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Hiawatha Speaks to the Tribes

At length he regained his composure and took his seat in the council, whose deliberations were participated in by the ablest counselors of the assembled nations. At the conclusion of the debate, Hiawatha, desiring that nothing should be done hastily and inconsiderately, proposed that the council be postponed one day, so that they might weigh well the words which had been spoken, when he promised to communicate his plan for consideration, assuring them of his confidence in its success. The following day the council again assembled and amid breathless silence the sage counselor thus addressed them:

“Friends and Brothers: You are members of many tribes and nations. You have come here, many of you, a great distance from your homes. We have convened for one common purpose, to promote one common interest, and that is to provide for our mutual safety, and how it shall best be accomplished. To oppose these hordes of northern foes by tribes, singly and alone, would prove our certain destruction; we can make no progress in that way; we must unite ourselves into one common band of brothers. Our warriors united, would surely repel these rude invaders and drive them from our borders. This must be done and we shall be safe.

“You, the Mohawk, sitting under the shadow of the ‘great tree,’ whose roots sink deep into the earth, and whose branches spread over a vast country, shall be the first nation, because you are warlike and mighty.

“And you, Oneidas, a people who recline your bodies against the ‘everlasting stone’ that cannot be moved, shall be the second nation, because you give wise counsel.

“And you, Onondaga, who have your habitation at the ‘great mountain,’ and are overshadowed by its crags, shall be the third nation, because you are greatly gifted in speech and mighty in war.

“And you, Cayuga, a people whose habitation is the ‘dark forest,’ and whose home is everywhere, shall be the fourth nation, because of your superior cunning in hunting.

“And you, Seneca, a people who live in the ‘open country’ and possess much wisdom, shall be the fifth nation, because you understand better the art of raising corn and beans and making cabins.

You, five great and powerful nations, must unite and have but one common interest, and no foe shall be able to disturb or subdue you.

“And you, Manhattans, Nyacks, Metoacks and others, who are as the ‘feeble bushes;’ and you, Narragansett, Mohegan, Wampanoag and your neighbors, who are a ‘fishing people,’ may place yourselves under our protection. Be with us and we will defend you. You of the South and you of the West may do the same, and we will protect you. We earnestly desire your alliance and friendship.

“Brothers, if we unite in this bond the Great Spirit will smile upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous and happy. But if we remain as we are we shall be subject to his frown; we shall be enslaved, ruined, perhaps annihilated forever. We shall perish and our names be blotted out from among the nations of men.

“Brothers, these are the words of Hiawatha. Let them sink deep into your hearts. I have said it.”

The council was adjourned one day to afford time to consider this weighty proposition, which had made a deep impression on its hearers. It may seem strange in the light of a century of our own federate existence that time should have been required to reach a conclusion so obvious; but it was a marked characteristic of the Iroquois to act only after mature deliberation on questions of grave importance, and in this lies much of that great power they exerted both in council and in war. Their proceedings in council were conducted with marvelous decorum and fidelity to parliamentary usage. Assembling the next day, the wisdom of the proposition was unanimously conceded, and then was formed that celebrated Amphictyonic league of the five Indian nations which no external power has effectually broken. Whatever may have been the circumstances connected with its origin, which is invested in the hyperbole and metaphor with which the Indian language abounds, its great effectiveness is matter of history, and stamps the mind which conceived it a genius of the highest order.

Pending this action, Hiawatha, admonished by the death of his daughter, that his mission on earth was accomplished, prepared to take his final departure.

As the assembly was about to separate, he arose in a dignified manner and said:

Friends and Brothers:–I have now fulfilled my mission upon earth. I have done everything which can be done at present for the good of this great people. Age, infirmity and distress set heavy upon me. During my sojourn with you I have removed all obstructions from the streams. Canoes can now pass safely everywhere. I have given you good fishing waters and good hunting grounds. I have taught you the manner of cultivating corn and beans and learned you the art of making cabins. Many other blessings I have liberally bestowed upon you.

“Lastly, I have now assisted you to form an everlasting league and covenant of strength and friendship for your future safety and protection. If you preserve it, without the admission of other people, you will always be free, numerous and mighty. If other nations are admitted to your councils they will sow jealousies among you, and you will become enslaved, few and feeble. Remember these words, they are the last you will hear from the lips of Hiawatha. Listen, my friends, the Great Master of Breath calls me to go. I have patiently waited his summons. I am ready; farewell.”

As his voice ceased, sweet sounds from the air burst on the ears of the multitude; and while their attention was engrossed in the celestial melody, Hiawatha was seen, seated in his white canoe, rising in mid-air with every choral chant, till the clouds shut out the sight, and the melody, gradually becoming fainter, ceased.1

Footnotes

  1. “Both reason and tradition point to the conclusion, that the Iroquois formed originally one undivided people. Sundered, like countless other tribes, by dissension, caprice or the necessities of a hunter’s life, they separated into five distinct nations.”–Parkman’s Jesuits. 

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