanks, Tristan.

  • Michael Cruz Post author

    Great video, great information. I did not know the Iroquois were actually called the Haudenosaunee.

    A point of contention I have is the misuse of the term Democracy. The USA technically is a republic, not a democracy and we tend to misuse the term as a result.

    So unless the 6 nations in their totality would show up to vote on specific issues they were not a democracy.

  • Natasha Taylor Post author

    First instinct was Iroquois confederacy, because I watch Extra Credits 'Extra History' series.

  • Upcycle Electronics Post author


  • Cam Ross Post author

    Im Seneca so it's always nice when I hear about my people in history.

  • Susi M Post author

    The deliberate destruction of so many indigenous cultures around the world is heartbreaking. What have we lost? I have nothing but admiration for the many indigenous peoples who endured and survived until their voices could be heard again. Videos like this one help to explain why we all need to be allies so that their voices are never silenced again.

  • Mythology Guy Post author

    So glad you made this video. I did a big research paper last year on the Haudenosaunee. They're such a fascinating culture and people.

  • Briana1219 Post author

    So I learned the name of Hiawatha in school, but never learned this history. Thank you so much for such an informative video! I love this channel!

  • Eli's Animations & More Post author

    Your pronunciations are so out of wack. Haudenosaunee is Ho-dah-nah-Show-Knee. And iroquois is pronounced Ear-ah-koi, It is not french even tho it looks like a french word. Onondaga is pronounced aa-
    nuhn-daa-guh. and I am only a minute into the video. I am not native american but I know for a fact how to pronounce these words from growing up in western NY. I like your videos, its just your pronunciations are very midwestern.

  • Activist Journeys Post author

    6:22 "But Hiawatha didn't want a black mark on the earth in an era of peace… OMG so privileged! CANCELLED."

    That Easter egg happened far too fast, I had to stare at a part of the screen and read one word at a time before watching it back 3 times, you sneaky, sneaky devil:

  • BewegteBilderrahmen Post author

    Why don't you link the other collab video? do you hate that guy?

  • Mathieu Leader Post author

    apparently in Canada they are having a genocide

  • HAYAO LEONE Post author

    Speak normal please.

  • dawnarnett Post author

    I'll support you as long as you don't all of a sudden become a tea channel 🙄. Which happened recently with another channel I'm subscribed to.

  • 777Wolf777 Post author

    10:07 ~ I wonder if this is why the Native American people became alcoholics.

  • Mrs. Lady Kat Post author

    Good video.

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