The Great Tree of Peace (Skaęhetsiˀkona)

Oren Lyon’s painting of the Tree of Peace, under which the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed many hundreds of years ago. The painting now appears in the brochure for Syracuse University’s new Certificate in Iroquois Linguistics for Language Learners brochure.

Over 1,000 years ago, the Five Nations were brought together in peace at Onondaga Lake by the Peacemaker and Hiawatha (Hayenhwátha’).  Together they planted the Great Tree of Peace (Skaęhetsiˀkona) and created the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  This is where Skä·noñh began anew.

The Tree of Peace is a metaphor for how peace can grow if it is nurtured.  Like a tall tree, peace can provide protection and comfort.  Like a pine tree, peace spreads its protective branches to create a place of peace where we can gather and renew ourselves. Like the White Pine, peace also creates large white roots (tsyoktehækęætaˀkona) that rise out of the ground so people can trace their journey to the source.

If anyone truly desired peace they could follow the sacred white roots of peace to the capital of the Confederacy, here at Onondaga, where they would learn of the words of the Peacemaker.  His message is that we all can nurture the “Tree of Peace.”

The Peacemaker had the warriors uproot a great white pine under which left a gaping hole.  The 50 chiefs and warriors threw their weapons of war under the Great Tree where an underground stream carried the weapons away and it was lifted back upright.  This is the origin of the phrase “bury the hatchet.”  The Peacemaker said that the Chiefs will be standing on the earth like trees, deeply rooted in the land, with strong trunks, all the same height (having equal authority) in front of the their people, to protect them, with the power of the Good Mind–not physical force. On top of the tree sits an eagle who serves as an ever vigilante protector of the Peace. The Five Nations also came together to play Deyhontsigwa’eh (They Bump Hips) to solidify the Great Peace—today the game is known as lacrosse.