Did the Iroquois really use the “Seventh Generation Principle”?

by djiivu

It’s claimed that the Iroquois maintained a principle of considering the effects of present decisions on the next seven generations.

The name of the company Seventh Generation is derived from this claim:

At Seventh Generation, we made a promise the moment we named our brand. It’s a promise that is inspired by The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy – that in our every deliberation we consider the impact on the next seven generations.

The document they cite does exhort Iroquois leaders to consider future generations, but no number is specified:

Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground—the unborn of the future Nation.

The number seven does appear in the document, but in an unrelated statement:

The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans—which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism.

The obvious interpretation would seem to be that these two statements got mixed up somewhere along the way.

But I’m curious—is there any evidence of when this blending occurred? Did it occur early enough that the Iroquois could still be said to have had a seventh generation principle? Or did it happen much more recently, meaning that they did not?


I’m Anishinaabe, a neighboring nation that was frequently at war with the Haudenoshonee confederacy (my understanding that Haudenoshonee is the preferred name over Iroquois). We have many cultural and spiritual similarities. The number 7 is a sacred number and used to quantify various things in Anishinaabe culture, including future generations. I’m not sure if the significance of the number 7 exists in Haudenoshonee cultures or if the company cribbed their name from Anishinaabe peoples and misattributed it to Haudenoshonee people. Not sure if this answers your question but hope it helps!

In terms of historicity of the number 7, I believe it’s found in historical Anishinaabe records but not sure about Haudenoshonee records. Also important to remember that Indigenous Nations are living cultures. Obviously our cultures have changed substantially since colonization but many Indigenous peoples live and believe in the similar ways to our ancestors. Oral history is a legitimate form of history and record keeping.