Activities at an Iroquoian longhouse feast include dancers, gamblers, storytellers courtesy Lazare and Parker. Iroquoian Longhouse interior artwork by Lewis Parker. Originally a confederacy of five nations inhabiting the northern part of New York state, the Haudenosaunee consisted of the Seneca , Cayuga , Oneida , Onondaga and Mohawk. When the Tuscarora joined the confederacy early in the 18th century, it became known as the Six Nations.
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Although Iroquoian tribes own seven reservations in New York state and one in Wisconsin , the majority of the people live off the reservations. An additional 5, Iroquois reside in Canada , where there are two Iroquoian reservations.
The people are not averse to adopting new technology when it is beneficial, but they want to maintain their own traditional identity. They called themselves Haudenosaunee pronounced "hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee" , or people of the longhouse, referring to the construction of their homes, in which extended families of up to 50 people lived together in bark-covered, wooden-framed houses that were 50 to feet long.
They also envisioned their extended community as occupying a symbolic longhouse some miles long, with the Mohawk guarding the eastern door and the Seneca the western. The origin of the name Iroquois is uncertain, although it seems to have involved French adaptations of Indian words.
One likely interpretation of the origin of the name is the theory that it comes from the Algonquian word "Irinakhoiw," which the French spelled with the -ois suffix. The French spelling roughly translates into "real adders" and would be consistent with the tendency of European cultures to take and use derogatory terms from enemy nations to identify various Native groups.
The Mohawk called themselves Ganiengehaka, or "people of the flint country. The Onondaga "people of the hills" , the Cayuga "where they land the boats" , and the Seneca "the people of the big hill" named themselves by describing their homelands.
Because the Algonquian people living on both sides of the Iroquois corridor are of a different culture and linguistic stock, it appears likely that the Iroquois migrated into this area at some time. No evidence has been found to indicate where they came from, however. The Cherokee people, whose historic homeland was in the southeastern United States , belong to the same linguistic group and share some other links with the Iroquois.
Where and when they may have lived near each other is unknown. Despite their common culture and language, relations among the Five Tribes deteriorated to a state of near-constant warfare in ancient times. The infighting, in turn, made them vulnerable to attacks from the surrounding Algonquian tribes. This period, known in the Iroquois oral tradition as the "darktimes," reached a nadir during the reign of a psychotic Onondaga chief named Todadaho.
Legend has it that he was a cannibal who ate from bowls made from the skulls of his victims, that he knew and saw everything, that his hair contained a tangle of snakes, and that he could kill with only a Medusa-like look. Into this terrible era, however, entered two heroic figures. Deganawidah came from his Huron homeland in the north, travelling unchallenged among the hostile Iroquois.
Finally, he encountered a violent, cannibalistic Onondagan. According to legend, Deganawidah watched through a hole in the roof while the man prepared to cook his latest victim. He was struck by the thought that the beauty of the face was incompatible with the horrendous practice of cannibalism and immediately forsook the practice. He went outside to dispose of the corpse, and when he returned to his lodge he met Deganawidah.
On the banks of Onondaga Lake, sometime between and , Deganawidah established the Iroquois Confederacy, a league of nations that shared a positive code of values and lived in mutual harmony. Out of respect, the Iroquois refer to him as the Peacemaker. When the first white explorers arrived in the early seventeenth century, they found the settled, agricultural society of the Iroquois a contrast to the nomadic culture of the neighboring Algonquians.
During that period, the Iroquois began to acquire European trade goods through raids on other Indian tribes. They found the metal axes, knives, hoes, and kettles far superior to their implements of stone, bone, shell, and wood.
Woven cloth began to replace the animal skins usually used for clothing materials. The recurring raids prompted the French to help their Indian allies attack the Iroquois in , opening a new technological era for the people of the Confederacy.
French body armor was made of metal, whereas that of the Iroquois was made of slatted wood. Furthermore, the French fought with firearms, while traditional Iroquois weapons were bows and arrows, stone tomahawks, and wooden warclubs. In response to European influence, the Iroquois gradually changed their military tactics to incorporate stealth, surprise, and ambush. Their motives for fighting also changed. In the past, they had fought for prestige or revenge, or to obtain goods or captives; now they fought for economic advantage, seeking control over bountiful beaver hunting grounds or perhaps a stash of beaver skins to trade for European goods.
Although it provided the Indians with better tools, European incursion into the territory was disastrous for the indigenous people. In the s alone, the Iroquois lost between 1, and 2, people in fighting with other Indian tribes. In addition, European diseases such as smallpox, measles, influenza, lung infections, and even the common cold took a heavy toll on them since they had developed no immunity and knew no cures. These seventeenth century population devastations prompted the Iroquois people to turn increasingly to their traditional practice of adopting outsiders into their tribes to replace members who had died from violence or illness.
The adopted person, who was sometimes the opposite gender or of a significantly different age than the deceased Indian he replaced, was treated with the same affection, given the same rights, and expected to fulfill the same duties as his predecessor. Most, if not all, of the Indians who were educated by the English returned to their native cultures at the first opportunity.
Many colonists, on the other hand, chose to become Indians, either by joining Indian society voluntarily, by not trying to escape from captivity, or by staying with their Indian captors in the wake of peace treaties that gave them the freedom to return home.
Early in the eighteenth century the Tuscarora, another Iroquoian-speaking tribe living in North Carolina , moved into the territory occupied by the Confederacy. They had rebelled against the encroachment of colonial settlers, against continual fraudulent treatment by traders, and against repeated raids that took their people for the slave trade.
They suffered a terrible defeat, with hundreds of their people killed and hundreds more enslaved. Those who escaped such fates made their way north and became the sixth nation of the Iroquois League. The first half of the eighteenth century was a period of rebuilding. The Iroquois made peace with the French and established themselves in a neutral position between the French and the English.
This strategy lasted until the French and Indian War erupted in ; though the Confederacy was officially neutral, the Mohawk sided with the English, and the Seneca with the French. Before long, another conflict arose among the European colonists, and the Iroquois were faced with the American Revolutionary War.
Again, the various tribes failed to agree on which side to support. Without unanimous agreement on a common position, each nation in the Confederacy was free to pursue its own course. The Oneida fought on the side of the colonists, eventually earning official commendation from George Washington for their assistance. A major faction of the Mohawk sided with the British and recruited other Iroquois warriors to their cause. The League as a political entity was severely damaged by the conflict, and the war itself brought death and devastation to the member tribes.
After the war, American retaliatory raids destroyed Iroquois towns and crops, and drove the people from their homelands. The Six Nations remained fragmented in political, social, and religious ways throughout the nineteenth century.
The development of the New Religion, beginning in , helped revitalize the traditional culture and facilitated the transition to reservation life. Finally, beginning in the s, the Mohawk, Seneca, and Tuscarora became involved in major land disputes over power-production and flood-control projects proposed by the New York State Power Authority and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Paired with the social climate favoring ethnic assertion in the mid-twentieth century, these land disputes helped foster a resurgence in Iroquois solidarity. They have asserted their position in interesting ways. For example, when the United States declared war on Germany in , the Iroquois Confederacy issued its own independent declaration and claimed status as an allied nation in the war effort.
In a Haudenosaunee delegation attended groundbreaking ceremonies for the United Nations building in New York City. Iroquois statesmen and athletes use Haudenosaunee passports as they travel around the world. Protecting the land is another priority.
Since the s, the Haudenosaunee have been involved in land issues involving projects as varied as the Kenzua Dam project, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Niagara Power Plant. In another land issue, the St. Regis Akwesasne Mohawk reservation has been affected by off-reservation pollution sources, including a neighboring toxic-waste dump and nearby airfouling industrial plants.
In the s, struggles over land rights and protection of the land have also included the extension of leases on property and towns in western New York, as well as ongoing conflicts over pollution and the environment. Resolving the question of gambling on the reservations is also an important issue. In the controversy erupted into a gun battle that left two Mohawk dead. The Onondaga Council of Chiefs issued a "Memorandum on Tribal Sovereignty" that said: "These businesses have corrupted our people and we are appalled at the Longhouse people who have become part of these activities.
They have thrown aside the values of our ancient confederacy for personal gain" The Onondaga Council of Chiefs Memorandum on Tribal Sovereignty. The men set out on hunting expeditions in dugout or bark canoes to provide meat and hides, while the women tended to the farming. They were a relaxed society with a minimum of rules.
The longhouses in which they lived were constructed with a vestibule at each end that was available for use by all residents. Within the body of the house, a central corridor eight feet wide separated two banks of compartments. Each compartment, measuring about 13 feet by six feet, was occupied by a nuclear family. A wooden platform about a foot above the ground served as a bed by night and chair by day; some compartments included small bunks for children.
An overhead shelf held personal belongings. Every 20 feet along the central corridor, a fire pit served the two families living on its opposite sides.
Bark or hide doors at the ends of the buildings were attached at the top; these openings and the smoke holes in the roof 15 to 20 feet above each hearth provided the only ventilation. Villages of to people were protected by a triple-walled stockade of wooden stakes 15 to 20 feet tall. About every 15 years the nearby supplies of wild game and firewood would become depleted, and the farmed soil would become exhausted.
During a period of two years or so, the men would find and clear an alternate site for the village, which would then be completely rebuilt. The primary crops, revered as gifts from the Creator, were called the "Three Sisters": Corn provided stalks for climbing bean vines, while squash plants controlled weeds by covering the soil.
The complimentary nutrient needs and soil-replenishing characteristics of the three crops extended the useful life of each set of fields. In addition to providing food, the corn plants were used to make a variety of other goods.
From the stalks were made medicine-storing tubes, corn syrup, toy warclubs and spears, and straws for teaching children to count. Corn husks were fashioned into lamps, kindling, mattresses, clotheslines, baskets, shoes, and dolls. Animal skins were smoked over corn cob fires. Although bows and arrows tipped with flint or bone were the primary hunting weapons, blow guns were used for smaller prey.
Made from the hollowed stem of swamp alder, blow guns were about six feet long and one inch thick, with a half-inch bore; the arrows were two and a half feet long. Elm bark was put to many useful purposes, including constructing houses, building canoes, and fashioning containers. Baskets were woven of various materials, including black ash splints. Pottery vessels were decorated with angular combinations of parallel lines.
Wampum cylindrical beads about one-fourth inch long and one-eighth inch in diameter was very important in the Iroquois culture.
The first time it appears in writing is in the account of Samuel de Champlain of his journey to Tadoussac in , where it occurs as "Irocois". In , J. Hewitt expressed doubts that either of those words exist in the respective languages. He preferred the etymology from Montagnais irin "true, real" and ako "snake", plus the French -ois suffix. Day in , elaborating upon Charles Arnaud from
Cemented mainly by their desire to stand together against invasion, the tribes united in a common council composed of clan and village chiefs; each tribe had one vote, and unanimity was required for decisions. Under the Great Law of Peace Gayanesshagowa , the joint jurisdiction of 50 peace chiefs, known as sachems, or hodiyahnehsonh, embraced all civil affairs at the intertribal level. Powell, The Iroquois Haudenosaunee Confederacy differed from other American Indian confederacies in the northeastern woodlands primarily in being better organized, more consciously defined, and more effective. The Iroquois used elaborately ritualized systems for choosing leaders and making important decisions. They persuaded colonial governments to use these rituals in their joint negotiations, and they fostered a tradition of political sagacity based on ceremonial sanction rather than on the occasional outstanding individual leader.