As Haudenosaunee legends were passed down from generation to generation, the stories took on many variations. The legends we present here are only one version of these ageless stories.
At the beginning of time, when Turtle Island was still new, a woman chief named Godasiyo ruled over an Indian village next to a large river. Godasiyo was a wise and progressive chief, and people came from all over to live in her village. In those days, all people spoke the same language and lived in harmony and peace. Even when newcomers arrived in the village from far away, they had no trouble understanding the villagers or being understood themselves.
Over time, the village grew so large that half the people lived on the north side and half on the south. They spent much time canoeing back and forth across the rapid-flowing river, especially those on the north side, because the council house was on the south side of the river. Some complained about the difficulties of crossing the river, and Godasiyo ordered a bridge be built to make transport between the north and south easier for everyone.
Shortly after the bridge was built, a white dog appeared in the village and became very attached to Godasiyo, following her everywhere she went. The people on the north side of the river became jealous of the dog and demanded that the chief kill the animal. When she refused, they returned to the north side of the river and destroyed the bridge. Distrust and bad feelings between the people on the two sides of the river grew so much that Godasiyo feared it would lead to war. Not wishing to see brother fight against brother, she proposed moving the south portion of the village up the river to a new home. Almost everyone living on the southern side of the river agreed to join Godasiyo, and they built many canoes for the journey.
Two young men built a special vessel for Godasiyo: They fastened two large canoes together with strong poles and built a platform across the canoes for her to sit on, accompanied by her white dog. The flotilla of canoes, led by Godasiyo’s vessel, stretched as far as the eye could see along the great river.
After paddling a long distance, the voyageurs came to a fork in the river. Some in the flotilla wanted to take the branch on the right, and others wanted to take the one on the left. Unable to agree on which way to go, those on the right turned their canoes up the right-hand channel, while those on the left began paddling up the left-hand channel. And so the people began to separate.
The two young men paddling Godasiyo’s canoe disagreed as to which way they should go, and they fell into a violent quarrel. The man on the right began paddling toward the right, and the man on the left began paddling toward the left, and so strong were their strokes that Godasiyo’s platform slid off its supports and fell into the river, carrying her, her possessions and her white dog with it. The people on both sides of the river tried to rescue their beloved chief, but they could see nothing but fish swimming in the clear waters.
The people on the right and the people on the left then tried to talk to each other, but they could not understand each other no matter how they shouted. When Godasiyo drowned in the great river, her people’s language changed.
This was how it was that the Indians were divided into many nations spreading across America, each of them speaking a different language.