IN CASE OF CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS….Start here: The Great Law of Peace

Updated resources: Dec. 9, 2018, March 21, 2019
Posted September 6, 2018

I agree with those who say that Americans are in a constitutional crisis in 2018. I believe that the most unifying, sanity-inducing, and relief-giving activity that we can do right now is to learn the details of the Great Law of Peace and how the Iroquois League implemented their constitution.  Americans who are looking for new options for action or a liberating framework for real democracy will be greatly refreshed by this comparatively ancient vision that manifested on this very land.

If I understand my readings correctly, the Great Law of Peace was codified around 1142 and is still operational. Like most Americans educated in the last 60 years, I knew that the Iroquois Constitution had informed the writing of the U.S. Constitution. But I did not know why certain ideas were adopted by the Founding Fathers while others were omitted. That was partly because the details known by scholars in the 1960s-1990s were not widely disseminated and partly because the scholars studying the Great Law of Peace were not American Indians. It was also partly because the Indians east of the Mississippi needed more time to resuscitate themselves and their culture, having been the frontline resistance to European conquest.

But in 2000, a scholar of the Bear clan, Seneca nation — Barbara Alice Mann, professor of humanities at University of Toledo — published a comprehensive description of the Iroquois Constitution and how it compared to the U.S. Constitution. Her book is IROQUOIAN WOMEN: THE GANTOWISAS, where Gantowisas translates variously as clan mothers, government women, mature woman acting in her public capacity.

Since I read the book in 2015, I have been searching for related materials on the Great Law of Peace. But nothing compares with the breadth, depth, and storytelling that is contained in this book, a heavily annotated, bibliographed, indexed, but highly readable one. It is literary, entertaining, humorous, and deadly serious—a perfect match for this moment in American life when more and more people are waking up to the seriousness of self-governance and to the confusions in American discourse.


1.  As a first step for moving through this constitutional crisis, here is a brief summary of the Iroquois Constitution’s principles and structures, as well as some resources for further thought and discussion. See below.

2. A second step would be to connect to the living Haudenosaunee people and organizations to see if they might be willing to help all of us understand how the Great Law of Peace can be applied to the U.S. in the 21st century.

3. A third step could be a national book club (year-long?) to read the U.S. Constitution, the Iroquois Constitution, and any other resources that might help us update our “rulebook” (a term used by historian Nancy MacLean).

4. A fourth step could be Constitutional Conventions in every state and territory (including Washington, DC) to explore amendment proposals that would enable more practical and comprehensive implementation of our collective ideals.  The ideal convention process would be to include everyone who wasn’t included in the drafting of the 1787 document–American Indians, women, African-Americans, and every living American adult (voting age).


1. Foundational Principles

These two paragraphs from Prof. Mann’s eye-opening book (Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas) present a succinct comparison of the founding principles of the United States with the pillars of the Iroquois League.

pp. 212 -13
“It is interesting to me that, in all of the debate furiously raging ever since Bruce Johansen’s Forgotten Founders (1982) rubbed academia’s nose in the fact that the authors of the U.S. Constitution had been strongly influenced by the Iroquoian Great Law, few have noticed the main disparity between Iroquoia and the United States. It was not the political presence or absence of women, or trial by jury, or a standing army, or any of a dozen other, readily spotted political differences that marked the distinction. It was, instead, the failure of the Founding Fathers also to adopt and adapt the Iroquoian system of grass–roots economics that complemented its political base of Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ (popular sovereignty).

“The true failure of the resultant hybrid lay in the unthinking assumption by the Founding Fathers that European war-lord economics and Haudenosaunee Ne” gashasde”’sa’ could operate in harness without the plunder economics of Europe throwing the political system of Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ into disarray. By furthermore ignoring the sibling principles of Ne” Sken’no” (Health) and Ne” Gai’ihwiio (Righteousness) as practical tools of economic prosperity (as opposed to mere moralistic pieties), the Founding Fathers sabotaged hopes for real participatory democracy by writing the proprietary economics of Europe into their Constitution. It is this mismatch of popular but unfunded sovereignty bound to the naked exploitation of capitalism that is short-circuiting American Ne” gashasde”’sa’ today, subverting the political will of the people through the undue economic pressures exerted by a financially privileged elite. No such unbalancing access was possible in the prototype, however, for the clan level where Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ was fomented was also the level at which the confederated economy was managed. Power, will, and weal did not trickle down in Iroquoia; they percolated up.”


2. Foundational Structures
Most of these basic structures are codified in the Great Law of Peace and discussed in great detail in Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. 

Bicameral self-governance for 500+ years
Women’s councils + men’s councils
— 100% inclusion: all adults
— Living document (ease of amendment): 5-year sunset clause

Responsibilities of women’s councils:
— Set the agenda for men’s councils (including preferred options)
— Appoint and remove chiefs
— Initiate and end war

Economic structures
— Funded sovereignty: basic income
— Reciprocal economics: gift economy (absence of “bullyboy” economics)
— Distribution hubs: clan mothers

— Women: farming
— Men: forestry, hunting, fishing

Social structures
— Full personal liberty for all
— Legal identity, record-keeping: clan mothers


3. Resources for the Great Law of Peace
— VIDEO OF SYMPOSIUM: Practicing Peace for Climate Justice:Haudenosaunee Knowledge in Global Context.  Cornell University, March 14, 2019.  Three speakers + Q&A, 2.5 hours.   Video link.
— BOOK: Kayanerenkó:wa: The Great Law of Peace (2018), by Kayanesenh Paul Williams. Analysis of Kayanerenkó:wa as a living, principled legal system, by an indigenous lawyer. University of Manitoba Press. 
— BOOK: Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas (2000), by Barbara Alice Mann (Bear clan, Seneca), Prof. – Humanities, Univ. of Toledo. So far as I can tell, no other resource provides the level of detail that is included in Prof. Mann’s book about life in the Iroquois League.
— ESSAY: “Slow Runners”, by Barbara Alice Mann. In Make a Beautiful Way: The Wisdom of Native American Womened. by Barbara Alice Mann (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008)
— VIDEO on history of Iroquois Constitution (no title). Presentation by Barbara Alice Mann at 2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies (Texas State University, 2005, presented by Societies of Peace).  43 mins. + 10 mins. questions.  Audio quality not great, but the content is astounding.
— BOOK: Basic Call to Consciousness (2005), ed. by Akwesasne Notes
Includes 1977 speech at United Nations (Geneva): Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World
— WEBSITE: Iroquois Constitution, an English translation, by Arthur C. Parker (Seneca)
Prepared by Gerald Murphy, The Cleveland Free-Net, the National Public Telecomputing Network.
— MUSEUM: Ganondagan—Seneca Art & Culture Center (Victor, NY)
— EXHIBIT: ‘Hodinöhsö:ni’ Women: From the Time of Creation’  (2-year exhibit, 2018-20) at Ganondagan
Article:  Exhibit at Ganondagan’s Seneca Art & Culture Center Honors Women as Sacred Creators (May 2018), by Vincent Schilling, Indian Country Today
— HERITAGE CENTER: Ska-nonh—Great Law of Peace Center (Liverpool, NY)


b.  SECONDARY SOURCES on Haudenosaunee Culture
— SPEECH (print): Rematriation of the Truth (2011), by Barbara Alice Mann
— WEBSITE: Rematriation – new website by and for Haudenosaunee women
— VIDEO:  #MeToo from a Haudenosaunee perspective (30 mins.)
— VIDEO: Listen to your Mother (2012), by Barbara Alice Mann (11 mins.).  Haudenosaunee matriarchy.
— BOOKLET: Neighbor to Neighbor, Nation to Nation: Readings about the Relationship of the Onondaga Nation with Central New York, USA (revised 2014). Published by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON), a project of the Syracuse Peace Council. 79 pages.



4. Current Constitutional Resources
—BOOK: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (2017), by Nancy MacLean, Prof. – History, Duke University. The last chapter (Get Ready, pp. 222-29) covers some plans to alter “the most important rulebook, the U.S. Constitution”.
—PROJECT: Comparative Constitutions Project — Informing Constitutional Design. Through the subsidiary Constitute Project, CCP makes available the texts of active constitutions worldwide. Unfortunately, their database starts with documents written in 1787 and does not include the Great Law of Peace.
—SHORT ESSAY — a Politico Big Idea: The Constitution Needs a Reboot (Sept. 2018)
by Sanford V. Levinson, professor at University of Texas
–BOOK: A More Perfect Constitution (2007), by Larry Sabato, Prof – Political Science, University of Virginia.  Suggests a national Constitutional Convention + 23 proposals for amending the Constitution. Also video (2008) and website.
–BOOK: The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates that Define and Inspire our Country (2008), by Howard Fineman, journalist. Accessible and useful framework for thinking and talking about 21st century constitutional issues in the U.S.




Inspiration from FARM WOMEN UNITED — Reclaiming the U.S. Constitution: The 2018 Dairy Farm Crisis

Inspiration from FARM WOMEN UNITED — Reclaiming the U.S. Constitution: The 2018 Dairy Farm Crisis
Posted July 22, 2018

As a 67-year old lifelong activist, in 2018 I am finding more and more need to refer to the U.S. Constitution, only to find that the Constitution itself is outdated and unclear on many things—including public money, economic rights, women’s authority, the rights of non-humans, care-taking, etc. I am actively advocating a national book club to read the U.S. Constitution in conjunction with the Iroquois Constitution, which was much more clear on economic rights and powers, especially women’s rights and authority. For details on the Great Law of Peace and how it might inform a current study of the U.S. Constitution, see my June 2018 blog, Overcoming U.S. Political Tribalism in 2018: Are there any Models?

For a hyper-current example of why we need to re-think, re-discover, and possibly re-write the U.S. Constitution, here is some inspiration and thoughts from Brenda Cochran, President of Farm Women United.

On July 24, 2018, Farm Women United are hosting a public hearing about the current dairy farm family crisis. The hearing will be held in Lairdsville, Pennsylvania. More information is here: Farm Women United Dairy Farm Crisis Hearing.

Farm Women United—”A Citizen’s Platform of the people, by the people, and for the people”— is holding this hearing because they have not been able to get Congress and other officials to listen.  They are encouraging other U.S. farmers and communities to hold their own hearings.

The Action Alert caught my attention because it cites “Constitutional rights” and “un-Constitutional inequities” as issues in the dairy farm crisis. I wanted to know the specifics, so on July 9, 2018 I sent this question to FWU: “Can you identify those specific places in the Constitution that refer to violated rights or inequities causing the dairy farm crisis?”

Here is the response that I got from Brenda Cochran, FWU President. Thanks to Brenda for taking the time to answer my question in detail and for giving me permission to post her Observations about “The Constitution” and Farmers.

For some nuts & bolts background on the dairy farm crisis, here’s one of the many news media articles:  How Rural America got Milked, by Leah Douglas (New Food Economy, Jan. 18, 2018).

Here is Brenda’s answer in full. It contains two distinct parts:
— Her observations about the Constitution
— The Economic Bill of Rights, an excerpt from Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s State of the Union message (Jan. 11, 1944).


by Brenda Cochran – President, Farm Women United
In email to Debbie Hillman, July 20, 2018
All red highlights are from Brenda’s original message

Hi, Debbie

I have been really busy, unable to reply sooner. I am sorry for that. We face unprecedented stress in all aspects of our lives from low milk prices and the strain it is having on our family.

It was nice hearing from you. I appreciate your inquiry about my references to the Constitution in the materials published for FWU in the present situation facing dairy farmers. Like you, I am an almost 66-year old “activist”—for justice for dairy farmers.

I am not a lawyer, a Constitutional scholar, or a political science professor, just a citizen, like many, who feels “wired” and imprinted with a gut feeling that dairy farmers’ Constitutional liberties are violated every day under current federal dairy policies. I believe any Americans, who recognize their protected rights, can tell when they are being taken advantage of, abused, degraded, victimized, marginalized, disenfranchised etc. by THUGS and TYRANTS, inside and outside of government, who care nothing about other people’s rights.

My interpretation of Constitutional rights for farmers is anecdotal and specific to how dairy farmers are being treated by the federal government at all levels and by the criminals running most of the Capper-Volstead dairy co-ops and the dairy “Industry,” in general, under the protection of the government.

That is why I often tell folks that the crisis facing dairy farmers at this time in history is actually a political crisis with the socio-economic symptoms manifesting in the farmers’ lives, as we observe, a sure sign of disenfranchisement. The ensuing socio-economic abuse has stripped farmers of human dignity that is supposed to be protected by the Constitution.

I included a few themes from the Constitution below for you to review. The federal dairy and “Free Trade” policies and the revolting corruption the feds allow in the dairy co-ops have violated the liberties of farmers for decades. 90% of US dairy farmers have already been eliminated under these destructive policies. The rights may be more nuanced in the Constitution, but, I believe they apply, in the spirit of the Constitution, directly to us as citizen-dairy farmers.

“We the People” are ignored. Politicians and their aides do nothing for us but patronize us, blow us off, refuse to call us back, refuse to address what we write in our letters, refuse to meet with us at all to discuss our “issues” (e.g. through statute and regulations, special interests are allowed to steal from us literally—our milk, our land, our homes, our cattle…Under the current federal milk pricing regulations, every milk truck leaving a farm with another load of de-valued farm milk is a “get-away car” for the robbers executing grand larceny with the full support of the government, euphemistically referred to as a “federal matter.”)

There can be no “justice” for dairy farmers under these circumstances, and in every farm home and rural community this economic deprivation threatens and attacks “domestic tranquility…the general welfare…” effectively denying “blessings of liberty” to farmers and their “posterity,” with fewer farms than ever passing on to the next generation let alone functioning intact as dairy farms. The devaluation of the farmers’ milk sets up a de facto confiscation (“seizing”) of “private property” because the farmers have no way to protect their “private property” and the compromised Capper-Volstead dairy co-ops refuse to set a milk price to cover the cost of milk production to protect what the farmer owns.

Dairy farmers seemingly have no “standing” to have their “petitions for a redress…of grievances” acted upon by government authorities.

Chaos and turmoil, even violence and despair, ensue in any society or nation where lawlessness is encouraged and protected by government authority. Dairy farmers are thwarted by a government determined to surrender what farmers own to the control of others.

The co-ops use “block-voting” to silence us and “speak” for us. Many farmers are afraid to go to public meetings because they fear what the milk buyers might do to deprive them of a market for their milk if they “speak” out about the milk pricing scheme and marketing issues. Federal dairy policy requires dairy farmers to fund the “dairy check-off,” denying them the First Amendment right to “speak or not to speak” forcing farmers to finance research and development of dairy products against the best interests of the impacted dairy farmers.

This is just a layman’s assessment, but one FWU has determined will be part of our message until “justice” is returned to protect the private property of dairy farmers and their other Constitutional rights.

Thanks again for your inquiry and for allowing me to offer clarification. Please let me know if I can offer any further assistance. Thanks for your support for the ongoing and determined effort to return control of our food supply to local citizens, not at-distance politicians and government-sponsored “special interests.”

Brenda Cochran
President, Farm Women United

PS I have included below another Historic Document (“The Economic Bill of Rights”) along the lines of what you and I are examining from the archives FYI. (Red used simply for selective emphasis not to exclude other “Rights” or precepts.)


We the People of the United States, …to…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,… promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Bill of Rights, in general, respects each person’s human dignity by safeguarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with the preservation of free speech,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against… unreasonable…seizures, shall not be violated ….

…the freedom of speech, or of the press, …and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

the right of the people peaceably to assemble,

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


The Economic Bill of Rights
January 11, 1944

Often referred to as the “Second Bill of Rights”

Excerpted from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s message to Congress on the State of the Union. This was proposed not to amend the Constitution, but rather as a political challenge, encouraging Congress to draft legislation to achieve these aspirations. It is sometimes referred to as the “Second Bill of Rights.”


It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

— The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
— The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
— The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
— The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
— The right of every family to a decent home;
— The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
— The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
— The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.