Hiawatha, the Unifier (Mohawk)
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

Hiawatha (Hayenwatha), the Unifier (Mohawk) or "Haion-Hwa-Tha" means "He who makes rivers." River travel was the way people got around in the time of Hiawatha. Hiawatha wanted to unite the nations in peace. Hiawatha was a statesman. lawgiver, shaman, and unifier who lived around 1570. He was born a Mohawk, but lived with the Onondaga when his own tribe rejected his teachings. His efforts to unite the Iroquois tribes was opposed by Onondagan Chief Athatotarho/Atoroho (also known as Tadodaho), whom he eventually defeated and the Chief killed Hiawatha's daughters in revenge.

Hiawatha was troubled by the hostilities that disrupted social harmony. He spoke about the senseless killings and the dangers these acts of violence brought to the survival of the Iroquois people. Hiawatha had a vision about the future of his three daughters, whom he loved dearly. He was aware that his enemies might use violence on his daughters to make him lose heart and he did eventually split from his tribe and became a wanderer.

At this time, the main enemies of the Iroquois were the Mohicans, Alqonquins, and the Ottawas. Some say they were scared of the Iroquois, others say it was jealousy. The Iroquois built their villages on hilltops and erected defensive palisades around their settlements in order to protect themselves against intruders.

Thadodaho, Enemy of Hiawatha:

Onondaga chief Thadodaho (ta-do-DA-ho) was an antagonist to Hiawatha. Most people were scared of him. Thadodaho was known to have magical powers which he used against his enemies. He was reputed to be a cannibal. He had snakes writhing in his hair and his legs and arms were gnarled and crooked. His name meant "entangled."

Both Thadodaho and Hiawatha were Onondagas. They were like the legendary twins in most Native American Indian legends:

  • Thadodaho was evil
  • Hiawatha was good.
  • Hiawatha wanted harmony and unity
  • Thadodaho wanted conflict.
  • Everything good that Hiawatha tried to do, Thadodaho tried to negate.
  • Thadodaho has a twisted mind
  • Hiawatha's mind was clear and straight.

    Thadodaho worked his evil on each of Hiawatha's three daughters:

    1. His first daughter became ill and died. Hiawatha grieved but still hoped for peace for his people.
    2. His second daughter died and again all thought she was cursed by Thadodaho.
    3. Hiawatha's third daughter was pregnant when a beautiful bird flew overhead. A few tried to shoot the bird down, out of the sky. When the bird was hit and fell to the earth, the crowd rushed to see the bird and to take its sacred feathers (it was thought that the bird was a white eagle). Since Hiawathas's third daughter was about to deliver her child, she was not able to get out of their way and she was trampled to death.

    After the death of all his beloved daughters, Hiawatha was deeply saddened, and thought of his own passions to make peace. In spite of this he knew that peace was the answer. His opposition to Thadohaho brought his family to grief. Thus Hiawatha decided to leave his people, since they did not support his dreams. He wandered and was a hermit in the woods. Always he thought about the deaths of his daughters and wept. He went into Mohawk territory. His sadness and his anger kept him alive. Hiawatha gathered some shells (both white and purple) and put them into his deerskin pouch. At the end of the day, Hiawatha made a fire and prepared to rest. He took out the shells and made three strands of them. A man named Deganewida (de-ga-ne-WEE-da) then noticed his presence.

    The Prophecy of Hiawatha and Deganewidah:

    The meeting of Hiawatha and Deganewidah, the Man of the North, was foretold in a prophecy. These men had much in common, they both were wanderers, and they both sought peace. In fact, Deganewidah was known as the Peacemaker. He was a member of the Wendat Nation (Hurons). Members of the Iroquois nation hold the name Deganawidah as sacred. His name is only allowed to be spoken in ceremonies. Other they call his Peacemaker, Prophet, or Man From the North.

    What did they have in common?:

  • The Wendat (Hurons) and Iroquois both relied on farming and hunting.
  • Both believe in a strong system of family
  • They had similar religious beliefs.
  • Both had clear and straight minds and were peacemakers.

    The Immaculate Conception:

    The Wendot (Hurons) lived on the north shore of Lake Ontario, in what is now known as Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Deganewidah's grandmother was approached by an angelic presence, a courier from the Great Spirit, Takenyawagon. Deganewidah's grandmother was told that the Holder of the Heaven or Great Spirit was sending a messenger to be born of her virgin daughter. He was to be the incarnation of the Great Spirit and would do his work on earth. The messanger's goal was to bring peace on earth.

    Deganewidah's mother, like the Virgin Mary, had an Immaculate Conception. She had NEVER been with a man. When Deganewida was born his grandmother tried to kill him, she was not sure if he might have been conceived by means of an evil force. She tried to throw him into a frozen lake after she cut a hole in the ice. The baby did not sink or drown. The grandmother tried to kill the baby two more times. He would appear back in the bed with her and her daughter. Now his grandmother knew he had special powers and gave up on trying to kill her grandson. Hiawatha's only defect was his studdering. Moses of our Judeo-Christian legends, also had a speech impediment. He was a model child, but others thought him to be too good. Thus he was an outcast among his people. They could not understand his goodness.

    Deganawidah left his village in a canoe. The canoe was made of white stone. All the villagers mocked his canoe, saying that such a canoe would surely sink. He said if he was whom he claimed that the canoe would float. The people thought he was bold to claim to be the Great Spirit. However, the boat did float off and never sank.

    Like many Christian saints, Degonewidah loved animals and they loved him. He was the Native American St Francis, and he could even talk to the animals like St. Columba. Jesus was even said to have talked to the animals in Gnostic tales. The Deer was said to be a gift from the creator for the eastern woodland tribes. Much like the bison in plain's cultures.

    Hiawatha and Degonewidah Unite:

    When Hiawatha and Degonewidah ("The Master of Things"), united, they decided to work together for peace:

  • First they went to the Oneida and spoke to their Chief Odatshedeh (O-DAT-se-de), whose name ment "quiver bearer," about peace. He said he would tell them tomorrow (in a year). A year later the Oneida chief said "YES."

  • Second they went to the Onondagas, and as was expected, their chief Thadodaho said: "NO."

  • Then they asked the Cayuga Chief Akahenyonk (a-ga-HEN-yonk), whose name meant "wary spy." A year later the Cayuga agreed to join the Great Peace.

  • Next they asked the Mohawk. They also agreed to the peace.

  • They then returned to the Onondaga. At last Thadodaho said: "Yes."

    However, before he said yes, they promised that Onondaga would be the meeting place of the Confederation. Onondagans would also be the Firekeepers. As soon as Thadodaho agreed, his snakes ceased to move and his crooked limbs straightened.

    Hiawatha, Degonewida, and Jikonsahseh (The Great Peace Woman) were all delighted. Jikonsahseh (meaning "New Face") joined them in their ideals.

    The last group to be asked about the Great Peace was the Senecas. The chiefs were Kanyaderiyo (ga-nya-da-RI-yo) meaning "beautiful lake" and Shadekaronyes (sa-da-ga-RON-yes) meaning "skies equal in length." These brothers were against the "Peace."

    When Hiawatha told then that they were the only chiefs that opposed them, they changed their minds. This is the legend of Hiawatha, Deganewida, and Jikonsahseh (a convert known as the "Mother of Nations") the Peacemakers.

    Jikonsahseh, the Great Peacemaker, told of the power of her gender within the confederacy:

    1. Women made proposals.
    2. Women chose male sachems (chiefs)
    3. Women guided and helped chiefs.
    4. Women could replace a bad chief with a new one.
    5. Women were wise.
    6. Women were the spiitual heads of the tribes.
    7. Women were hard working.
    8. Women were respected.

    Benjamin Franklin:

    Benjamin Franklin did more than anyone else to promote the genius of the Iroquois League and recommended the adoption of many of their practices. In 1744, Canassatego, an Onondaga chief, counseled the colonists to unite as the Iroquois had done. Ten years later, in 1754, Benjamin Franklin proposed a plan to unite the colonies as did the Iroquois. This plan was presented at the Albany Congress. The idea was not accepted at this time. However some twenty years later the Albany plan influenced our Articles of Confederation and was key in the creation of our Constitution, which was based on the Iroquois Constitution. Many have forgotten this truth, and what the United States of America used to stand for.

    How Does This Story Relates to Our Own Nation?:

    Today we are giving jobs to nations outside of our own borders, while our own citizens can't get jobs. We are no longer united, but now we are in conflict. Too many different groups seek to tear apart our unity. We must fight for a common goal TOGETHER. Listen to the ancients.

    Our world is on the edge of an ecological disaster. Many older civilizations experienced this, which is why so many ancient cities, in the Americas, left their cities to be taken back by the forests and jungles. People must learn to respect the powers of Mother Nature. Floridians experienced the power of hurricanes in 2004. The winter of 2005 has come in like a lion. There are many disasters in other parts of the world as well. Nature is holy and should not be upset.

    The key to our nations success is to unite once again. All citizens should be like a bundle of arrows held together. It is only in this way that we are strong. One arrow can be broken, many arrows can not. If the citizens of the United States fight each other, we will fall:

    • We all live on Turtle Island (North America).
    • We all bleed when cut.
    • We all are sad when a loved one dies.
    • We all can see the power of Mother Nature

    Forget the differences and celebrate the sameness of the human spirit. War must end for our world to survive. This was our policy right up to the World Wars. Somewhere we forgot this. Each of us must work to return our unity to this country.

    We should remember the teachings of the Peacemaker.

    "We Are All Related."


    Bouvillian, Nancy. Hiawatha: Founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.

    Houston, Jean and Margaret Rubin. Manual for the Peacemaker: An Iroquois Legend to Heal Self & Society. Wheaton, IL.: Quest Books, 1995.

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