Each council meeting must have representation from every nation. The Onondaga opened council by greeting other members and offering thanks to the Earth and to the Creator. The Fire Keepers, the Onondaga, formally open and closed all councils and were responsible for passing on all matters deliberated upon by both sides and render their decision. Adodarhoh and the Chiefs of the Onondaga announce the issue for discussion.

The method for debating policies began with the Senecas and Mohawks. Once their decision is achieved it is then thrown across the fire to the Oneida and Cayuga for discussion. With their decision made the Oneida and Cayuga then give the discussion back to the Senecas and Mohawks for confirmation. The matter is then put before the Onondagas who shall make the final decision in the case of a disagreement between the Younger and Elder brothers or shall confirm the decisions if they agree.

With the decision before the Onondagas they may at this point raise objections only if they believe the plan of action is inconsistent with the Great Law. With the Onondaga agreement in place it is then passed on to Tadadaho and Honowireton, ceremonial leaders, to confirm the decision that has been reached. This decision is shared with the Mohawks and Senecas who are at will to announce it to the open council.

As a gathering of all the Chiefs from all nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy the Grand Council is the world’s oldest representative democracy.

With 50 Chiefs in total representing all the clans from all the nations they work to resolve disputes and plan for the welfare of all the people. As stated by the Peacemaker, Onondaga stands as the fire keepers for the Grand Council. Grand Council Chiefs are divided into Elder Brothers and Younger Brothers with the Mohawks, Onondagas and Senecas making up the Elder Brothers with the Cayugas and Oneidas as the Younger Brothers.

The Tuscaroras who joined the league after the original joining have no voice within Grand Council and can only speak if it will help the nations. When they do have an issue to be discussed it is voiced through the Cayugas.

Covenant ChainThe role of the Chief in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, while holding distinction, is to serve and be accountable to the nation. Chiefs are male leaders of the clans that serve as representatives of their clan in Grand Council.

Sometimes called Hoyaneh, meaning caretakers of the peace, the Chief is chosen by the Clan Mother. It is she who appoints the title which cannot be carried hereditarily through the male line. While the Chief’s title belongs to the Clan Mother who installs him in his position he holds his title for life as long as he does not fall outside the guidelines set out for him upon his being raised up as Chief.

Clan Mothers choose men who are honest, reliable, and clear headed, with knowledge of confederacy laws and values. They must not gossip, have committed adultury and must possess honorable qualities that make them true mentors for their people. Chiefs must not have committed any crimes and any Chief to commit a crime while in office will be stripped of his title. Because of the criticism which can face leaders a Chief must be tough skinned and immune to harsh analysis as well he must be able to represent his people fairly. A Chief is a married man with children with the thought being that he will care for his community the same as he would his children.

Chiefs are to be mentors for their people. “Their hearts shall be full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy.” – Constitution of the Five Nations. During their time in power they may be called upon to remind their people of the will of the Creator.

Removing Chiefs is left to the authority of the Clan Mother. If she believes he is not acting for the benefit of the people she will warn him to change his actions. If his behaviour does not change after her warning she will then take him asside and remove his antlers, thus removing his authority as Chief. When a Chief becomes sick the Clan Mother will set his antlers on the wall to await a time when he is better. If he does not recover the antlers are passed on to the next Chief through a condolence ceremony.

Each nation has a different number of Chiefs though each has the same power and authority. The appointment of Chief is a sacred duty to ensure the future of their clan members for generations to come.


Within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy there allows for a position for a man who has proven himself worthy of belonging to Grand Council. Any man with special abilities who portrays all the values of a Chief and carries a special interest in the confederacy can be elected as a Pine Tree Chief to a seat in the Grand Council.

A Pine Tree Chief who acts against the rules of the Great Peace will not be removed from his position however his advice will not be considered.

Pine Tree Chiefs cannot name a successor and his title is not hereditary.

Currently there are no Pine Tree Chiefs within the confederacy.

Replacing the Chief, 1978The Iakoiane or Clan Mother, a title which is passed down hereditarily through a clan. Among the five nations of the confederacy there are nine Mohawk Clan Mothers, nine Oneida, thirteen Onondaga, ten Cayuga and eight Seneca for a total of forty-nine Clan Mothers. It is her responsibility to look out for the welfare of the clan by overseeing the actions of the Chief and ensuring that he is performing his duties in accordance with the Great Law. As Clan Mother she will have her own wampum of two strings, one white and one purple, signifying her title within the Haudenosaunee. Should she pass on, the string will then be passed on to the next hereditary Clan Mother.

If a Chief acts improperly or is not living up to his responsibilities his Clan Mother and Faith Keepers will warn him about his actions. If he continues to act selfishly the Clan Mother may symbolically remove his antlers, thus removing his authority as Chief.

When a Chief passes away a Clan Mother selects a candidate to replace him hopefully within three days of the funeral though this process can take much longer. She will choose the candidate and present him to her nation. This candidate is then presented to their brother nation for approval. If approved the candidate is presented to all other members of Grand Council for approval before a Condolence ceremony may begin to raise up the new Chief. The Chief Todaharo does not have a Clan Mother which is why there are only 49 Clan Mothers yet 50 Chiefs. In the case of replacing him the Onondaga Chiefs will all decide on a candidate while taking into consideration the advice of all the Clan Mothers.

The Clan Mothers title is usually passed on to her female relatives, first to her eldest sister or other sisters and if an appropriate person isn’t found she will then look to her eldest daughter and other daughters. If an appropriate person is still not found a candidate will be sought out in the rest of the clan.

Like the Chiefs they choose, Clan Mothers must also live up to their duties and be good mothers to their children, knowledgeable of the Great Law and political structure of the Grand Council, honest and truthful and be a role model to the members of her clan.

As well as selecting and deposing Chiefs, Clan Mothers are also responsible for naming children from their own list of clan names and approving marriages to ensure that a bride and groom do not belong to the same clan and thus to the same family.

The Washington Convenant BeltUnder each Clan Mother are two Faith Keeper positions, one for a female relative and one for a male relative. The female title is Kaié:ri niioríwake Iakoteríhonton and the male title is Kaié:ri niioríwake Roterihonton.  It is their role to promote ceremonial ways and uphold Haudenosaunee culture. The Faith Keepers promote the spirituality of their clan and serve as spiritual advisors.

As officers of the clan alongside the Clan Mother and the Chief, they must also speak their language and promote the traditions of the people. Faith Keepers are well versed in the history of their people so that they can continue to share it with future generations. Most importantly they are in charge of the Four Sacred Rituals which offer thanks to the Creator.