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Burying the hatchet

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Burying the hatchet

This article is about the American English phrase. For other uses, see Bury the Hatchet (disambiguation).

Bury the hatchet is an American English colloquialism meaning "to make peace." The phrase is an allusion to the figurative or literal practice of putting away the tomahawk at the cessation of hostilities among or by Native Americans in the Eastern United States, specifically concerning the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy and in Iroquois custom in general. Weapons were to be buried or otherwise cached in time of peace.


The first mention of the practice in English is to an actual hatchet-burying ceremony. Years before he gained notoriety for presiding over the Salem witch trials, Samuel Sewall wrote in 1680, "I writt to you in one [letter] of the Mischief the Mohawks did; which occasioned Major Pynchon's goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem the[y] came to an agreement and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves; which ceremony to them is more significant & binding than all Articles of Peace[,] the hatchet being a principal weapon with them."[1]

Nova Scotia

Main article: Burying the Hatchet Ceremony (Nova Scotia)

The Wabanaki Confederacy ritual, the peace ceremony of "burying the hatchet" (Diereville: 172).[2]


Exactly 50 years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, White Bull, a Sioux Indian Chief, and General Edward Godfrey bury the hatchet in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Garryowen, Montana. It was near this site that Custer divided his forces and began his attack against the Sioux, Arapahoe and Cheyenne that were camped within the valley of the Little Bighorn.[3]


This practice was most famously used in recent time during the 1990 Oka Crisis in Canada, although the weapons were not buried. Faced by an ultimatum that would have seen battle with the Canadian Forces the next day, the besieged Mohawk Warriors piled and burned their weapons, and then walked out of the cordon that had been tightened around them. The alternative was a bloody siege battle, which could have triggered off further violent resistance to the Canadian government far beyond the immediate locality of the crisis, which centred on Montreal's suburbs of Oka, Quebec (Kanesatake) and Kahnawake. Mohawk commentators stated at the time that this was not a surrender, but a cession of hostilities, as per the burying of weapons of honoured tradition.

The phrase was used in 1759 by the Shawnee orator Missiweakiwa when it became obvious that the French war effort during the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War) was collapsing. The Shawnees had sided with the French against the English, but now the Shawnee would "bury the bloody Hatchet" with the English.


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