Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy.svg
Total population
approx. 125,000
(80,000 in the U.S, 45,000 in Canada)[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
    (southern Quebec, southern Ontario)
 United States
    (New YorkWisconsinOklahomaNorth Carolina)

Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora, English, French


Longhouse Religion; Christianity; others

The Iroquois (pronounced /ˈɪrəkwɔɪ/), also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse",[1] are an association of several tribes of indigenous people of North America. After the Iroquoian-speaking peoples of present-day central and upstate New York coalesced as distinct tribes, by the 16th century or earlier, they came together in an association known today as the Iroquois League, or the "League of Peace and Power". The original Iroquois League was often known as the Five Nations, as it was composed of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations. After the Tuscarora nation joined the League in 1722, the Iroquois became known as the Six Nations. The League is embodied in the Grand Council, an assembly of fifty hereditary sachems.[2] Other Iroquian peoples lived along the St. Lawrence River, around the Great Lakes and in the American Southeast, but they were not part of the Haudenosaunee and often competed and warred with these tribes.

When Europeans first arrived in North America, the Haudenosaunee were based in what is now the northeastern United States, primarily in what is referred to today as upstate New York west of the Hudson River and through the Finger Lakes region.[3] Today, the Iroquois live primarily in New York, Quebec, and Ontario.

The Iroquois League has also been known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Some modern scholars distinguish between the League and the Confederacy.[4][5][6] According to this interpretation, the Iroquois League refers to the ceremonial and cultural institution embodied in the Grand Council, while the Iroquois Confederacy was the decentralized political and diplomatic entity that emerged in response to European colonization. The League still exists. The Confederacy dissolved after the defeat of the British and allied Iroquois nations in the American Revolutionary War.[4]



The Iroquois call themselves the "Haudenosaunee", which means "People of the Longhouse," or more accurately, "They Are Building a Long House." According to their tradition, The Great Peacemaker introduced the name at the time of the formation of the League. It implies that the nations of the League should live together as families in the same longhouse. Symbolically, the Mohawk were the guardians of the eastern door, as they were located in the east closest to the Hudson, and the Seneca were the guardians of the western door of the "tribal longhouse", the territory they controlled in New York. The Onondaga, whose homeland was in the center of Haudenosaunee territory, were keepers of the League's (both literal and figurative) central flame. The French colonists called the Haudenosaunee by the name of Iroquois.[7] The name had various possible origins, both learned by the French from tribes that were enemies of the Haudenosaunee:

  • French transliteration of irinakhoiw, a Huron (Wyandot) name for the Haudenosaunee. As the Hurons were traditional enemies, they used a derogatory term, meaning "black snakes" or "real adders". The Haudenosaunee and Huron were traditional enemies, as the Huron were allied with the French and tried to protect their access to fur traders.
  • French linguists, such as Henriette Walter, and anthropologists, such as Dean Snow, support the following explanation. Prior to French colonization, Basque fishermen traded with the Algonquins, who were enemies of the Haudenosaunee. The above scholars think "Iroquois" was derived from a Basque expression, hilokoa, meaning the "killer people". Because there is no "L" sound in the Algonquian languages of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence region, the Algonquian tribes used the name Hirokoa for the Haudenosaunee. They applied this to the pidgin language which they used with the Basque. The French transliterated the word according to their own phonetic rules and arrived at "Iroquois".[8]


Formation of the League

Members of the League speak Iroquoian languages that are distinctly different from those of other Iroquoian speakers. This suggests that while the different Iroquoian tribes had a common historical and cultural origin, they diverged as peoples over a sufficiently long time that their languages (and cultures) became different, and they distinguished themselves as different peoples. Archaeological evidence shows that Iroquois ancestors lived in the Finger Lakes region from at least 1000 AD.[9]

A traditional Iroquois longhouse.

After becoming united in the League, the Iroquois invaded the Ohio River Valley in present-day Kentucky to seek additional hunting grounds. According to one pre-contact theory, it was the Haudenosaunee who, by about 1200, had pushed tribes of the Ohio River valley, such as the Quapaw (Akansea) and Ofo (Mosopelea) out of the region in a migration west of the Mississippi River.[10] But, Robert La Salle listed the Mosopelea among the Ohio Valley peoples defeated by the Iroquois in the early 1670s, during the later Beaver Wars.[11] By 1673, the Siouan-speaking groups had settled in the Midwest, establishing what became known as their historical territories. Just as the Siouan peoples were displaced by the Iroquois, they displaced less powerful tribes whom they encountered, such as the Osage, who moved further west.[10]

The Iroquois League was established prior to major European contact. Most archaeologists and anthropologists believe that the League was formed sometime between about 1450 and 1600.[12][13] A few claims have been made for an earlier date; one recent study has argued that the League was formed in 1142, based on a solar eclipse in that year that seemed to fit one oral tradition.[14][15] Anthropologist Dean Snow argues that the archaeological evidence does not support a date earlier than 1450, and that recent claims for a much earlier date "may be for contemporary political purposes".[16]

According to tradition, the League was formed through the efforts of two men, Deganawida, sometimes known as the Great Peacemaker, and Hiawatha. They brought a message, known as the Great Law of Peace, to the squabbling Iroquoian nations. The nations who joined the League were the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawk. Once they ceased most of their infighting, the Iroquois rapidly became one of the strongest forces in 17th- and 18th-century northeastern North America.

According to legend, an evil Onondaga chieftain named Tadodaho was the last to be converted to the ways of peace by The Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha. He became the spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee.[17] This is said to have occurred at Onondaga Lake near Syracuse, New York. The title Tadodaho is still used for the league's spiritual leader, the fiftieth chief, who sits with the Onondaga in council. He is the only one of the fifty to have been chosen by the entire Haudenosaunee people. The current Tadodaho is Sid Hill of the Onondaga Nation.


In Reflections in Bullough's Pond, historian Diana Muir argues that the pre-contact Iroquois were an imperialist, expansionist culture whose use of the corn/beans/squash agricultural complex enabled them to support a large population that made war against Algonquian peoples. Muir uses archaeological data to argue that the Iroquois expansion onto Algonquian lands was checked by the Algonquian adoption of agriculture. This enabled them to support their own populations large enough to include sufficient warriors to defend against the threat of Iroquois conquest.[18]

The Iroquois may be the Kwedech described in the oral legends of the Mi'kmaq nation of Eastern Canada. These legends relate that the Mi'kmaq in the late pre-contact period had gradually driven their enemies – the Kwedech – westward across New Brunswick, and finally out of the Lower St. Lawrence River region. The Mi'kmaq named the last-conquered land "Gespedeg" or "lost land," leading to the French word Gaspé. The "Kwedech" are generally considered to have been Iroquois, specifically the Mohawk; their expulsion from Gaspé by the Mi'kmaq has been estimated as occurring ca. 1535-1600.[19]

Around 1535, Jacques Cartier reported Iroquoian-speaking groups on the Gaspé peninsula and along the St. Lawrence River. Archeologists and anthropologists have defined St. Lawrence Iroquoians as a distinct and separate group, living in the villages of Hochelaga and others nearby (near present-day Montreal), which had been visited by Cartier. By 1608, when Samuel de Champlain visited the area, that part of the St. Lawrence River valley had no settlements, but was controlled by the Mohawk as a hunting ground. On the Gaspé peninsula, he encountered Algonquian-speaking groups. The precise identity of any of these groups continues to be debated.

The Iroquois became well-known in the south by this time. After the first English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia (1607), numerous 17th-century accounts describe a powerful people known to the Powhatan Confederacy as the Massawomeck, and to the French as the Antouhonoron. They were said to come from the north, beyond the Susquehannock territory. Historians have often identified the Massawomeck / Antouhonoron as the Iroquois proper. Other Iroquoian candidates include the Erie, who were destroyed by the Iroquois in 1654 over competition for the fur trade.[20] Over the years 1670-1710, the Five Nations achieved political dominance of most of Virginia west of the fall line (extending to the Ohio River valley in present-day West Virginia). They reserved it as a hunting ground and continued to claim it until 1722, when they began selling land in the area to their British allies.[citation needed]

Beaver Wars

Map of the New York tribes before European arrival:
  Iroquoian tribes
  Algonquian tribes
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."[21] 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.[22]

Beginning in 1609, the League engaged in the Beaver Wars with the French and their Iroquoian-speaking Huron allies. They also put great pressure on the Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic coast and the boreal Canadian Shield region, and not infrequently fought the English colonies as well. During the 17th century, they were said to have exterminated the Neutral Nation.[23][24] and Erie Tribe to the west. The wars were a way to control the lucrative fur trade,[citation needed] although additional reasons are often given for these wars.

In 1628, the Mohawk defeated the Mahican to gain a monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch at Fort Orange, New Netherland. The Mohawk would not allow Canadian Indians to trade with the Dutch. In 1645, a tentative peace was forged between the Iroquois and the Hurons, Algonquins and French. In 1646, Jesuit missionaries at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons went as envoys to the Mohawk lands to protect the fragile peace of the time. Mohawk attitudes toward the peace soured while the Jesuits' were traveling and the party was attacked by Mohawk warriors en route. The missionaries were taken to the village of Ossernenon (Auriesville, N.Y.), where the moderate Turtle and Wolf clans recommended setting the priests free. Angered, members of the Bear clan killed Jean de Lalande and Isaac Jogues on October 18, 1646. The Catholic Church has commemorated the two French priests as among the eight North American Martyrs. In 1649 during the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois used recently purchased Dutch guns to attack the Hurons. From 1651 to 1652, the Iroquois attacked the Susquehannocks, without sustained success.

In the early 17th century, the Iroquois were at the height of their power, with a population of about 12,000 people.[25] In 1654, they invited the French to establish a trading and missionary settlement at Onondaga (in present-day New York state). The following year, the Mohawk attacked and expelled the French from the trading post, possibly because of the sudden death of 500 Indians from an epidemic of smallpox, a European infectious disease to which they had no immunity.

From 1658 to 1663, the Iroquois were at war with the Susquehannock and their Delaware and Province of Maryland allies. 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 the Carignan 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 Siouan 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 because

"it would be a shame for him to allow his children to be crushed, as they saw themselves to be... they not having the means of going to attack their fort, which was very strong, nor even of defending themselves if the others came to attack them in their villages."

[26] 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.[26] In 1677, the Iroquois adopted the majority of the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock into their nation.[27]

By 1677, the Iroquois formed an alliance with the English through an agreement known as the Covenant Chain. Together, they battled to a standstill the French, who were allied with the Huron. These Iroquoian people had been a traditional and historic foe of the Confederacy. The Iroquois colonized the northern shore of Lake Ontario and sent raiding parties westward all the way to Illinois Country. The tribes of Illinois were eventually defeated, not by the Iroquois, but rather by the Potawatomis. In 1684, the Iroquois invaded Virginia and Illinois territory again, and unsuccessfully attacked French outposts in the latter. Later that year, the Virginia Colony agreed at Albany to recognize the Iroquois' right to use the North-South path running east of the Blue Ridge (later the Old Carolina Road), provided they did not intrude on the English settlements east of the fall line.

In 1679, the Susquehannock, with Iroquois help, attacked Maryland's Piscataway and Mattawoman allies. Peace was not reached until 1685.

With support from the French, the Algonquian nations drove the Iroquois out of the territories north of Lake Erie and west of present-day Cleveland, regions which they had conquered during the Beaver Wars.[28]

In 1687, Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville, Governor of New France from 1685 to 1689, set out for Fort Frontenac with a well-organized force. There they met with the 50 hereditary sachems of the Iroquois Confederation from the Onondaga council fire, who came under a flag of truce. Denonville recaptured the fort for New France and seized, chained, and shipped the 50 Iroquois chiefs to Marseilles, France, to be used as galley slaves. He ravaged the land of the Seneca. The destruction of the Seneca land infuriated the Iroquois Confederacy.

Iroquois conquests 1638-1711

On August 4, 1689, they retaliated by burning to the ground Lachine, a small town adjacent to Montreal. Fifteen hundred Iroquois warriors had been harassing Montreal defenses for many months prior to that. They finally exhausted and defeated Denonville and his forces. His tenure was followed by the return of Frontenac, who succeeded Denonville as Governor for the next nine years (1689–1698). Frontenac had been arranging a new plan of attack to lessen the effects of the Iroquois in North America. Realizing the danger of holding the sachems, he located the 13 surviving leaders and returned with them to New France that October 1698.

During King William's War (North American part of the War of the Grand Alliance), the Iroquois were allied with the English. In July 1701, they concluded the "Nanfan Treaty", deeding the English a large tract north of the Ohio River. The Iroquois claimed to have conquered this territory 80 years earlier. France did not recognize the validity of the treaty, as it had the strongest presence of colonists within the area in question. Meanwhile, the Iroquois were negotiating peace with the French; together they signed the Great Peace of Montreal that same year.

French and Indian Wars

After the 1701 peace treaty with the French, the Iroquois remained mostly neutral even though during Queen Anne's War (North American part of the War of the Spanish Succession) they were involved in some planned attacks against the French. Peter Schuyler, mayor of Albany, arranged for three Mohawk chiefs and a Mahican chief (the Four Mohawk Kings) 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 court painter John Verelst. The portraits are believed to be some of the earliest surviving oil portraits of Aboriginal peoples taken from life.[29]

In the first quarter of the 18th century, the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora fled north from the pressure of British colonization of North Carolina and intertribal warfare. They petitioned to become the sixth nation of the Confederacy. This was a non-voting position but placed them under the protection of the Haudenosaunee.

In 1721 and 1722, Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia concluded a new Treaty at Albany with the Iroquois, renewing the Covenant Chain and agreeing to recognize the Blue Ridge as the demarcation between Virginia Colony and the Iroquois. But, as European settlers began to move beyond the Blue Ridge and into the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s, the Iroquois objected. Virginia officials told them that the demarcation was to prevent the Iroquois from trespassing east of the Blue Ridge, but it did not prevent English from expanding west of them. The Iroquois were on the verge of going to war with the Virginia Colony, when in 1743, Governor Gooch paid them the sum of 100 pounds sterling for any settled land in the Valley that was claimed by the Iroquois. The following year at the Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold Virginia all their remaining claims on the Shenandoah Valley for 200 pounds in gold.[30]

During the French and Indian War (North American part of the Seven Years' 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 (from Kahnawake) 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.

American Revolution

During the American Revolution, the Iroquois first tried to stay neutral. Pressed to join one side or the other, many 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 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.[31]

The Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, other war chiefs, and British allies conducted numerous operations against frontier settlements in the Mohawk Valley, destroying many villages and crops. The Continentals retaliated and in 1779, George Washington ordered the Sullivan Campaign, led by Col. Daniel Brodhead and 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 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 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. Brant's crossing of the river gave the original name to the area: Brant's ford. By 1847, European settlers began to settle nearby and named the village Brantford. The original Mohawk settlement was on the south edge of the present-day city at a location still favorable for launching and landing canoes. In the 1830s many of the Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora relocated into the Indian Territory, the Province of Upper Canada and Wisconsin.


Stone pipe (19th century engraving).

Melting pot

The Iroquois are a melting pot. League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through captives taken in the "Mourning War." Raids were conducted to take vengeance on enemies and to seize captives to replace lost compatriots. This tradition was common to native people of the northeast and was quite different from European settlers' notions of combat. The captives were generally adopted by families of the tribes to replace members who had died.

The Iroquois worked to incorporate conquered peoples and assimilate them as Iroquois, thus naturalizing them as full citizens of the tribe. 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.[32] They also adopted European captives, as did the Catholic Mohawk in settlements outside Montreal.


The Iroquois were a mix of farmers, fishers, gatherers and hunters, though their main diet came from farming. The main crops they farmed were corn, beans and squash, which were called the three sisters and were 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 Iroquois migrated.

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

The Iroquois hunted mostly deer but also other game such as wild turkey and migratory birds. Muskrat and beaver were hunted during the winter. Fishing was also a significant source of food because the Iroquois were located near a large river (St. Lawerence River). They fished salmon, trout, bass, perch and whitefish. In the spring the Iroquois netted, and in the winter fishing holes were made in the ice.[33]

Women in society

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.[34] The children of the marriage belonged to their mother's clan and gained their social status through hers. Her brothers were important teachers and mentors to the children, especially introducing boys to men's roles and societies. The clans were matrilineal, that is, clan ties were traced through the mother's line. If a couple separated, the woman kept the children.[35] The chief of a clan could 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.[35]

Spiritual beliefs

Spirits animated all of nature and controlled the changing of 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-Algonkin parents. Traditional religion was revived to some extent in the second half of the 18th century by the teachings of the Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake.[36]



The first five nations listed below formed the original Five Nations (listed from west to east); the Tuscarora became the sixth nation in 1720.

English name Iroquoian Meaning 17th/18th century location
Seneca Onondowahgah "People of the Great Hill" Seneca Lake and Genesee River
Cayuga Guyohkohnyoh "People of the Great Swamp" Cayuga Lake
Onondaga Onöñda'gega' "People of the Hills" Onondaga Lake
Oneida Onayotekaono "People of Standing Stone" Oneida Lake
Mohawk Kanien'kehá:ka "People of the Great Flint" Mohawk River
Tuscarora1 Ska-Ruh-Reh "Hemp Gatherers"[37] From North Carolina²

1 Not one of the original Five Nations; joined 1720.
2 Settled between Oneidas and Onondagas.

Iroquois Five Nations c. 1650 Iroquois Six Nations c. 1720


Within each of the six nations, people are divided into a number of matrilineal clans. The number of clans varies by nation, currently from three to eight, with a total of nine different clan names.

Current clans
Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Tuscarora Oneida Mohawk
Wolf (Hoñnat‘haiioñ'n‘) Wolf Wolf Wolf (Θkwarì•nę) Wolf (Thayú:ni) Wolf (Okwáho)
Bear (Hodidjioiñi’'g’) Bear Bear Bear (Uhčíhręˀ) Bear (Ohkwá:li) Bear (Ohkwá:ri)
Turtle (Hadiniǎ‘'děñ‘) Turtle Turtle Turtle (Ráˀkwihs) Turtle (A'no:wál) Turtle (A'nó:wara)
Sandpiper (Hodi'ne`si'iu') Sandpiper Sandpiper Sandpiper (Tawístawis)
Deer (Hadinioñ'gwaiiu') Deer Deer
Beaver (Hodigěn’'gegā’) Beaver Beaver (Rakinęhá•ha•ˀ)
Heron Heron
Hawk Hawk
Eel Eel (Akunęhukwatíha•ˀ)

Population history

The total number of Iroquois today is difficult to establish. About 45,000 Iroquois lived in Canada in 1995.[38] In the 2000 census, 80,822 people in the United States claimed Iroquois ethnicity, with 45,217 of them claiming only Iroquois background. Tribal registrations among the Six Nations in the United States in 1995 numbered about 30,000 in total.

Populations of the Haudenosaunee Members (Six Nations)
Location Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Tuscarora Oneida Mohawk Combined Totals
Ontario         &100000000000039700000003,970 &1000000000001405100000014,051 &1000000000001760300000017,6031 &1000000000003962400000039,624
Quebec           &100000000000096310000009,631   &100000000000096310000009,631
New York 7581 448 1596 1200 &100000000000011090000001,109 &100000000000056320000005,632   &1000000000001756600000017,566
Wisconsin         &1000000000001030900000010,309     &1000000000001030900000010,309
Oklahoma             &100000000000048920000004,8922 &100000000000048920000004,892
Totals 7581 448 1596 1200 &1000000000001533800000015,338 &1000000000002931400000029,314 &1000000000002249500000022,495 &1000000000008202200000082,022
Sources: Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission: Pocket Pictorial' (2010:33) & Iroquois Population in 1995 by Doug George-Kanentiio.
1 Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
2 Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

Prominent individuals


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

The Grand Council of the Iroquois League is an assembly of 50 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
  • 10 Cayuga
  •   9 Oneida
  •   9 Mohawk
  •   8 Seneca
  •   0 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 some scholars have since argued that while the Grand Council served an important ceremonial role, it was not a government in the sense that Morgan thought.[4][5][6] 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.[39] In revising Council laws and customs, a consent of two-thirds of the mothers was required.[39]

The women held real power, particularly the power to veto treaties or declarations of war.[39] 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.[39][40]

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.[39]

Influence on the United States

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.[41] The influence thesis has been discussed by historians such as Donald Grinde[42] and Bruce Johansen.[43] In 1988, the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognize the influence of the Iroquois League upon the Constitution and Bill of Rights.[44]

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.[45] 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".[46] The anthropologist Dean Snow stated that though Franklin's Albany Plan may have drawn some 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."[47]

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. He 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 some groups of Iroquois and white settlers realized the advantages of a confederation, but he 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’' 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.[48]

Tooker concludes, "...there is virtually no evidence that the framers borrowed from the Iroquois." He thinks the myth resulted from exaggerations and misunderstandings of a claim made by the Iroquois linguist and ethnographer J.N.B. Hewitt after his death in 1937.[48]


The Iroquois 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.[49]

More recently, passports have been issued since 1997.[50] Before 2001 these were accepted by various nations for international travel, but with increased security concerns across the world since the 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, this is no longer the case.[51] 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.[52][53]

The Onondaga Nation spent $1.5 million on a subsequent upgrade to passports designed to meet 21st century international security requirements.[54]

Modern communities

Iroquois in Buffalo, New York, 1914.

See also


  1. ^ Haudenosaunee is pronounced /hɔːdɛnəˈʃɔːniː/ in English, Akunęhsyę̀niˀ in Tuscarora (Rudes, B., Tuscarora English Dictionary, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), and Rotinonsionni in Mohawk.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee pg.135. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2000. ISBN 9780313308802. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  3. ^ "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  4. ^ a b c Richter, "Ordeals of the Longhouse", in Richter and Merrill, eds., Beyond the Covenant Chain, 11–12.
  5. ^ a b Fenton, Great Law and the Longhouse, 4–5.
  6. ^ a b Shannon, Iroquois Diplomacy, 72–73.
  7. ^ Peck, William (1908). History of Rochester and Monroe county, New York. p. 12. Retrieved 2009-04-04. 
  8. ^ Dean R. Snow (1994). The Iroquois. Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.. ISBN 9781557869388. Retrieved July 16, 2010. 
  9. ^ Jennings, p. 43.
  10. ^ a b Louis F. Burns, "Osage" Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  11. ^ Charles Augustus Hanna, The Wilderness Trail, New York: Putnam Brothers, 1911, p. 97.
  12. ^ Fenton, Great Law and the Longhouse, 69.
  13. ^ Shannon, Iroquois Diplomacy, 25.
  14. ^ Johansen, Bruce (1995). "Dating the Iroquois Confederacy". Akwesasne Notes New Series 1 (3): 62–63. Retrieved December 12, 2008. 
  15. ^ Johansen, Bruce Elliott; Mann, Barbara Alice (2000). "Ganondagan". Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105. ISBN 9780313308802. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  16. ^ Snow, The Iroquois, 231.
  17. ^ "The History of Onondage'ga' ", Onondaga Nation School.
  18. ^ Muir, Diana, Reflections in Bullough's Pond, University Press of New England.
  19. ^ Bernard G. Hoffman, 1955, Souriquois, Etechemin, and Kwedech - - A Lost Chapter in American Ethnography.
  20. ^ James F. Pendergast, 1991, The Massawomeck.
  21. ^ "From beads to banner". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  22. ^ "Haudenosaunee Flag". First Americans. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  23. ^ Reville, F. Douglas. The History of the County of Brant, p. 20.
  24. ^ "''Catholic Encyclopedia'', "The Hurons"". 1910-06-01. Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  25. ^ Francis Parkman[citation needed]
  26. ^ a b Jennings, p. 135.
  27. ^ Jennings, p. 160.
  28. ^ Jennings, p. 111.
  29. ^ "The Four Indian Kings". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  30. ^ Joseph Solomon Walton, 1900, Conrad Weiser and the Indian Policy of Colonial Pennsylvania, pp. 76-121.
  31. ^ Oneida Nation of New York Conveyance of Lands Into Trust pp. 3-159, Department of Indian Affairs.
  32. ^ Jennings, p. 95.
  33. ^ Bial, Raymond (1999). Lifeways: The Iroquois. New York: Benchmark Books. ISBN 0761408029. 
  34. ^ Benokraitis, Nijole V. (2011) Marriages & Families, 7th Edition. Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey, p. 58-59.
  35. ^ a b Wagner, Sally Roesch (1999). "Iroquois Women Inspire 19th Century Feminists". National NOW Times. National Organization for Women. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  36. ^ Wallace, Anthony (April 12, 1972). Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. Vintage. ISBN 978-0394716992. 
  37. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Iroquois". 1910-10-01. Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  38. ^ "Canadian Iroqois population 1995". Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  39. ^ a b c d e Wagner, Sally Roesch (1993). "The Iroquois Influence on Women's Rights". In Sakolsky, Ron; Koehnline, James. Gone To Croatan: Origins of North American Dropout Culture. Brooklyn, New York: Autonomedia. pp. 240–247. ISBN 0936756926. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  40. ^ Eldridge, Larry D. (1997). Women and freedom in early America. New York: New York University Press. pp. 15. ISBN 0-8147-2198-2. 
  41. ^ Armstrong, VI (1971). I Have Spoken: American History Through the Voices of the Indians. Swallow Press. p. 14. ISBN 0804005303. 
  42. ^ Grindle, D (1992). "Iroquois political theory and the roots of American democracy". In Lyons O. Exiled in the land of the free: democracy, Indian nations, and the U. S. Constitution. Santa Fe, N.M: Clear Light Publishers. ISBN 0-940666-15-4. 
  43. ^ Johansen, Bruce E.; Grinde, Donald A. (1991). Exemplar of liberty: native America and the evolution of democracy. [Los Angeles]: American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles. ISBN 0-935626-35-2. 
  44. ^ "H. Con. Res. 331, October 21, 1988". United States Senate. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  45. ^ Rakove, J (2005-11-07). "Did the Founding Fathers Really Get Many of Their Ideas of Liberty from the Iroquois?". George Mason University. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  46. ^ Jennings F (1988). Empire of fortune: crown, colonies, and tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: Norton. pp. 259n15. ISBN 0-393-30640-2. 
  47. ^ Snow DR (1996). The Iroquois (The Peoples of America Series). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. pp. 154. ISBN 1-55786-938-3. 
  48. ^ a b Tooker E (1990). "The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League". In Clifton JA. The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers. pp. 107–128. ISBN 1-56000-745-1. 
  49. ^ "Indian Country Today Media". Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  50. ^ The Economist, July 24, 2010.
  51. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (2010-07-15). "Iroquois lacrosse team cleared to travel by America – then blocked by Britain". The Guardian. 
  52. ^ Samantha, Gross (July 14, 2010). "UK won't let Iroquois lacrosse team go to tourney". Yahoo News. Associated Press. 
  53. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (July 16, 2010). "Iroquois Defeated by Passport Dispute". New York Times. 
  54. ^ "Iroquois spend $1.5 million to upgrade passports : News". 2010-07-19. Retrieved 2011-02-27. 

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Iroquois — • A noted confederacy of five, and afterwards six, cognate tribes of Iroquoian stock, and closely cognate languages, formerly occupying central New York, and claiming right of conquest over nearly all the tribes from Hudson Bay to Tennessee River …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • iroquois — iroquois, oise [ irɔkwa, waz ] adj. et n. • 1605 Irocois; déform. d un mot algonquin « vraies vipères » 1 ♦ Qui appartient à une peuplade indienne de l Amérique du Nord, vivant près des Grands Lacs. N. Un Iroquois. L iroquois : famille de langues …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Iroquois — ist die französische und englische Bezeichnung für einen Völkerbund nordamerikanischer Ureinwohner; siehe Irokesen die Sprachen dieses Völkerbundes; siehe Irokesische Sprachen Weiterhin bezeichnet Iroquois den leichten US Mehrzweckhubschrauber… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • iroquois — iroquois, oise (i ro koî, koî z ) s. m. et f. 1°   Nom d une peuplade sauvage de l Amérique du nord. 2°   Fig. et familièrement. Celui, celle dont la conduite ou les paroles sont peu conformes au bon sens ou au bon usage. C est un Iroquois. Quel… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • Iroquois — Iroquois, IL U.S. village in Illinois Population (2000): 207 Housing Units (2000): 94 Land area (2000): 0.598121 sq. miles (1.549127 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.598121 sq. miles (1.549127… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Iroquois — [ir′ə kwoi΄] n. [Fr, prob. < an Algonquian language ] 1. pl. Iroquois [ir′əkwoi΄, ir′əkwoiz΄] a member of a confederation of Iroquoian Indian peoples that lived in upstate New York and included the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Mohawks …   English World dictionary

  • Iroquois, IL — U.S. village in Illinois Population (2000): 207 Housing Units (2000): 94 Land area (2000): 0.598121 sq. miles (1.549127 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.598121 sq. miles (1.549127 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Iroquois, SD — U.S. city in South Dakota Population (2000): 278 Housing Units (2000): 121 Land area (2000): 0.533636 sq. miles (1.382111 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.533636 sq. miles (1.382111 sq. km) FIPS …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Iroquois — Ir o*quois , n. sing. & pl. [F.] (Ethnol.) A powerful and warlike confederacy of Indian tribes, formerly inhabiting Central New York and constituting most of the Five Nations. Also, any Indian of the Iroquois tribes. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Iroquois — (spr. Eirokiehs), 1) Grafschaft im Staate Illinois (Nordamerika); 68 QM., von den Kankakee u. Iroquois Rivers durchflossen; große Prairien; Producte: Mais, Weizen, Hafer; die Chicago Zweigbahn der Illinois Central Eisenbahn durchschneidet die… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Iroquois — (franz., spr. kŭá; Engländer und Amerikaner sprechen; irre kwēū), Volk, s. Irokesen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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