This page is also available in Français !

Centenary of the arrival in Geneva of the Iroquois Chief Deskaheh

The planting of the Tree of Peace by the Executive Council of the City of Geneva and a delegation from the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy is one of a series of events commemorating the centenary of the arrival of the Iroquois Chief Deskaheh.

On February 9, 2023, the Executive Council of the City of Geneva and a delegation from the Six Iroquois Nations Confederacy (Haudenosaunee Confederacy) planted a Tree of Peace.

This ceremony is part of a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the arrival in Geneva of the Iroquois Chief Deskaheh in 1923 and to celebrate his actions in favour of Indigenous Peoples as well as the role that Geneva has played in this field.

Who was Deskaheh?

Photo d'époque en noir et blanc avec une foule d'hommes rassemblés sur un perron. PLusieurs sont en costune et un en habit traditionnel coiffé de plumes sur la tête

Deskaheh is the title of a Chief of the Cayuga Nation, which belongs to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, known historically as the “Six Iroquois Nations Confederacy”.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is one of the oldest continuously active governments in the world. Their governance is guided by The Great Law, established over 1000 years ago, before the arrival of Europeans to North America.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy signed treaties with the colonizing States regarding the use of their territories along the Grand River. However, over time, these agreements were violated by the colonizing States and most of these territories were sold to settlers. The Haudenosaunee demanded respect for their rights and compensation following these expropriations.

A journey to Geneva

After several decades of petitions and having received no suitable response, in 1923 the Haudenosaunee sent Deskaheh Levi General to Geneva to claim their rights with the fledgling League of Nations (LoN).

Deskaheh was very popular in Geneva where he won the respect and support of many influential people, including the Mayor of Geneva at the time. He tried to speak in front of the League of Nations but his request was deemed inadmissible by its member States.

The Mayor of Geneva, Mr. Jean-Baptiste Pons, therefore invited him to deliver to the people of Geneva the speech he had prepared for the assembly of the League of Nations.

This speech given in the Salle de la Réformation is preserved in the City Archives and called “The fate of the Red Man”. Deskaheh left Geneva in October 1924, but never returned home. Fearing arrest if he returned to Canada, he lived with the Tuscarora Nation on the American side of the United States-Canada border, where he died in 1925 and his body returned to his community in Canada where he is buried.

Symbol of Indigenous People's determination

Deskaheh est considéré comme étant le premier autochtone à avoir soulevé au niveau international le problème de la perte d’autonomie et de la dépossession des Premières Nations par les États colonisateurs. Son nom est devenu le symbole de la détermination des Peuples Autochtones à faire reconnaître leur existence et leurs droits.

Deskaheh is considered to be the first Indigenous person to have raised at the international level the problem of the loss of autonomy and the dispossession of the First Nations by the colonizing States. His name has become the symbol of the determination of Indigenous Peoples to have their existence and their rights recognized.

Geneva's role

Since the replacement of the League of Nations by the United Nations in 1945, Geneva became the seat of the UN Commission on Human Rights in which the rights of Indigenous Peoples were widely debated.

In 1977, the NGO Conference on Racism Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas kicked off a long process of recognition of the existence of Indigenous Peoples and of their individual and collective rights, as well as their equality with other peoples. Indigenous Peoples could not enter the UN headquarters in New York, while they were welcome in that of Geneva.

UN mechanisms for improved recognition of indigenous people's rights

Having become the world capital of human rights, Geneva now hosts various UN mechanisms that work for better recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples:

  • The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) is held there every year during the summer;
  • The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples is attached to the Human Rights Council, whose headquarters are in Geneva; 
  • the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is also located there.

Other international organizations based in Geneva, notably the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) also address the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

However, although the international indigenous movement has achieved many advances, the current Deskaheh Steve Jacobs still cannot address the United Nations as Chief of the Cayuga Nation.

Relationships built over time between Geneva and the Haudenosaunee

Since the time of Deskaheh Levi General, relations between the City of Geneva and the Haudenosaunee have deepened including through several visits by Iroquois delegations received by the Mayors of the City of Geneva in 1977, 1997, and 2013.

Arbre de type épineux dessiné

The Tree of Peace

To seal the centuries-old friendship between the City of Geneva and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, we planted together on February 9, 2023 a Tree of Peace and buried beneath its roots an arrow and a war club, traditional Haudenosaunee weapons, as a symbol of peace between our two peoples.

This tree, an Eastern White Pine or pinus strobus, is a Haudenosaunee emblem and is depicted on their flag as well as on their passport. It symbolizes the Haudenosaunee Constitution called the Great Law of Peace.

History of the Haudenosaunee

Haudenosaunee history tells that the women got tired of losing their husbands and sons in the endless wars between Iroquois Nations, and requested the Creator’s help. The Peacemaker Dekanawida was sent to help the warring Iroquois Nations find solutions. The Peacemaker suggested that they bury their weapons in a hole and plant a tree over those weapons, so they would find peaceful ways to settle their disagreements.


Logo avec au centre un arbre épineux et des animaux dessinés autour

Graphical representations

In the graphic representations, the Tree of Peace is encircled by the 50 Haudenosaunee Chiefs, among whom is Deskaheh, to support it and prevent it from falling over.

It is also surrounded by the symbols of the different Clans of the Six Iroquois Nations:

  • Wolf,
  • Bear,
  • Deer,
  • Beaver,
  • Eel,
  • Turtle,
  • Heron,
  • Snipe.

On top of the Tree of Peace sits an eagle which warns the community of danger.

Caring for the Tree of Peace in Geneva

When the Tree of Peace was planted in Geneva, the Seneca elder, Mr. Clayton Logan, asked the City of Geneva and its citizens to take care of the Tree of Peace so that it may always flourish and to maintain or replace it in case it is damaged so that peace always be with us.

Centenary commemoration activities

A series of commemorative events celebrating the centenary of the arrival of the Iroquois chief Deskaheh are taking place in Geneva until 2024.

This program began with a public ceremony on February 7, 2023 at the MEG to return two sacred objects belonging to the Haudenosaunee Nation, and was followed by the Tree of Peace planting ceremony.

In July 2023, commemoration activities will continue with: 

  • the Mont-Blanc bridge being decked out with the Haudenosaunee flag,
  • a photo exhibition along Quai Wilson,
  • an official reception for the indigenous delegation by the authorities of the City of Geneva at the Palais Anna and Jean-Gabriel Eynard.

Other encounters between members of the Indigenous Peoples and the Geneva population may be organized.

In 2024, during a temporary exhibition, the MEG will address the issue of the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.

Organisation and partnerships

This commemoration programme was organised by the Executive Council of the City of Geneva in collaboration with the Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee, with the contributions from the:

These commemorative events are coordinated by the External Relations and Communications Department (SREC) of the City of Geneva.


Tamara Wiher

Cheffe de projets - Service des relations extérieures et de la communication

Tél. +41 22 418 29 42


Télécharger la vCard

Article modifié le 10.02.2023 à 15:23