A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Nee Address to the Western World

The following is the first of three parts of A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau de no sau nee Address to the Western World. It is a penetrating examination of Western “Civilization” as seen from the perspective of “the most politically powerful and independent non-Western political body surviving in North America”, the Rotinonshón:ni (Haudenosaunee), or traditional Six nations council at Onondaga, also referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy by Whites.

This work articulates a history of the increasing incoherence of destructive and frenzied human activity manifesting on Mother Earth. One theme is “The dishonoring of treaties is essential to the goal of the U.S. and Canadian vested interests which are organized to remove any and all obstacles to their exploitation of the Earth and her peoples.” The act of “taking without asking” is attributable to both children and immature cultures alike.

This Basic Call to Consciousness is an expression of their understanding that “For centuries we have known that each individual’s action creates conditions and situations that affect the world. For centuries we have been careful to avoid any action unless it carried a long-range prospect of promoting harmony and peace in the world. In that context, with our brothers and sisters of the Western Hemisphere, we have journeyed here to discuss these important matters with the other members of the Family of Man.” 


It was not long ago that the Hau de no sau nee, or Six Nations, were a powerful people, occupying a vast territory stretching from Vermont to Ohio, and from present day Quebec to Tennessee. At the period of first contact early during the 17th century, the Hau de no sau nee occupied hundreds of towns and villages throughout the country.

“Hau de no sau nee” is a word which means “people who build,” and is the proper name of the people of the Longhouse. The early history, history before the Indo-Europeans came, explains that there was a time when the peoples of the North American forest experienced war and strife. It was during such a time that there came into this land one who carried words of peace. That one would come to be called the Peacemaker.

The Peacemaker came to the people with a message that human beings should cease abusing one another. He stated that humans are capable of reason, that through that power of reason all men desire peace, and that it is necessary that the people organize to ensure that peace will be possible among the people who walk about on the earth. That was the original word about laws — laws were originally made to prevent the abuse of humans by other humans.

The Peacemaker travelled among the people, going from nation to nation, seeking those who would take up this way of peace, offering with it a way of reason and power. He journeyed first among the Ganienkegaga — the People of the Flint Stone — (Mohawks) where he sought to speak to the most dangerous of these people, offering them his message.

He travelled for a long time among the Mohawks; the People of Standing Stone (the Oneidas), the People of the Hills (Onondagas), the People of the Swamp (Cayugas), and the People of the Great Hills (Senecas). Eventually, those five nations were the initial ones to take up the offer of peace. The nations gathered together in council, and there they set down the principles of what is called the Gayaneshakgowa, or the Great Law of Peace.

It is impossible to overstate the power of thought that emerges from that document. Today, it is almost impossible for us to recreate the scene of its birth. But centuries ago, a natural world people gathered together at the head of a lake in the center of North America’s then virgin forest, and there, they counseled. The principles that emerged are unequaled in any political document which has yet emerged in the event — they evolved a law which recognized that vertical hierarchy creates conflicts, and they dedicated the superbly complex organization of their society to function to prevent the rise internally of hierarchy.

Secondly, they looked into their own histories to discover the things which cause conflict among people. They saw, for example, that peoples sometimes struggle over hunting territories, and they did a curious thing. They abolished the significance of such territories, and guaranteed the safety of anyone entering the country of the Hau de no sau nee. And they established universal laws about the treatment and taking of game, because the taking of game sometimes caused conflicts. In the country of the Hau de no sau nee, all people were free, all had a right to protection under what the Peacemaker called the Great Tree of Peace.

The basic principles of peace went further than the simple absence of conflict. An ordered society which has the capability of protecting people against abuse and which is, at the same time, dedicated to a containment of hierarchy, is a complex society. The People of the Longhouse sought to carry the principles of peace far from the council fires, into every dwelling in the country of the Hau de no sau nee. Thus does the Great Law establish more than a code of conduct — it is also the beginning point for the modern clans. It embodies the foundations of all the customs of holding meetings, of exchanging messages on wampums, and of assigning titles to leaders.

The Hau de no sau nee raised their children from the cradleboard to be participants in the culture. The ways of the People of the Longhouse have always been powerfully spiritual in nature, and it is true that the government, the economy, everything that is Hau de no sau nee has deep spiritual roots.

The papers which follow are position papers which were presented by the Hau de no sau nee to the Non-governmental Organizations of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in September, 1977. The Non-governmental Organizations had called for papers which describe the conditions of oppression suffered by Native people under three subject headings, with supportive oral statements to be given to the commissions. The Hau de no sau nee, the traditional Six nations council at Onondaga, sent forth three papers which constitute an abbreviated analysis of Western history, and which call for a consciousness of the Sacred Web of Life in the Universe.

It is a call which can be expected to be both ignored and misunderstood for some period of time. But the position papers themselves are absolutely unique — they constitute a political statement, presented to a representative world body, pointing to the destruction of the Natural World and the Natural World peoples as the clearest indicator that human beings are in trouble on this planet. It is a call to a basic consciousness which has ancient roots and ultra-modern, even futuristic, manifestations.

It is a statement which points to the fact that humans are abusing one another, that they are abusing the planet they live on, that they are even abusing themselves. It is a message, certainly the first ever delivered to a world body, which identifies the process of that abuse as Western Civilization — as a whole way of life — and which acknowledges the immense complexity which that statement implies.

What is presented here is nothing less audacious than a cosmogony of the Industrialized World presented by the most politically powerful and independent non-Western political body surviving in North America. It is, in a way, the modern world through Pleistocene eyes.

Scholars and casual readers alike should question the significance, in the age of the Neutron bomb, Watergate, and nuclear energy plant proliferation, of a statement by a North American Indian people. But there is probably some argument to be made for the appropriateness of such a statement at this time. Most of the world’s professed traditions are fairly recent in origin. Mohammedanism is perhaps 1500 years old, Christianity claims a 2000-year history, Judaism is perhaps 2000 years older than Christianity.

But the Native people can probably lay claim to a tradition which reaches back to at least the end of the Pleistocene, and which, in all probability, goes back much further than that.

There is some evidence that humanoid creatures have been present on the earth for at least two million years, and that humans who looked very much like us were in evidence in the Northern Hemisphere at least as long as the second interglacial period. People who are familiar with the Hau de no sau nee beliefs will recognize that modern scientific evidence shows that the Native customs of today are not markedly different from those practiced by ancient peoples at least 70000 years ago. Indeed, if an Iroquois traditionalist were to seek a career in the study of Pleistocene Man, he may find that he already knows more about the most ancient belief systems than do the modern scholars.

Be that as it may, the Hau de no see nee position is derived from a philosophy which sees The People with historical roots which extend back tens of thousands of years. It is a geological kind of perspective, which sees modern man as an infant, occupying a very short space of time in an incredibly long spectrum. It is the perspective of the oldest elder looking into the affairs of a young child and seeing that he is committing incredibly destructive folly. It is, in short, the statement of a people who are ageless but who trace their history as a people to the very beginning of time. And they are speaking, in this instance, to a world which dates its existence from a little over 500 years ago, and perhaps, in many cases, much more recently than that.

And it is, to our knowledge, the very first statement to be issued by a Native nation. What follows are not the research products of psychologists, historians, or anthropologists. The papers which follow are the first authentic analyses of the modern world ever committed to writing by an official body of Native people.

The Hau de no sau nee, or the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, has existed on this land since the beginning of human memory. Our culture is among the most ancient continuously existing cultures in the world. We still remember the earliest doings of human beings. We remember the original instructions of the Creators of Life on this place we call Etenoha — Mother Earth. We are the spiritual guardians of this place. We are the Ongwhehonwhe — the Real People.

In the beginning, we were told that the human beings who walk about the Earth have been provided with all the things necessary for life. We were instructed to carry a love for one another, and to show a great respect for all the beings of this Earth. We are shown that our life exists with the tree life, that our well-being depends on the well-being of the Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the four-legged beings. In our ways, spiritual consciousness is the highest form of politics.

Ours is a Way of Life. We believe that all living things are spiritual beings. Spirits can be expressed as energy forms manifested in matter. A blade of grass is an energy form manifested in matter — grass matter. The spirit of the grass is that unseen force which produces the species of grass, and it is manifest to us in the form of real grass.

All things of the world are real, material things. The Creation is a true, material phenomenon, and the Creation manifests itself to us through reality. The spiritual universe, then, is manifest to Man as the Creation, the Creation which supports life. We believe that man is real, a part of the Creation, and that his duty is to support Life in conjunction with the other beings. That is why we call ourselves Ongwhehonwhe — Real People.

The original instructions direct that we who walk about on the Earth are to express a great respect, an affection, and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives — the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end.

Our roots are deep in the lands where we live. We have great love for our country, for our birthplace is there. The soil is rich from the bones of thousands of our generations. Each of us were created in those lands, and it is our duty to take great care of them, because from these lands will spring the future generations of the Ongwhehonwhe. We walk about with a great respect, for the Earth is a very sacred place.

We are not a people who demand, or ask anything of the Creators of Life, but instead, we give greetings and thanksgiving that all the forces of Life are still at work. We deeply understand our relationship to all living things. To this day, the territories we still hold are filled with trees, animals, and the other gifts of the Creation. In these places we still receive our nourishment from our Mother Earth.

We have seen that not all people of the Earth show the same kind of respect for this world and its beings. The Indo-European people who have colonized our lands have shown very little respect for the things that create and support Life. We believe that these people ceased their respect for the world a long time ago. Many thousands of years ago, all the people of the world believed in the same Way of Life, that of harmony with the universe. All lived according to the Natural Ways.

Around ten thousand years ago, peoples who spoke Indo-European languages lived in the area which today we know as the Steppes of Russia. At that time, they were a Natural World people who lived off the land. They had developed agriculture, and it is said that they had begun the practice of animal domestication. It is not known that they were the first people in the world to practice animal domestication. The hunters and gatherers who roamed the area probably acquired animals from the agricultural people, and adopted an economy, based on the herding and breeding of animals.

Herding and breeding of animals signaled a basic alteration in the relationship of humans to other life forms. It set into motion one of the true revolutions in human history. Until herding, humans depended on nature for the reproductive powers of the animal world. With the advent of herding, humans assumed the functions which had for all time been the functions of the spirits of the animals. Sometime after this happened, history records the first appearance of the social organization known as “patriarchy.”

The area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was the homeland, in ancient times, of various peoples, many of whom spoke Semitic languages. The Semitic people were among the first in the world to develop irrigation technology. This development led to the early development of towns, and eventually cities. The manipulation of the waters, another form of spirit life, represented another way in which humans developed a technology which reproduced a function of Nature.

Within these cultures, stratified hierarchical social organization crystallized. The ancient civilizations developed imperialism, partly because of the very nature of cities. Cities are obviously population concentrations. Most importantly though, they are places which must import the material needs of this concentration from the countryside. This means that the Natural World must be subjugated, extracted from, and exploited in the interest of the city. To give order to this process, the Semitic world developed early codes of law. They also developed the idea of monotheism to serve as a spiritual model for their material and political organization.

Much of the history of the ancient world recounts the struggles between the Indo-Europeans and the Semitic peoples. Over a period of several millenia, the two cultures clashed and blended. By the second millenia B.C., some Indo-Europeans, most specifically the Greeks, had adopted the practice of building cities, thus becoming involved in the process which they named “Civilization.”

Both cultures developed technologies peculiar to civilizations. The Semitic peoples invented kilns which enabled the creation of pottery for trade, and storage of surpluses. These early kilns eventually evolved into ovens which could generate enough heat to smelt metals, notably copper, tin and bronze. The Indo-Europeans developed a way of smelting iron.

Rome fell heir to these two cultures, and became the place where the final meshing occurs. Rome is also the true birthplace of Christianity. The process that has become the culture of the West is historically and linguistically a Semitic/Indo-European culture, but has been commonly termed the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Christianity was an absolutely essential element in the early development of this kind of technology. Christianity advocated only one God. It was a religion which imposed itself exclusively of all other beliefs. The local people of the European forests were a people who believed in the spirits of the forests, waters, hills and the land; Christianity attacked those beliefs, and effectively de-spiritualized the European world. The Christian peoples, who possessed superior weaponry and a need for expansion, were able to militarily subjugate the tribal peoples of Europe.

The availability of iron led to the development of tools which could cut down the forest, the source of charcoal to make more tools. The newly cleared land was then turned by the newly developed iron plow, which was, for the first time, pulled by horses. With that technology many fewer people would work much more land, and many other people were effectively displaced to become soldiers and landless peasants. The rise of that technology ushered in the Feudal Age and made possible, eventually, the rise of new cities and growing trade. It also spelled the beginning of the end of the European forest, although that process took a long time to complete.

The eventual rise of cities and the concurrent rise of the European state created the thrust of expansion and search for markets which led men, such as Columbus, to set sail across the Atlantic. The development of sailing vessels and navigation technologies made the European “discovery” of the Americas inevitable.

The Americas provided Europeans a vast new area for expansion and material exploitation. Initially, the Americas provided new materials and even finished materials for the developing world economy which was based on the Indo-European technologies. European civilization has a history of rising and falling as its technologies reach their material and cultural limits. The finite Natural world has always provided a kind of built-in contradiction to Western expansion.

The Indo-Europeans attacked every aspect of North America with unparalleled zeal. The Native people were ruthlessly destroyed because they were an unassimilable element to the civilizations of the West. The forests provided materials for larger ships, and some areas provided sources of slave labor for the conquering invaders. By the time of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-Nineteenth Century, North America was already a leader in the area of the development of extractive technology.

The hardwood forests of the Northeast were not cleared for the purpose of providing farmlands. Those forests were destroyed to create charcoal for the forges of the iron smelters and blacksmiths. By the 1890’s, the West had turned to coal, a fossil fuel, to provide the energy necessary for the many new forms of machinery which had been developed. During the first half of the Twentieth Century, oil had replaced coal as a source of energy.

The Western culture has been horribly exploitative and destructive of the Natural World. Over 140 species of birds and animals were utterly destroyed since the European arrival in the Americas, largely because they were unusable in the eyes of the invaders. The forests were leveled, the waters polluted, the Native people subjected to genocide. The vast herds of herbivores were reduced to mere handfuls, the buffalo nearly became extinct. Western technology and the people who have employed it have been the most amazingly destructive forces in all of human history. No natural disaster has ever destroyed as much. Not even the Ice Ages counted as many victims.

But like the hardwood forests, the fossil fuels are also finite resources. As the second half of the Twentieth Century has progressed, the people of the West have begun looking to other forms of energy to motivate their technology. Their eyes have settled on atomic energy, a form of energy production which has by-products which are the most poisonous substances ever known to Man.

Today the species of Man is facing a question of the very survival of the species. The way of life known as Western Civilization is on a death path on which their own culture has no viable answers. When faced with the reality of their own destructiveness, they can only go forward into areas of more efficient destruction. The appearance of Plutonium on this planet is the clearest of signals that our species is in trouble. It is a signal which most Westerners have chosen to ignore.

The air is foul, the waters poisoned, the trees dying, the animals are disappearing. We think even the systems of weather are changing. Our ancient teaching warned us that if Man interfered with the Natural Laws, these things would come to be. When the last of the Natural Way of Life is gone, all hope for human survival will be gone with it. And our Way of Life is fast disappearing, a victim of the destructive processes.

The other position papers of the Hau de no sau nee have outlined our analysis of economic and legal oppression. But our essential message to the world is a basic call to consciousness. The destruction of the Native cultures and people is the same process which has destroyed and is destroying life on this planet. The technologies and social systems which have destroyed the animal and plant life are also destroying the Native people. And that process is Western Civilization.

We know that there are many people in the world who can quickly grasp the intent of our message. But experience has taught us that there are few who are willing to seek out a method for moving toward any real change. But, if there is to be a future for all beings on this planet, we must begin to seek the avenues of change.

The processes of colonialism and imperialism which have affected the Hau de no sau nee are but a microcosm of the processes affecting the world. The system of reservations employed against our people is a microcosm of the system of exploitation used against the whole world. Since the time of Marco Polo, the West has been refining a process that mystified the peoples of the Earth.

The majority of the world does not find its roots in Western culture or traditions. The majority of the world finds its roots in the Natural World, and it is the Natural World, and the traditions of the Natural World, which must prevail if we are to develop truly free and egalitarian societies.

It is necessary, at this time, that we begin a process of critical analysis of the West’s historical processes, to seek out the actual nature of the roots of the exploitative and oppressive conditions which are forced upon humanity. At the same time, as we gain understanding of those processes, we must reinterpret that history to the people of the world. It is the people of the West, ultimately, who are the most oppressed and exploited. They are burdened by the weight of centuries of racism, sexism, and ignorance which has rendered their people insensitive to the true nature of their lives.

We must all consciously and continuously challenge every model, every program, and every process that the West tries to force upon us. Paulo Friere wrote, in his book, the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” that it is the nature of the oppressed to imitate the oppressor, and by such actions try to gain relief from the oppressive condition. We must learn to resist that response to oppression.

The people who are living on this planet need to break with the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation as something which needs to be extended to the whole of the Natural World. What is needed is the liberation of all the things that support Life — the air, the waters, the trees — all the things which support the sacred web of Life.

We feel that the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere can continue to contribute to the survival potential of the human species. The majority of our peoples still live in accordance with the traditions which find their roots in the Mother Earth. But the Native peoples have need of a forum in which our voice can be heard. And we need alliances with the other peoples of the world to assist in our struggle to regain and maintain our ancestral lands and to protect the Way of Life we follow.

We know that this is a very difficult task. Many nation states may feel threatened by the position that the protection and liberation of Natural World peoples and cultures represents, a progressive direction which must be integrated into the political strategies of people who seek to uphold the dignity of Man. But that position is growing in strength, and it represents a necessary strategy in the evolution of progressive thought.

The traditional Native peoples hold the key to the reversal of the processes in Western Civilization which hold the promise of unimaginable future suffering and destruction. Spiritualism is the highest form of political consciousness. And we, the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere, are among the world’s surviving proprietors of that kind of consciousness. We are here to impart that message.

– Akwesasne Notes

Posted on May 14, 2011, in Ecological Struggles, Imperialism & Colonialism, Indigenous Struggles, Religion & Spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Nee Address to the Western World.

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