Review: Peacemaker

This wonderful book is supposedly a work of Young Adult Fiction. But it is not Fiction and it is definitely not just for Young Adults.

I’m 73 and I cried at the end it was so powerful. And I’m not giving anything away because, I mean, look at the title.

The author, well-loved and well-respected as a writer and an active storyteller, sees this version through the eyes of a young boy so the details are an act of imagination.

It all happened, though.

There was a Haudenosaunee Confederacy, usually referred to by English-speaking people as the Iroquois Confederacy. It did bring peace to five large tribes that had been perpetually at war. It was based on a governance model studied carefully and replicated in some areas by original U.S. Constitution thinkers like Washington and Franklin.

And there was a Peacemaker. He was called variously Deganawida or Tekanawita and some modern archeologists believe he was helped in his achievements by an eclipse, maybe in the 1100s, maybe in the 1400s. Most indigenous historians believe the Peacemaker arrived much further back in time.

His legends contain miraculous feats, which may be necessary to change people’s hearts.

Joseph Bruchac includes one where the Peacemaker allows those who do not accept his words to cast him over a waterfall to his sure death. When they see him back at his campfire the next morning, good as new, they immediately lose all doubt about his message.

I suspect that the actual Deganawida did not need miracles to help catalyze a major social change process. A lot of charisma with a lot of heart underneath it can go a long way in the right times and circumstances. Miracles are added to the story hundreds of years later because from a distance it’s hard to imagine such transformation happening any other way.

Whether the Peacemaker needed miracles or not, some force brought former enemies together in peace. This isn’t really so hard to imagine if we just look now at how quickly people in one nation can become friendly with people in another nation they were once at war with. The U.S. has officially been friends with our major World War II enemies for over 75 years.

In my view, we are manipulated into seeing people in other nations as enemies by leaders who do it to maintain and extend their own power, often driven by their own inner demons as well.

Joseph Bruchac personifies this kind of leader in Chief Atatarho, a giant of a man with snakes tied into his hair, who rules through fear and merciless brutality. We know from the moment he is introduced that this is who the Peacemaker will have to confront.

He does.

It doesn’t take a miracle. I’ll leave it at that.

To Joseph Bruchac, Atatarho is not evil. He does not dissolve into nothingness like the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.” He is human and he can change too.

This book can easily be read in one sitting. I didn’t. I read it a chapter at a time over more than two weeks. I thought about it when I wasn’t reading and I brought it up in conversation with my wife.

Peacemaker” is not a history of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. It is a version of the origin story.

It is not important to me to accurately date the origin story. Maybe the Confederacy has multiple points of origin. I would love to know more about the cultural dynamics at play that allowed leaders like Deganawida and Hiawatha and Jigonhsase, the Mother of All Nations, to open people’s hearts to peace at scale.

While not ‘the beginning,’ we can say that the federal-style alliance among tribes ranging from the Ohio Valley to the St. Lawrence to New York and Pennsylvania went back as least as far as the 1450s.

We also know when it ended as an effective custodian over large amounts of the American Northeast. It ended as the United States started, when the British gave up in 1781 and threw the tribes that had helped them under the bus of American settlers who wanted the land and just plain took it in the ‘Treaties’ of Fort Stanwix (1784) and Canandaigua (1794).

We can also see the return of Atatarho as the Confederacy was diminished — from playground bullies to the leadership of many nations in the 2020s — bosses who project strength and anger to keep themselves on top.

We are reminded by Joseph Bruchac and Peacemaker that peace is believable and it doesn’t take a miracle. The strength that is needed is always present. The right nudges in the right places at the right time can make big changes

This is the most inspiring book I have read in a long time.

Image by David Denton

I write about VR and Meditation and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.

I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.



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Tom Nickel

Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos