Democracy, Peace and the Iroquois

An invitation to speak has brought me back to some roots of my work I haven’t revisited in some time – the Iroquois Confederacy and its recognition of the intimate tie between democracy and peace – collective wisdom and collective tranquility.  Peace between people requires their respectful, insight-seeking conversation.  It requires, as Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Iroquois tells us, that “we meet and just keep talking until there’s nothing left but the obvious truth.”

Lyons also notes – to us self-proclaimed modern people – that “The Earth has all the time in the world.  We don’t.”  I strongly recommend his brief, vivid and moving video:

(note for those who have trouble with online videos: in the lower right it gives the option to use Flash or HTML5 video players).

Few Americans or people in other modern “democracies” realize how much our government structures owe to the Iroquois.  We talk about ancient Greece giving us democracy.  True, ancient Athens gave us the idea of “one man one vote” when adopting laws.  But some scholars suggest that the Iroquois gave us our federal system (an alliance of free states under one greater power), the idea of “balance of powers”, and much of our sense of personal privacy and liberty from government interference, as well as the idea of taking turns while speaking in an assembly.

We might note that America’s founders chose not to adopt the Athenian or Iroquois approaches to selecting leaders – oligarchy-resistant random selection in the case of Athens and patriarchy-resistant dialogue among women in the case of the Iroquois – nor did they adopt the Iroquois practices of consensus decision-making and women’s close monitoring of male leadership.  Unlike both the Greeks and the American founders, the Iroquois League gave women real political power.

My own activism was born in the peace movements of the 1950s and 60s.  It was only in the 1980s and 90s that I realized that real peace (not just the absence of war) and real democracy (not just elections) were intimately related.  In their finest forms, both peace and democracy involve people successfully co-creating good lives and futures together.

This congruence between peace and democracy was recognized many centuries ago by the legendary Native American prophet and diplomat known as The Great Peacemaker.  With his spokesman, the renowned orator Hiawatha, he drew together five major warring nations in what is now northeastern North America into the great and lasting Iroquois League known as the Haudenosaunee – meaning “the people of the longhouse” or “they are building a longhouse”.  Tradition says The Great Peacemaker convened tribal leaders around the Tree of Peace, under which they buried their weapons and adopted The Great Peacemaker’s Great Law of Peace, their oral (and now written) constitution.  Among other things, the Great Law of Peace established procedures for cultural unity, conflict resolution and making collective decisions to govern the entire League – resulting in an elegant merger of peace and democracy.

On April 17, Co-Intelligence Institute board member Manju Lyn Bazzell and I will be sharing our views about 21st century approaches that embody the kind of peace-nurturing democratic wisdom The Great Peacemaker pioneered so many years ago, informed by the best that Athens, too, had to offer, and integrated with emerging understandings about how to actually do all this in societies containing millions of people – especially in the face of increasing hardships, innovations, and extinction-level issues.

We’ll be talking in a Maestro teleconference format with Dr. Lauren Oliver, a major organizer of Peacemaker Circles, a growing network of modern peacemakers inspired by the traditions of The Great Peacemaker and the social change artistry vision and practices of Jean Houston.  The teleconference will include opportunities for discussion among listeners and for questions to Manju, Lauren and myself. You are very welcome to join us.

It should be interesting.


(NOTE:  The post above is an email that was sent to my list April 12, 2013, during the time before my blog had finished moving to this new site and after my former blog host, Posterous, had ceased to allow new posts.  I am posting it here because it contains interesting information quite independent of the teleconference call that triggered it. – Tom Atlee)


Edited from the full CirclesWork newsletter at

April’s Eminent Peacemaker Teleconference
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
5:30pm-7pm Pacific Time

Peace and Democracy
Tom Atlee and Manju Lyn Bazzell in dialogue with YOU!

Tom Atlee, founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute (, in dialogue with Manju Lyn Bazzell, Dr. Lauren Oliver, & YOU evokes our wisdom on peace & democracy

You can sign up for the Teleconference series here:

As we continue following the Great Peacemaker…  founding the Iroquois League by planting the Great Tree of Peace, the Peacemaker invited all the warriors to throw their weapons under the tree – to assure they cast away all thoughts of making war, and the hatred and enmity that fed them.  War no more!  Peace and democracy were birthed as one, by the Iroquois League, and detailed in a consensus-based constitution co-created with the 5 original tribes.  Not legalistic, the Iroquois Constitution sets out a way of life that keeps peace alive in daily cooperative action & in Council (see note below).

Tom Atlee, our Eminent Peacemaker on April 17, founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute, will model his commitment to conversation and council in dialogue with Manju Lyn Bazzel and Lauren Oliver, igniting our Peacemaker community with democratic praxis that embodies peace.  In his books Empowering Public Wisdom and The Tao of Democracy and on his websites his explorations range from leadership, governance and economics to spirituality, dialogue, and activism – all derived from his vision of evolving wholeness and the role of human conversation in co-creating our world.

After Tom Atlee’s Vietnam draft resistance, the watershed event in his life was the 1986 cross-country Great Peace March, where he and 400 others learned circle process from a Native American marcher and experienced palpable collective intelligence.  Since then he has explored many ways we can be smarter and wiser together than we are separately, and how peace and democracy are both about co-creating our shared lives. Tom sees his work – and the work of The Great Peacemaker – as evolution becoming conscious of itself. He lives in a consensus co-op household in Eugene, OR – with a changing population of friendly people, dogs, cats, chickens, plants, and thousands of books – and in his partner Dulcy’s rural dome.

Manju Lyn Bazzell joins the dialogue, bringing experience as a talk show host, non-profit Executive Director, organizational consultant and award-winning inner-city schoolteacher.  Her vision: if we can imagine a better world, it is within our reach.  Serving
on Boards of Directors including The Co-Intelligence Institute, and featured in both INC. and Entrepreneur magazines, Manju’s skills in large group processes, communications & human technologies bring co-intelligence to governance and economic systems.

Join us April 17 for great dialogue!


From “Manual for the Peacemaker”
by Jean Houston and Peggy Rubin

“Living Democracy and Peace”

The Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha worked with the people to create a way of living to sustain peace and democracy and meet the needs of all.  Weapons and enmity were buried beneath the Great Tree of Peace.  Peacemaker envisioned a watchful eagle atop the Great Tree of Peace, with eyes alert to the slightest sign of danger to the tree’s roots, or, to peace.

The Great Peacemaker urged people to maintain friendships energetically. Bonds of community were designed to keep alliances strong, including:
*  Living in the Longhouse; this required daily cooperation and fostered an ideal of sharing all resources equally.
*  Adopting the Condolence Ceremony, to let go of old insults and wrongs. Mourning grief fosters sympathy & healing.

The Great Council empowered and governed the Confederacy. The Council – meeting under the Great Tree of Peace – included guidelines and checks and balances:
*  Regular meetings
*  Representatives from each tribe – with one vote for each tribe.
*  Leadership: Two leaders for each tribe, with clear safeguards to assure they be servants of the people.
*  Set pattern for meetings of the Great Council.
*  Open with thanksgiving.
*  Songs commemorate League unity.
*  Roll call of the tribes.
*  Proposals made holding wampum meant speaking truth; & no interruption.
*  Disagreements were sent back to the point at which they arose.
*  The Great Council was adjourned at nightfall to avoid raised tempers when tired.

Iroquois live democracy and peace daily, still.

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