Iroquois Confederacy
250px-Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy.svg
The Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy
Population Confederacy: 12,000 at its height

League:About 125,000 today

Land Area Around 39,000 square miles
Languages Iroquoian, English, French
Other Facts
Religions Longhouse Religion, Karihwiio, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Christianity
Preceded By Mohawks, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga
Succeeded By Modern Communities

The Iroquois Confederacy was a Confederacy of originally 5 Native American Tribes: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and eventually the Tuscarora. The land that the Iroquois owned was mostly in modern day New York state. They were also known as the Iroquois League, the Six Nations and the Haudenosaunee (hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee)

Iroquois LeagueEdit

Many people call the Iroquois Confederacy the Iroquois League. This is because the Confederacy has to do with their government and fell when they were conquered. The League, however, still lives on today in reservations and other areas. The Iroquois League is mostly traditional and for the culture.

Forming of the IroquoisEdit

The Five Nations formed together before the Europeans came to the tribe. Some people believe they were formed anywhere from 1450 to 1600, others believe that they were formed during a solar eclipse on August 31, 1142 which is based off of oral tradition of how they formed. It is said that it was formed by the efforts of two men, Dekanawida (known as the Great Peacemaker) and Hiawatha. They brought a treaty to the tribes that fought themselves as much as they fought outsider tribes.
250px-Iroquois 5 Nation Map c1650

The Five Nations

Notable WarsEdit

The Iroquois fought many wars, these are some notable ones and how they were involved.


The Beaver WarsEdit

The Iroquois fought many battles starting in 1609 against the French, their Huron allies and other tribes such as the Petun, Erie and Susquehannock. The Iroquois wanted control of large areas with game to use for the fur trade. They put pressure on Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic Coast and Anishinaabe peoples of the Canadian Shield, and often even fought British colonists. Some believe the war started after the Iroquois launched full scale attacks on other tribes to avenge and replace the deaths of their people from the smallpox epidemic.

In 1628, the Iroquois defeated the Mahican to gain monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch in New Netherland.

In 1645, a tentative peace was made between the Iroquois and the Huron, Algonquin, and French. But, In 1646, two Jesuit missionaries went to the Mohawk to protect the fragile peace. The Iroquois attitude, however, soured as the missionaries traveled and the two were captured by Mohawks and killed in the village of Ossernenon on October 18, 1646. The priests names were Jean de Lalande and Isaac Jogues.

In 1649, the Iroquois used recently purchased Dutch guns to attack the Huron in present day Michigan. These were the final battles of the Huron Confederacy.

From 1651-1652, the Iroquois tried to attack the Susquehannock to their southern borders without success.

In 1653 the Onondaga offered peace to New France and the French sent more Jesuit missionaries. The missionaries thad to call off the mission after the Iroquois resumed hostilities due to the sudden death of 500 by European smallpox.

From 1658-1663, the Iroquois went to war with the Susquehannock again but this time with the Susquehannock's allies of the Lenape and Province of Maryland. In 1663, a large Iroquois invasion force was defeated at the Susquehannock main fort.

In 1663, the Iroquois were at war with the Sokoki tribe of the upper Connecticut River. Smallpox struck again; and through the effects of disease, famine and war, the Iroquois were threatened by extermination. In 1664, an Oneida party struck at allies of the Susquehannock on Chesapeake Bay.

In 1665, three of the Five Nations made peace with the French. The following year, the Canadian Governor sent a regiment under Marquis de Tracy to confront the Mohawk and the Oneida. The Mohawk avoided battle, but the French burned their villages and crops. In 1667, the remaining two Iroquois Nations signed a peace treaty with the French and agreed to allow their missionaries to visit their villages. This treaty lasted for 17 years.

Around 1670, the Iroquois drove the Mannahoac tribe out of the northern Virginia Piedmont region. They began to claim ownership of the territory by right of conquest. In 1672, the Iroquois were defeated by a war party of Susquehannock. The Iroquois appealed to the French for support and asked Governor Frontenac to assist them against the Susquehannock.

Some old histories state that the Iroquois defeated the Susquehannock during this time period. As no record of a defeat has been found, historians have concluded that no defeat occurred. In 1677, the Iroquois adopted the majority of the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock into their nation.

See More Here: The Beaver Wars.

French and Indian WarsEdit

After a new peace treaty in 1701 with the French, the Iroquois stayed mostly neutral. During Queen Anne's War (North American part of the War of the Spanish Succession), they were involved in planned attacks against the French. The mayor of Albany arranged for three Mohawk chiefs and a Mahican chief to travel to London in 1710 to meet with Queen Anne in an effort to seal an alliance with the British. Queen Anne was so impressed by her visitors that she commissioned their portraits by a court painter. The portraits are believed to be the earliest surviving oil portraits of Aboriginal peoples taken from life.


The incorrectly called 'Mohawk Chiefs' who met Queen Anne

Tuscarora Becomes the 6th NationEdit

In the first quarter of the 18th century, the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora fled north from the pressure of British Colonization of North Carolina and inter-tribal warfare; they had been subject to having captives sold into Indian Slavery. They petitioned to become the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. This was a non-voting position, but they gained the protection of the Haudenosaunee.

Back to the WarsEdit

In 1721 and 1722, the governor of the Virginia Colony made and Treaty at Albany with the Iroquois where they agreed to recognize the Bluefacebaby Ridge as the border between the Colony and the Iroquoian lands. In the 1730s, the Iroquois objected when British settlers began moving into
297px-Iroquois 6 Nations map c1720

The Six Nations

the Shenandoah Valley after crossing the Blue Ridge. Virginia Colony officials explained to the confused tribe that the treaty only prevented the Iroquois from expanding into Virginia Colony lands and didn't prevent the Virginia Colony from expanding into the Iroquois lands.Tensions increased and the Iroquois were on the verge of a war. However, in 1743, another Virginia governor paid the Iroquois 100 pounds sterling for any settled land in the Shenandoah Valley that was claimed by the Iroquois. The next year at the Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold Virginia all of their remaining claims in the Valley for 200 pounds in gold.

During the French and Indian War , the Iroquois sided with the British against the French and their Algonquian allies, both traditional enemies of the Iroquois. The Iroquois hoped that aiding the British would also bring favors after the war. Few Iroquois warriors joined the campaign. In the Battle of Lake George, a group of Catholic Mohawk and French ambushed a Mohawk-led British column.

After the war, to protect their alliance, the British government issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, forbidding white settlements beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Colonists largely ignored the order, and the British had insufficient soldiers to enforce it. The Iroquois agreed to adjust the line again at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), whereby they sold the British Crown all their remaining claim to the lands between the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.

The Revolutionary WarEdit

During the American Revolution, the Iroquois tried to stay neutral. Pressed to join one side or the other, the Tuscarora and the Oneida sided with the colonists, while the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga remained loyal to Great Britain, with whom they had stronger relationships. It was the first political split among the Six Nations. Joseph Louis Cook ( an Iroquoian leader) offered his services to the United States and received a Congressional commission as a Lieutenant Colonel- the highest rank held by any Native American during the war.

The Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, other war chiefs, and British allies conducted numerous operations against frontier settlements in the Mohawk Valley, including the Cherry Valley Massacre, destroying many villages and crops, killing and capturing inhabitants. The Continentals retaliated and in 1779, George Washington ordered the Sullivan Campaign, led by General John Sullivan, against the Iroquois nations to "not merely overrun, but destroy," the British-Indian alliance. They burned many Iroquois villages and stores throughout western New York; refugees moved north to Canada. By the end of the war, few houses and barns in the valley had survived the warfare.

After the Revolutionary war, the ancient central fireplace of the League was reestablished at Buffalo Creek. Captain Joseph Brant and a group of Iroquois left New York to settle in The Province of Quebec(present-day Ontario). As a reward for their loyalty to the British Crown, they were given a large land grant on the Grand River, at Six Nations of the Grand River.

World War I & IIEdit

The Grand Council of the Iroquois Confederacy declared war on Germany in 1917 during World War I and again in 1942 in World War II

  • Note: Everything below is admittedly copied from the Wikipedia page 'Iroquois'


Melting potEdit

The Iroquois are a melting pot of other Native groups. League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through captives taken in "mourning wars," the blood feuds and vendettas that were an essential aspect of Iroquois culture. As a way of expediting the mourning process, raids were conducted to take vengeance and seize captives. Captives were generally adopted

220px-Pipa iroquesa

Stone pipe (19th-century engraving)

directly by the grieving family to replace the member(s) who had been lost. This process not only allowed the Iroquois to maintain their own numbers, but also to disperse and assimilate their enemies. The adoption of conquered peoples, especially during the period of the Beaver Wars (1609-1701), meant that the Iroquois League was composed largely of naturalized members of other tribes. Cadwallader Colden wrote, "It has been a constant maxim with the Five Nations, to save children and young men of the people they conquer, to adopt them into their own Nation, and to educate them as their own children, without distinction; These young people soon forget their own country and nation and by this policy the Five Nations make up the losses which their nation suffers by the people they lose in war." By 1668, two-thirds of the Oneida village were assimilated Algonquians and Hurons. At Onondaga there were Native Americans of seven different nations and among the Seneca eleven. They also adopted European captives, as did the Catholic Mohawk in settlements outside Montreal. This tradition of adoption and assimilation was common to native people of the northeast but was quite different from European settlers' notions of combat.


The Iroquois are a mix of horticulturalists, farmers, fishers, gatherers and hunters, though their main diet traditionally has come from farming. The main crops they cultivated are corn, beans and squash, which were called the three sisters and are considered special gifts from the Creator. These crops are grown strategically. The cornstalks grow, the bean plants climb the stalks, and the squash grow beneath, inhibiting weeds and keeping the soil moist under the shade of their broad leaves. In this combination, the soil remained fertile for several decades. The food was stored during the winter, and it lasted for two to three years. When the soil eventually lost its fertility, the Haudenosaunee migrated.

170px-PSM V41 D760 An iroquois dancer in costume

Member of the False Face Society

Gathering is the traditional job of the women and children. Wild roots, greens, berries and nuts were gathered in the summer. During spring, sap is tapped from the maple trees and boiled into maple syrup, and herbs are gathered for medicine.

The Iroquois hunt mostly deer but also other game such as wild turkey and migratory birds. Muskrat and beaver are hunted during the winter. Fishing has also been a significant source of food because the Iroquois are located near the St. Lawrence River. They fished salmon, trout, bass, perch and whitefish until the St. Lawrence became too polluted by industry. In the spring the Iroquois netted, and in the winter fishing holes were made in the ice.

Traditional herbal medicineEdit

Plants traditionally used by the Iroquois include Agrimonia gryposepala, which was to treat diarrhea, and interrupted fern, used for blood and venereal diseases and conditions. Cone flower (Echinacea), an immune system booster and treatment for respiratory disease was also known and used.

Women in societyEdit

The Iroquois are a Mother Clan system, which is gender equal. No person is entitled to 'own' land, but it is believed that the Creator appointed women as stewards of the land. Traditionally, the Clan Mothers appoint leaders, as they have raised children and are therefore held to a higher regard. By the same token, if a leader does not prove sound, becomes corrupt or does not listen to the people, the Clan Mothers have the power to strip him of his leadership.

When Americans and Canadians of European descent began to study Iroquois customs in the 18th and 19th centuries, they learned that the people had a matrilineal system: women held property and hereditary leadership passed through their lines. They held dwellings, horses and farmed land, and a woman's property before marriage stayed in her possession without being mixed with that of her husband. They had separate roles but real power in the nations. The work of a woman's hands was hers to do with as she saw fit. At marriage, a young couple lived in the longhouse of the wife's family. A woman choosing to divorce a shiftless or otherwise unsatisfactory husband was able to ask him to leave the dwelling and take his possessions with him.

The children of the marriage belong to their mother's clan and gain their social status through hers. Her brothers are important teachers and mentors to the children, especially introducing boys to men's roles and societies. The clans are matrilineal, that is, clan ties are traced through the mother's line. If a couple separated, the woman traditionally kept the children. The chief of a clan can be removed at any time by a council of the women elders of that clan. The chief's sister was responsible for nominating his successor.

Spiritual beliefsEdit

The Iroquois believe that the spirits change the seasons. Key festivals coincided with the major events of the agricultural calendar, including a harvest festival of thanksgiving. The Great Peacemaker (Deganawida) was their prophet. After the arrival of the Europeans, many Iroquois became Christians, among them Kateri Tekakwitha, a young woman of Mohawk-Algonquin parents. Traditional spirituality was revived to some extent in the second half of the 18th century by the teachings of the Haudenosaunee prophet Handsome Lake.


The Grand Council of the Iroquois League is an assembly of 56 Hoyenah (chiefs) or Sachems, a number that has never changed. Today, the seats on the Council are distributed among the Six Nations as follows:

  • 14 Onondaga
    220px-Six Nations survivors of War of 1812

    Mohawk leader John Smoke Johnson (right) with John Tutela and Young Warner, two other Six Nations War of 1812 veterans. Photo: July 1882

  • 10 Cayuga
  •   9 Oneida
  •   9 Mohawk
  •   8 Seneca
  •   6 Tuscarora

When anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan studied the Grand Council in the 19th century, he interpreted it as a central government. This interpretation became influential, but Richter argues that while the Grand Council served an important ceremonial role, it was not a government in the sense that Morgan thought. According to this view, Iroquois political and diplomatic decisions are made on the local level, and are based on assessments of community consensus. A central government that develops policy and implements it for the people at large is not the Iroquois model of government.

Unanimity in public acts was essential to the Council. In 1855, Minnie Myrtle observed that no Iroquois treaty was binding unless it was ratified by 75% of the male voters and 75% of the mothers of the nation. In revising Council laws and customs, a consent of two-thirds of the mothers was required. The need for a double supermajority to make major changes made the Confederacy a de facto consensus government.

The women traditionally held real power, particularly the power to veto treaties or declarations of war. The members of the Grand Council of Sachems were chosen by the mothers of each clan. If any leader failed to comply with the wishes of the women of his tribe and the Great Law of Peace, the mother of his clan could demote him, a process called "knocking off the horns". The deer antlers, emblem of leadership, were removed from his headgear, thus returning him to private life.

Councils of the mothers of each tribe were held separately from the men's councils. The women used men as runners to send word of their decisions to concerned parties, or a woman could appear at the men's council as an orator, presenting the view of the women. Women often took the initiative in suggesting legislation.

Wampum beltsEdit

220px-Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy.svg

Haudenosaunee flag created in the 1980s. It is based on the "Hiawatha Wampum Belt ... created from purple and white wampum beads centuries ago to symbolize the union forged when the former enemies buried their weapons under the Great Tree of Peace." It represents the original five nations that were united by the Peacemaker and Hiawatha. The tree symbol in the center represents an Eastern White Pine, the needles of which are clustered in groups of five

Wampum was primarily used to make wampum belts by the Iroquois. Wampum belts are used to signify the importance of a specific message being presented. Treaty making often involved wampum belts to signify the importance of the treaty. A famous example is "The Two Row Wampum" or "Guesuenta" meaning 'it brightens our minds' which was originally presented to the Dutch settlers, and then French, representing a canoe and a sailboat, moving side by side along the river of life, not interfering with the others course. All non-Native settlers are, by associations, members of this treaty.The term "wampum" refers to beads made
220px-Chiefs of the Six Nations at Brantford, Canada, explaining their wampum belts to Horatio Hale September 14, 1871

Chiefs of the Six Nations explaining their wampum belts to Horatio Hale, 1871

from purple and white mollusk shells. Species used to make wampum include the highly prized quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) which produces the famous purple colored beads. For white colored beads the shells from the channeled whelk (Busycon canaliculatum), knobbed whelk (Busycon carica), lightning whelk(Busycon sinistrum), and snow whelk (Busycon Laeostomum) are used.

"The Covenant Belt" which was presented to the Iroquois at the signing of the Canandaigua Treaty. The belt has a design of thirteen human figures representing symbolically the Thirteen Colonies of the United States. The house and the two figures directly next to the house represent the Iroquois people and the symbolic longhouse. The figure on the left of the house represent the Seneca Nation who are the symbolic guardians of the western door (western edge of Iroquois territory) and the figure to the right of the house represents the Mohawk who are the keepers of the eastern door (eastern edge of Iroquois territory).

The Hiawatha belt is the national belt of the Iroquois and is represented in the Iroquois Confederacy flag. The belt has four squares and a tree in the middle which represents the original five nations of the Iroquois. Going from left to right the squares represent the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Mohawk. The Onondaga are represented by an eastern white pine which represents the Tree of Peace. Traditionally the Onondaga are the peace keepers of the confederacy. The placement of the nations on the belt represents the actually geographical distribution of the six nations over their shared territory, with the Seneca in the far west and the Mohawk in the far east of Iroquois territory.

Influence on the United StatesEdit

Historians in the 20th century have suggested the Iroquois system of government influenced the development of the Articles of Confederation or United States Constitution. Consensus has not been reached on how influential the Iroquois model was to the development of the United States' documents. The influence thesis has been discussed by historians such as Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen. In 1988, the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognize the influence of the Iroquois League upon the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In 1987, Cornell University held a conference on the link between the Iroquois' government and the U.S. Constitution.

Scholars such as Jack N. Rakove and Elizabeth Tooker challenge the thesis. Stanford University historian Rakove writes, "The voluminous records we have for the constitutional debates of the late 1780s contain no significant references to the Iroquois" and notes that there are ample European precedents to the democratic institutions of the United States. Historian Francis Jennings noted that supporters of the thesis frequently cite the following statement by Benjamin Franklin: "It would be a very strange thing, if six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such a Union … and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies," but he disagrees that it establishes influence. Rather, he thinks Franklin was promoting union against the "ignorant savages" and called the idea "absurd".

The anthropologist Dean Snow stated that though Franklin's Albany Plan may have drawn inspiration from the Iroquois League, there is little evidence that either the Plan or the Constitution drew substantially from this source. He argues that "...such claims muddle and denigrate the subtle and remarkable features of Iroquois government. The two forms of government are distinctive and individually remarkable in conception."

Tooker, a Temple University professor of anthropology and an authority on the culture and history of the Northern Iroquois, believes the "influence" thesis is myth rather than fact. She does not think that the Iroquois League was a democratic culture; such a conclusion is not supported within historical literature. The relationship between the Iroquois League and the Constitution is based on a portion of a letter written by Benjamin Franklin and a speech by the Iroquois chief Canasatego in 1744. Tooker concluded that the documents cited indicate that groups of Iroquois and white settlers realized the advantages of a confederation, but she thinks there is little evidence to support the idea that 18th century colonists were knowledgeable regarding the Iroquois system of governance.

Historic evidence suggests that chiefs of different tribes were permitted representation in the Iroquois League council, and the leadership positions were hereditary. The council did not practice representative government and had no elections. Deceased chiefs’s successors were selected by the most senior woman within the hereditary lineage in consultation with other women in the clan. Decision making occurred through lengthy discussion and decisions were unanimous, with topics discussed being introduced by a single tribe.

Tooker concludes, "...there is virtually no evidence that the framers borrowed from the Iroquois." She thinks the myth resulted from a claim made by the Iroquois linguist and ethnographer J.N.B. Hewitt, which was exaggerated and misunderstood after his death in 1937.

International relationsEdit

The Haudenosaunee government has issued passports since 1923, when Haudenosaunee authorities issued a passport to Cayuga statesman Deskaheh (Levi General) to travel to the League of Nations headquarters.

More recently, passports have been issued since 1997. Before 2001 these were accepted by various nations for international travel, but with increased security concerns across the world since the September 11 attacks this is no longer the case. The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team was allowed by the U.S. to travel on their own passports to an international lacrosse tournament in England after the personal intervention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 14, 2010, after previously being refused. But, the British government refused to recognize the Iroquois passports and denied the team members entry into the United Kingdom.

The Onondaga Nation spent $1.5 million on a subsequent upgrade to passports designed to meet 21st century international security requirements.

The Iroquois Nationals are considered a country-level organization in international lacrosse competition. It is the only international sport in which the Iroquois tribes field a team.

Modern communitiesEdit

  • Canada
    1914 Panoramic View of Iroquois

    Iroquois in Buffalo, New York, 1914

    • Kahnawake Mohawk in Quebec
    • Kanesatake Mohawk in Quebec
    • Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne in Ontario
    • Thames Oneida in Ontario
    • Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario
    • Tyendinaga Mohawk in Ontario
    • Wahta Mohawk in Ontario
  • United States
    • Cayuga Nation in New York
    • Ganienkeh Mohawk — not federally recognized
    • Kanatsiohareke Mohawk
    • Onondaga Nation in New York
    • Oneida Indian Nation in New York
    • Oneida Tribe of Indians in Wisconsin
    • St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians in New York
    • Seneca Nation of New York
    • Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma
    • Tuscarora Nation of New York
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.