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An alliance of Native American tribes joined in spiritual harmony by their great binding law, the Haudenosaunee are a communal culture who know the land intimately.

The Haudenosaunee or “people of the longhouse” are members of a North American confederacy of Native Americans that formerly inhabited the northern territories of New York State between the Genesee River in the west and Hudson River in the east and lived mainly off horticulture. Called the “Iroquois” by the French and the “League of Five Nations” by the British, the confederation comprised the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk nations. This later became the “Six Nations” in the 18th century when the Tuscarora clans also joined.

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Within the federation to this day, each nation is divided into clans that follow a matrilineal system, meaning only women can hold property and hereditary leadership passes through their line. In the past, men remained in their mother’s household until adulthood before moving to live with their wives. Legend tells that it was Deganawida, a prophet known as the Great Peacemaker, who along with Hiawatha and Jigonhsasee, brought together the chiefs of different nations to form a peaceful confederation and dictated its founding principles. This political alliance was symbolized by the longhouse, the traditional communal house shared by several families. The exact date of this alliance is no longer known, but two theories support either the 12th or the 16th century. During this time, various laws were issued structuring the confederation and were recorded in written form in 1720 in a constitution called Gayanashagowa or the “Great Law of Peace.”

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The Constitution of the Haudenosaunee confederation is sometimes considered to have served as a model for the American Constitution. It is true that there are many similarities in the two texts, and Benjamin Franklin is known for having closely studied the structure and functioning of the confederation before taking part in drafting the constitution.