Geographical region : east in the area of New York

Lived normally in 'Longhouses' in palisaded villages

Language : Iroquois

Subtribes are :

Mohawk (Kanien'Kehaka) "People of the Flint",

Cayuga "People of the Mucky Land",

Oneida "People of the Standing Stone",

Onondaga "People on the Hills",

Seneca (Nodowa'ga) "People of the Great Hill",

Tuscarora "Shirt-Wearing People"


Women held a high status in the society, and descent was matrilineal. Even before the formation of the confederation, the Iroquois families lived in the distinctive bark-covered rectangular structure known as the long house.

. When the prophet Deganawidah and his disciple Hiawatha founded (c.1570) the confederacy (to eliminate incessant intertribal warfare and to end cannibalism), this dwelling became the symbol of the Five Nations.

They thought of themselves metaphorically as dwelling in a large long house, which had a door on the eastern end, guarded by the Mohawk (in the extreme geographical east), and a door on the western end, guarded by the Seneca (in the extreme west).

The Onondaga, keepers of the council fires and the wampum records, were between the Cayuga on the west and the Oneida on the east.

The main Onondaga village served as the capital, or meeting place, of the federated council.

Voting in the council was conducted by tribe, and a unanimous decision was necessary to wage war. Nevertheless, intertribal war was not unknown.

The Iroquois confederation or the 'Five Nations' of the Iroquois was the most powerful indian war-confederation in the eastern part of North America or maybe the most succesful allience of that kind under such important tribes.

Inside the five nations there have been three influential clans "Wildlife","Pigeon" and "Wolf". They kept the alliance together.

It began in the 16th century, when there lived about 7.000 Iroquois belonging to the 'Five Nations'.

The confederation was born out of the idea to finish bloodshed during internal conflicts between the five nations. Founders were the chiefs Jikonasa and Totadaho.

The league called itself "Great Peace" or "Longhouse", named like their common houses.

The highest governmental power was the "Great Council" where the Mohawk and Seneca formed the "Upper House" and the Oneida and Cayuga formed the "Lower House". The Onondaga were in the chair and if there was a equality in votes it was their vote that did decide.

In the year 1710 the Tuscarora became the six nation in this confederation. Now it was "Six Nations of the Iroquois". But they did not get a vote.

The Iroquois were hunters , but as well remarkable farmers. Beans, corn and pumpkin were supposed to be their 'Three Sisters'.

Samuel de Champlain did support the Hurons (Wyandot) in the year 1609 in their war against the Iroquois. These allied with the dutch. They received rifles from the white. They attacked and beated the underlayed Hurons and Erie with their modern fire-weapons. A huge number of Delawares was led into captivity as slaves. At the top of their military power, the Iroquois had 3000 men under weapons. Their influence reached far into the South to the Cherokee-terretory. When the Dutch sold New Amsterdam ( today Manhatten ) to the British, the Iroquois made peace with the British immediately.

In the year 1710 a deligation under 'King Hendrick"(Thoyanoguen) sailed to England to visit Queen Anne.

William Johnson did strengthen the good relationship between the British and the Iroquois.

Even the 7-year-war against the French did not make no difference in the relationship.

Johnson led the Mohawk to victory at Lake George and in the year 1759 at Niagara.

When the civil war broke out, the British were looking for alliances with the tribes.

After a visit of chief Thayendanegea to England , meeting King George, he attacked the american Forts Schuyler and Oriskany. It came to a massacre in the Cherry Valley.

In the year 1779 the military force of the Iroquois was broken by US general John Sullivan.

After their victory over the British, the US Government forced the Iroquois to go to a reservation in the state of New York.

Many Mohawk under chief Thayendanegeo decided to settle later in Canada in the North of Lake Ontario.

In the reservation in the state of New York lived 9886 inhabitants in the year 1985, while the reservation in Wisconsin did count 4437 inhabitants.







fl. c.1550, Legendary chief of the Onondaga of North America.

He is credited with founding the Iroquois Confederacy.

He is the hero of the well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. See T. R. Henry, Wilderness Messiah (1955).


Rise to Power


The Iroquois were second to no other Native Americans N. of Mexico in political organization, statecraft, and military prowess.

In the mid-17th century the Iroquois Confederacy, equipped with Dutch firearms, made its united force felt.

It dispersed the Huron in 1649, the Tobacco and the Neutral Nation in 1650, the Erie in 1656, the Conestoga in 1675, and the Illinois c.1700.

Depleted by continual warfare, they increased the population by the wholesale adoption of alien tribes, so that by the end of the 17th century they numbered some 16,000.

At this time they controlled the territory bounded by the Kennebec River, the Ottawa River, the Illinois River, and the Tennessee River.

Their conquests were checked in the west by the Ojibwa, in the south by the Cherokee and the Catawba, and in the north by the French.


Relationship with the French and the British


Many historians argue that the hostility of the Iroquois toward the French was caused by Samuel Champlain when in 1609 he accompanied a Huron war party armed with French guns into Iroquois territory.

In any case, the Iroquois, firm allies of the British, opposed the French at every step until the French lost control of Canada in 1763.

The French, partly in the hope of winning over the Iroquois, sent missionaries to them. Isaac Jogues, a notable Jesuit missionary, was killed by the Iroquois as a sorcerer in 1646, but the missionaries were somewhat successful, and a considerable number of the Mohawk withdrew from the confederacy and founded (c. 1670) a Catholic settlement. These Catholic Iroquois, called French Mohawks, took the part of the French against their former brethren.

In the early 18th century the Five Nations became the Six Nations when the Oneida adopted (c.1722) the remnants of the Tuscarora Confederacy.

British settlers had expelled (1711) the Tuscarora from North Carolina, and by 1712 they had moved north.

The British, who had used the Six Nations as a buffer against the advance of the French from Canada in the French and Indian Wars, attempted to retain their favor by accrediting various agents, notably Sir William Johnson (Johnson of the Mohawks).


In the American Revolution


The American Revolution was disastrous for the Iroquois.

The confederacy, as such, refused to take part in the conflict but allowed each tribe to decide for itself, and all the tribes, except the Oneida, joined the British.

Samuel Kirkland, a Protestant missionary, was largely responsible for winning over the Oneida, who rallied to the side of the colonists after remaining neutral for two years.

Cornplanter, Red Jacket, and Joseph Brant (who was educated by Sir William Johnson) led the Iroquois who remained loyal to the British.

Brant, the principal leader of the Iroquois troops, participated with the Tory Rangers of Walter Butler in raids in New York and Pennsylvania, particularly the Cherry Valley and Wyoming Valley massacres.

The Continental Congress sent out a punitive expedition under John Sullivan, who in 1779 defeated Butler and his Iroquois allies.

After the Revolution, Brant, in contrast to the other two chiefs, remained adamant in his hostility towards the United States.




c.1732/35/40-1836, chief of the Seneca.

The son of a Native American mother and a white father, he acquired great influence among the Seneca and in the American Revolution led war parties for the British against the colonial forces, particularly against Gen. John Sullivan in New York.

He later favored friendship with the whites and signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784).

He was given a grant of land on the Allegheny River, where he lived to a very old age.

His views were opposed by the energetic Red Jacket but supported by Handsome Lake (Cornplanter's half brother).


Red Jacket


c.1756/58-1830, chief of the Seneca, b. probably Seneca co., N.Y.

His Native American name was Otetiani, changed to Sagoyewatha when he became a chief.

His English name came from the British redcoat he wore as an ally of the English in the American Revolution.

He had an excellent memory and was articulate and skillful in dealing with the whites, but he was accused of cowardice by other Native American leaders in active warfare.

At a Native American conference (1786) at the mouth of the Detroit River, Red Jacket urged the continuance of hostilities against the whites, but in later years he attempted to make peace with the U.S. government.

He was one of the Native American chiefs who visited President George Washington in 1792.

In the War of 1812 he influenced his people to support the United States.

An ardent advocate of the Native American mode of life, he resisted the introduction of white customs, especially Christianity and the work of the missionaries.

Late in his life the growth of Christianity among Native Americans and opposition to his policies resulted in his being deposed as chief, but he appealed to the government, defended himself before a tribal council, and was restored.


The Iroquois Today

The Mohawk and the Cayuga, who were strong allies of the British, today live on reservations in Ontario, and most of the remaining Iroquois, except for the Oneida who live in Wisconsin, are in New York.

The Iroquois in Canada and in the United States are either Christians or followers of Handsome Lake, a Seneca prophet of the 18th century who was influenced by the Quakers.

The total number of Iroquois in the United States and Canada is around 29,000.