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Tracing the Peacemaker’s Journey

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The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, created when five nations overcame their differences with the help of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha, is a longstanding democracy. From July 9 through 21, travelers are invited to retrace the journey of the Peacemaker through Ontario and New York State to visit the very sites that led to the unveiling of the Great Law.

“For the Haudenosaunee, law, society and nature are equal partners and each plays an important role,” the Confederacy’s website says. The trip's organizers are still accepting travelers who are available for the two-week journey and are welcoming any offers of shelter along the way.

Travelers will “place our feet on the very same lands from our history,” says the invite. The trip is open to Confederacy members interested in retracing the path of the Peacemaker. Most of the journey will be conducted in the Mohawk language, though other languages are also welcome. English translations will be provided in the evenings.

“The Coming of the Great Law is not a story but an actual event, and many of our people still remember the places where some of these events took place,” the invite says. “Those people can show us these spaces and retell the story of our ancestors. They will help us to remember and bring the story back to life.”

By traversing the path that the Peacemaker took, journeyers will experience firsthand the sites related to the birth of the Confederacy, said Bonnie Whitlow, who is organizing the trip.

“Essentially it’s a pilgrimage through our ancestral territories,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network. It’s “a rediscovery of our oral histories. It takes them out of that post-colonial [mentality], where everything is dismissed as legend, and puts it back into a historical context. It allows people to see that not only do our people have the memory but also the memory of those events is in the land itself, and so it allows people to have the experience in a personal context.”

Whitlow said she took the trip herself years ago, guided by Jake Thomas. She already knew something about the Great Law at the time, as do most people in Haudenosaunee country, she said. But her knowledge was not comprehensive. The journey changed all that.

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“This is where this event happened. This is where the Peacemaker pushed off in the stone canoe. This is where the Peacemaker’s grandmother tried to drown him,” she said of each site the trip stops at. “It brought that to life for me. It was not myth, not legend, it was a historical account.”

Moreover, it is said that the land carries these memories as well, she said. You can point to a spot and know that certain things happened there, or near it.

“This is our story. These are our historical roots,” she said. “Those stories are all encoded in our laws. They may not be written in a book but they are contained in the wampum belts that we have.”

The trip will start at the Mohawk Longhouse in Six Nations and wend its way to Tyendinaga, Akwesashne and Kahnawake. Travelers will then head into the Albany area and across I-90 through Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca territories, finishing in Tuscarora. Cost is $400 per person over age 16, $200 for ages 10–16. Children under age 9 travel for free. A family—two adults and their children or carload—is a flat fee of $1,000. Participants will receive a map, the list of accommodations for each stop, telephone numbers and meeting addresses, the organizers’ release said. Travelers are also cautioned that they will be crossing international borders so should bring appropriate documentation.

Several communities have agreed to host participants on their territories, and the organizers are urging those who want to host to contact Whitlow at and let her know how many beds are available.

The trip starts with the Great Law: The Mother and Grandmother, the birth of the Peacemaker, childhood and tobacco burning; the Great Law recitation will detail “as he builds the canoe; he prepares to leave; he crosses the lake,” according to the itinerary. The sites include “the birthplace; the water where the Grandmother tried to drown him; the marks on the rock where the Peacemaker pushed off with the canoe, and where the tree grew that would bleed if the Peacemaker was in trouble.”

The story of the landing, meeting the Cannibal, finding the Mohawks, the first Clan Mother, and the Mohawks’ coming to one mind will all be retraced, as will the story of Hiawatha, the tobacco burning, the Woods Edge Condolence for the journeyers, and finally the arrival of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha and the raising of the first Oneida chiefs. There will also be discussions at each step of the way.

“I’ve heard the Peacemaker described as almost like the consummate grief counselor,” Whitlow said. “He was able to help people rediscover their own humanity to deal with grief and loss and anger” and to harness these chaotic emotions … and then allow them to negotiate peace from a position of peace.