Canada A Country by Consent: Native Peoples: Iroquois

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    Home | Indigenous Peoples | Haudenosaunee
    Haudenosaunee Confederacy

    he nations that make up the Haudenosaunee Confederacy are Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora. The speak variations of the Iroquoian language and historically inhabited Eastern woodland areas of northern New York State and southern Quebec and Ontario. Iroquoian was one of the two big language groups in the East (along with the Algonquian language). The Haudenosaunee (called Iroquois by the French and Six Nations by the English) first came into contact with Europeans when Jacques Cartier sailed down the St. Lawrence to the villages of Stadacona (present-day Quebec City) and Hochelaga (present-day Montreal) in the 1500s. Iroquois territory These St. Lawrence Haudenosaunee had disappeared by the time French exploration resumed again in the 17th century with Champlain. The Huron-Wendat and Petun of southern Ontario were also related groups (described in another section). The original five nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk – were joined in the 18th century by the Tuscarora to form the Six Nations.


    The Haudenosaunee were more agricultural and therefore less nomadic: people who move from place to place in search of food or fresh grazing lands.nomadic than the Anishinaabe. They grew corn, beans, squash and pumpkins. They also hunted, fished and gathered wild berries.


    The Haudenosaunee lived in villages of longhouses (their name means "people of the long house"). Each longhouse contained several families related to each other through the female line. The villages were protected by defendable barricades and surrounded by their cultivated fields.


    Iroquois warriorThe Haudenosaunee Confederacy had a council of 50 chiefs, or sachems, headed by a chief of the Onondaga, since
    the Onondaga were located
    geographically in the
    middle of
    the six nations. At the death of a chief, the highest woman in his clan would choose the next chief.
    Decisions had to be by consensus, or total agreement. If the chiefs could not come to a unanimous agreement about something, then each chief was free to make his own decision and was not bound by the decisions of the others.
    The Haudenosaunee
    Confederacy has been described as the oldest participatory democracy.

    Family structure followed a clan system, each member of the clan linked by a common female ancestor. The women organized the home life, property, crops and child-rearing while the men travelled to hunt and fish.


    The Haudenosaunee Confederacy held a Feast of the Dead to send their relatives to the other world, but they did not share the Huron-Wendat practice of burying all the bones in a central grave mound. The preparation and ceremony that went into these feasts served to bond the smaller clans and families together.


    The Europeans brought the idea of a money
    exchange which the Haudenosaunee adapted as wampum. Wampum was made from shells woven into a belt that would be given as a gift at important events. The Haudenosaunee allied themselves with the British against the French and against the American War of Independence. After American independence, a number of Haudenosaunee were among the Loyalists who came to Canada. Perhaps the most famous was the Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant. The city of Brantford in southern Ontario is named after him. Another Mohawk Loyalist was Smoke Johnson, grandfather of the famous poet/entertainer E. Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake (1861-1913). Smoke Johnson reportedly killed seven Virginians during the Battle of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812.

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    Further Reference
    • MI’KMAQ
    • CREE
    • DENE
    • INUIT
    • INDIGENOUS TREATIES 1871-1897 (3:08)


    A Country by Consent is a national history of Canada which studies the major political events that have shaped the country, presented in a cohesive, chronological narrative. Many of these main events are introduced by an audiovisual overview, enlivened by narration, sound effects and music.

    This was the first digital, multimedia history of Canada. It started out as a laserdisc in 1993 and the CD-ROM version has been used in schools across the country. It has been approved as a curriculum-supporting resource by provincial and territorial ministries of education. This online, public domain site is the fifth edition of the project.

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    1. Brief description of the Haudenosaunee.

    Between the 15th-17th centuries there were many Native American nations who occupied the North American woodlands. The Iroquois speaking peoples included the Huron, Cherokee, Neutrals, Tuscarora, Wenro, Erie, Susquehannock, and the Five Nations Iroquois. The five nations are: Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. The French called these nations the Iroquois, the English referred to them as the Five Nations, but they called themselves Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee were also known as the Hauden, which meant people of the long houses. When Europeans first arrived in North America, the Haudenosaunee were based in what is now the northeastern United States. Each nation had specific function and the Iroquois influence extended into Canada.

    The Haudenosaunee were very politically oriented and often discussed issues of trade. The Haudenosaunee were the longest running confederacy and were recognized as a legal political entity by the United States. With this political power, the clan mothers, or main women of each nation, helped to determine chiefs within a warrior culture. Descent and inheritance were determined by a matrilineal kinship system.


    Carpenter, Roger, and , eds. “The Renewed, the Destroyed, and the Remade.” The Three Thought Worlds of the Iroquois and the Huron. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sep 2013.

    Fenton, William, ed. “The Great Law and the Longhouse.” A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. University of Oklahoma Press, n.d. Web. 24 Sep 2013.

    A re-creation of lodging that the Haudenosaunee people lived in.

    A re-creation of lodging that the Haudenosaunee people lived in.

    With whom did the Haudenosaunee come into contact (individuals and nationalities)?

         One of the earliest encounters between the Haudenosaunee and Europeans occurred when the Mohawk found themselves at the wrong end of Samuel de Champlain’s arquebus in 1609. The French had allied themselves with the Algonquin and the shot that de Champlain fired sent the Mohawk running and brought an end to that day’s confrontation between the two indigenous groups. In the late 16th century, the Haudenosaunee were at something of a disadvantage when it came to trade. Centrally located as they were around the Great Lakes regions, they were the last in line for acquiring exotic goods as the Europeans were stationed on the periphery of the continent at that time. Indeed, tensions between the Haudenosaunee and northern indigenous groups continued throughout the early part of the century with the Mohawk ambushing Algonquin and Huron traders returning from Quebec with European goods. These raids would subside in the 1620’s as the Haudenosaunee began trading more regularly with the Dutch at Fort Orange.


    Richter, Daniel K., The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization(Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1992): 52-55.

    Where did the Haudensaunee come into contact?

    It is believed that the first contact was with the French in the seventeenth century. When the French came into contact the Five Nations Confederacy, later six nations of the Haudenosaunee , was already formed. The earliest record of contact is a record of Samuel de Champlain firing upon the Iroquois at Ticonderoga in 1609. It was the Mohawk members of the Five Nations who ended up facing Samuel de Chaplain`s hand cannons or arquebus as defined earlier. The attack allowed solidification of the Five nations by the creation of a common enemy, and helped strengthen the trade with the Dutch for firearms. The Haudenosaunee encountered mainly the French and Dutch Europeans and conducted a large amount of trade at Fort Orange, which was held by the Dutch.


    Bruce Elliott Johansen, Barbara Alice Mann. Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) Westport CT, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.

    Canada`s First Nations, European Contact: B. Map – Native-European Encounters Preserved in Native Oral Tradition and European Written Narrative (The University of Calgary, 2000) by the Applied History Research Group.

    An example or a arquebus.

    An example of a arquebus.

    For what purpose were Europeans in this area?

    The first Europeans that the Haudenosaunee came into contact with were the French and Dutch. Both countries primary reason for their presence in the area was trade, especially the Dutch as they hoped to set up a commercial empire rivaling Spain. French interest in the area also included converting the Haudenosaunee to Christianity by Jesuit missionaries. In 1664 the English supplanted the Dutch in New York and continued with the trade that the Dutch had established. In the 18th the Europeans interest changed from trade to expanding their empires and as such Haudenosaunee lands became part of the power struggles between England and France.


    Ward, Harry. Colonial America. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991.

    How did the North American people respond to Europeans?

    The Haudenosaunee were a people of oral tradition who passed down their histories and stories through wampum belts. By reading one of these 400 year old belts created for straightening things out with the Dutch traders it can be seen that the Haudenosaunee understood the Europeans were there to stay but intended to coexist with them peacefully but separately. They were thriving people before the Europeans came, in an established confederacy. Knowing the Europeans were there to stay, the Haudenosaunee helped them through the hardships of the new land and started to trade with them. Trade was already rooted between Indigenous societies before the Europeans came but the new wares, consisting mostly of metal goods, were a welcome addition to the community. The Europeans main interest in trade was of obtaining fur. For a while, a successful trading arrangement was established between them until competition grew within the fur trade and the Haudenosaunee soon needed to trade for guns to protect themselves. The fight for fur and European goods are issues contributed to the origins of the 70 year Beaver War.  So while Haudenosaunee-European relations began peaceful and cooperative, they ended up violent and disruptive.


    Owings, Alison. Indian Voices : Listening to Native Americans. New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press, 2011.

    The image above is an example of a wampum belt.

    The image above is an example of a wampum belt.

    How did Europeans respond to the Haudenosaunee that they encountered?

    Like many first time encounters with foreign and indigenous peoples, the european settlers based much of the relationship with the Haudenosaunee on trade. This trade focused heavily on the trading for furs, primarily beaver pelts. While initial relations proved to be good, future relations became strained as the haudenosaunee gained both wealth and power through the fur trade. This forced the europeans settlers to become nervous and weary of theirhaudenosaunee neighbours. This new found power and european fear ultimately  allowed the haudenosaunee to expand their territory through conquest of neighbouring tribes.


    The Haudenosaunee Guide for educators; by the National museum of the American Indian: education office.

    Below is an example of how stories were communicated and it tells more about the culture of the Haudenosaunee people. (Even though not perfectly historically accurate it allows for a greater understanding of Haudenosaunee people.)


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