AIS 100: Introduction to American Indian Studies



    The Mohawk are one of the original five nations to form the League of the Iroquois or the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This confederacy or league was formed around A.D.(C.E.) 1450 - 1580 to  establish peace between the five nations and with other nations in the Northeast. A spiritual leader, Dekanawidah (Huron by birth living with the Seneca) and Hiawatha (Onondaga living among the Mohawk) are the legendary leaders to work out the alliances and establish the Great Binding Law: Gayanashagowa. This pre-European unification was used by Franklin and Jefferson as a preliminary model for the unification of the original 13 colonies that becomes the United States. In 1722 a sixth nation, the Tuscarora. Today this group is referred to as the Six Nations, especially since Iroquois is a French derivation of the Algonkian term for 'adders'.

Haudenosaunee /League of the Iroquois 
Seneca People of the Great Hill Keepers of the Western Door
Cayuga People of the Mucky Land Keepers of the Pipe
Onondaga People of the Mountains Keepers of the Fire and Wampum
Oneida  People of the Standing Stone or Granite  
Mohawk People of the Flint Keepers of the Eastern Door
Tuscarora  Shirt Wearing People taken in by the Oneida ca 1722

I. Origins

       The origins of the original five Iroquoian nations that formed the League of the Iroquois is quite controversial in archaeological circle. Certainly, they have considerable antiquity in the area of upstate New York, possibly more than 4,000 years.  Some scholars feel that the linguistic relationship to the Cherokee indicates and ancient connection, but the question remains who broke off from whom and when. In the Finger Lakes region of upper New York State the Owasco tradition and representative sites have many traits are felt to represent earlier Iroquoian traditions. Owasco tradition flourished from A.D. (C.E.) 900 - 1400 with large palasaded villages, longhouses, and increasingly sedentary CBS farming practices. This created a landscape of forested upland hunting areas and cleared lowland agricultural areas that were managed with controlled/seasonal  burning. European settlers seemed to have either not understood that they were looking not at a wilderness, but at a better managed landscape; or they just simply lied. Eastern Woodland Indian people were all CBS farmers with cultivated fields/ villages the domain of women and forests the domain of men.

II. Traditional Culture

       Tradtional Iroquois culture with the formation of the League of the Iroquois would have been in place between  A.D. (C.E.) 1450 and 1650, when impact from French, Dutch and English began to bring changes. However, the Iroquois were able to maintain there power longer through the Covenant Chain trade alliances between various Native American groups and Europeans. Wampum shell was a medium of exchange for a considerable time on the frontier. Traditional cultural breakdown really comes more with the changes brought on by the United States.

Mohawk < 1650
Language Macro- Siouan Iroquoian
Settlement upper New York Mohawk Valley
Economcs CBS Farming,hunting/fishing

Longhouse, birch and          elm bark; wampum money

Green Corn;Ripe Corn;    Beans;Squash

deer,bear,moose,turkey, bass,smelt,pike

hickory,walnut,chestnut, berries,maple syrup

Social Organization Fireside Family

Longhouse Family

Clan/Clan Groupwolfsm.jpg (16882 bytes)



Fireside / Longhouse/Clan: Matrilineal totemic exogamous: Bear, Turtle, Wolf matrisibs,kinterms parallel 

Tribe/League: Sachem (Counselor of the People);10 from each tribe to League ; Pine Tree Cheifs (judicial)

World View Myth: Earthdiver ; Creator Twins; Three Sisters (corn/ beans/squash); Thunderers; Wind Spirits
Calendrical Ceremonies
JAN Midwinter Ceremonies
The Four Sacred Rituals:Feather, Thanksgiving, Personal,Bowl Game 
Our Life Supporter Dances:Corn ,Beans,Squash
March-May Bush Dance, Maple, Sun,Thunder,Seed Planting
June- Strawberry
August Bean
Sept-Nov Little Corn

Green Corn: Our Life Supporter Dances & The Four Sacred Rituals (Again)

Nov Harvest
Non Calendrical Ceremonies
Society of Medicine Men (Shake the Pumpkin)
Little Water Society
Little People Society
Company of Mystic Animals:Bear,Buffalo, Eagle,Otter Societies
False Face Society
Husk Face Society
Other: Ten Day Feast,       Feast of the Dead
Expressed Form Shell, Bark, Quill, Bead WoodcarvingMmocs.jpg (23470 bytes)

Pottery, Woven cloth

Wampum belts; Bark housing, canoes an containers w/ quill work; masks, clubs

Utilitarian ware,capes/shawls


III. Contemporary Culture

       The Iroquois Confederacy was a powerful force in the struggle for the fur trade and frontier of colonial and post colonial America. The Covenant Chain establish competitive trade relations with Native American Nations and invading European powers (French, English and Dutch), but also brought resentment and jealousy. Even when the various Iroquois nations tried to maintain neutrality in conflicts like the Revolutionary War, Americans constantly eroded traditional land holdings often pressuring various groups to move to Canada, Wisconsin and even West to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A revitalization movement to restore traditional ways under Handsome Lake after 1799 continues to have an effect and is generally referred to as the Longhouse Movement. stregis.jpg (11382 bytes)

       Even with the many conflicting influences of European Americans such as missionaries and non-Indian schools the Six Nation people have held on to traditions like lacrosse and elements of the Longhouse Movement. Modern traditions have also emerged such as the tradition of Mohawks working the high steel workers on bridges and skyscrapers.Mironw.jpg (19581 bytes)

       The Iroquois communities are all listed to include the Mohawk (in bold):

Country/State/Prov. Community Cultural Affiliation Statistics
New York, USA Allegany Reservation Seneca pop: 7312
  Cattaraugus Reservation Seneca pop: 2,183
  Cayuga Reservation Cayuga  
  Morris Reserve
Canawagus Res.
Big Tree Res.
Little Beard's Town Res.
Squaky Hill Res.
Gardeau Res.
Caneadea Res.
  Oil Springs Reservation Seneca pop: 0
  Oneida Reservation Oneida  
  Onondaga Reservation Onondaga pop: 1,600
  St.Regis  Reservation Akwesasne Mohawk pop: 1,974
  Tonawanda Reservation Seneca pop: 448
  Tuscarora Nation Tuscarora  pop: 353
Oklahoma, USA Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma Seneca, Cayuga (Mingoes) pop: 2,500
Wisconsin, USA Oneida Reservation Oneida pop: 2,450;enr.: 12,000
Quebec, Can Caughnawaga Mohawk  
  St. Regis Reserve Akwesasne Mohawk  
  Oka Reserve Mohawk  
Ontario, Can Grand River Reserve Six Nations (all)  
  Tyendinaga Reserve Mohawk  
  Gibson Reserve Mohawk  
  Oneida Reserve Oneida  

Mohawk Links:

Akwesasne Mohawk

Kahon:wes's Mohawk

Kahnawake Mohawk

The Wampum Chronicles

The Iroquois Constitution

Copyright S. J. Crouthamel