Ely Parker 1844-1865

Seven Generations - the Role of Chief

    "If you ask me what is the most important thing that I have learned about being a Haudenosaunee, it's the idea that we are connected to a community, but a community that transcends time.

    We're connected to the first Indians who walked on this earth, the very first ones, however long ago that was. But we're also connected to those Indians who aren't even born yet, who are going to walk this earth. And our job in the middle is to bridge that gap. You take the inheritance from the past, you add to it, your ideas and your thinking, and you bundle it up and shoot it to the future. And there is a different kind of responsibility. That is not just about me, my pride and my ego, it's about all that other stuff. We inherit a duty, we inherit a responsibility. And that's pretty well drummed into our heads. Don't just come here expecting to benefit. You come here to work hard so that the future can enjoy that benefit."

Rick Hill Sr. (Tuscarora)
Chair, Haudenosaunee Stabding Committee on NAGPRA

The Seventh Generation philosophy is integral to Haudenosaunee life. It intensifies the bond of community, promotes stability, and provides concrete values with which each person can test his or her everyday actions. Although the Haudenosaunee practice ancient traditions, their culture is not frozen in the past. Their ability to adapt to dramatic change and survive on their own terms is historically proven, but they are equally focused on the security of future generations.

    "The Peacemaker taught us about the Seven Generations. He said, when you sit in council for the welfare of the people, you must not think of yourself or of your family, not even of your generation. He said, make your decisions on behalf of the seven generations coming, so that they may enjoy what you have today."

Oren Lyons (Seneca)
Faithkeeper, Onondaga Nation

    "We really do see ourselves as part of a community, the immediate community, the Native American community, but part of your nation and the Confederacy. And if you have been given responsibilities within that structure, you must really attend to those responsibilities. You start to think in terms of the people who come after me. Those faces that are coming from beneath the earth that are yet unborn, is the way we refer to that. They are going to need the same things that we have found here, they would like the earth to be as it is now, or a little better.

    Everything that we have now is the result of our ancestors who handed forth to us our language, the preservation of the land, our way of life and the songs and dances. So now we will maintain those and carry those on for future generations."

G. Peter Jemison
Faithkeeper, Cattaraugus Reservation
Seneca Nation

The Haudenosaunee say that their chiefs "hold the law, the people and the religion in the palm of their hand, and it is their sacred trust and duty to assure the safety of all that for the generations to come."

In American society, the term "chief" is evocative of the concepts of "executive," "power," and perhaps "control," but that is not true within Haudenosaunee culture. Their chiefs are called "Hoyaneh" meaning "Caretakers of the Peace." Traditionally they are male leaders chosen to be the "voice" of their clan in council meetings. Each nation and each clan within the Confederacy may have a different number of chiefs, but all of the Hoyaneh have the same power and authority. Despite long-standing misconceptions, there is no such thing as a "head" chief or "head" Sachem in Haudenosaunee culture.

A Haudenosaunee chief is still condoled or installed in ancient tradition, and must accept his duties for the rest of his life. Those responsibilities have not changed since Ely Parker received his instructions in 1851: "The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans - which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Your heart shall be filled with peace and good will and your mind filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy. With endless patience you shall carry out your duty and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgment in your mind and all your actions and words shall be marked with calm deliberation."