Mohawk nation

Mohawk nation

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Mohawk

population = 78,000+
region1 = flagcountry|Canada (Quebec, Ontario)
pop1 = 30,000
ref1 =
region2 = flagcountry|United States (New York)
pop2 = 20,000
ref2 =
religions = Kai'hwi'io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Christianity, Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Other Indigenous Religion
languages = English, Kanien'keha'ka, Other Iroquoian Dialects
related = Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, Cayuga Nation, Onondaga Nation, Tuscarora Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

Mohawk (Kanienkeh, Kanienkehaka or Kanien’Kahake, meaning "People of the Flint") are an indigenous people of North America originally from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York to southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their current settlements include areas around Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River in Canada. Their traditional homeland stretched southward of the Mohawk River, eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont, westward to the border with the Oneida Nation traditional homeland territory, and northward to the St Lawrence River. As original members of the Iroquois League, or "Haudenosaunee", the Mohawk were known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door", who guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction. (It was from the westward direction that European settlers first appeared, sailing up the Hudson River to found and inhabit Albany, New York, in the early 17th century.)

Origins of name

The name of the Mohawk people in the Mohawk language is "Kanien'kehá:ka", and alternately attributed various spellings by early French-settler and ethnographers including one such spelling as, "Canyenkehaka". There are various theories as to why the Mohawk were called the "Mohawk" by Europeans, but the most widely accepted is that the name is from the word for "man-eater" in some Algonquian language (e.g., Narraganset "Mohowawog") meaning those who eat meat. [Campbell, Lyle (1997). "American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America". Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 401] [cite web |url= |title=Mohawk | |accessdate=2007-07-29]

The Dutch referred to the Mohawk as Hawks, or Egils, or Maquasen, or Maquas. To the French they were Agniers, Maquis, or simply Iroquois.

To the Mohawk themselves, they are "Kanien'kehá:ka" and "People of the Flint". The use of People of the Flint is associated with their origins in the Mohawk Valley, and their original homeland in New York. There, the Indians used flint deposits to tip Mohawk arrows, and for toolmaking.


Very little history of the Mohawk peoples exists from pre-contact days, due to massive cultural changes that occured after European contact.

First contact with European settlers

In 1614, the Dutch opened a trading post at Fort Nassau, New Netherland near present day Albany, New York. The Dutch initially traded for furs with the local Mahicans. In 1628, the Mohawks defeated the Mahicans who then retreated to Connecticut. The Mohawks gained a near monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by not allowing Canadian Indians and other tribes to trade with the Dutch. They also established trading posts at Schenectady and Schoharie further west in the Mohawk Valley.

The Mohawks and the Dutch became allies. Relations were peaceful even during the periods of Kieft's War and the Esopus Wars. Their Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawks to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwes, Huron-Wendats, and Algonquins. The Mohawks made peace with the French in 1645.

During the Pequot War, alliance with the Mohawks was sought by the Algonquian Indians of New England, but they refused and killed the fleeing Pequot sachem Sassacus. In the winter of 1651 the Mohawks attacked to the south and overwhelmed the Atrakwaeronons and took between five and six hundred captives. In 1664, the Pocumtuck of New England killed a Mohawk ambassador, starting a war which resulted in the destruction of the Pocumtuck. The Mohawks also attacked other members of the Pocumtuck confederacy, including the Pennacook, Abnakis, Squakhead, and Sokokis in a war which did not end until 1671.

In 1666, the French attacked the Mohawks and burned all the Mohawk villages and their food supply. One of the conditions of the peace was that the Mohawks accept Jesuit missionaries. Beginning in 1669, the missionaries convinced some Mohawks to relocate to two reservations near Montreal. These Mohawks became known as Caughnawagas and they became allies of the French.

After the fall of New Netherland to the English, the Mohawks in New York became allies of the Kingdom of England. In 1675 during King Philip's War, Metacom sachem of the warring Pokanoket decided to winter with his warriors near Albany. With the encouragement of the English, the Mohawks attacked and killed all but forty out of four hundred Pokanokets. From the 1690s, the Mohawks underwent a period of Christianization acculturation, during which many were baptized with English surnames while others were given complete English names.

During the era of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War), Anglo-Mohawk partnership relations were maintained by men such as Sir William Johnson (for the British Crown), Conrad Weiser (on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania), and King Hendrick (for the Mohawks). The Albany Congress of 1754 was called in part to repair the damaged diplomatic relationship between the British and Mohawks.

American Revolutionary War

During the second and third quarters of the 18th century, most of the Mohawks in the Province of New York lived along the Mohawk River at Canajoharie, a few lived at Schoharie, while the rest lived about 30 miles downstream at the Ticonderoga Castle also called Fort Hunter. The two settlements were traditionally called the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle. The Lower Castle was almost contiguous with Sir Peter Warren's Warrensbush. Sir William Johnson built his first house on the north bank of the Mohawk River almost opposite Warrensbush.

Because of unsettled conflicts with settlers encroaching into the Mohawk Valley and outstanding treaty obligations to the British Crown, the Mohawks fought against the United States during the American Revolutionary War. With the defeat of the British, most of the Mohawks at the Upper Castle fled to Fort Niagara, while most of those at the Lower Castle fled to Montreal. A few, such as the sachem Little Abraham at Fort Hunter, remained neutral throughout the war. During this war, Johannes Tekarihoga was the leader of the Mohawks. Johannes Tekarihoga died about 1780. Catherine Crogan, wife of Joseph Brant, named her brother Henry Crogan as the new Tekarihoga.

After War Years

After the American victory in the war, one prominent Mohawk war chief, Joseph Brant, led a large group of Iroquois out of New York to a new homeland at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. Another Mohawk war chief John Deseronto lead another group of Mohawks to a new homeland on the Bay of Quinte. One large group of Mohawks settled in the vicinity of Montreal, Quebec. From this group descend the Mohawks of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake. One of the most famous Catholic Mohawks was Kateri, who was later beatified.

On November 11, 1794, representatives of the Mohawks (along with the other Iroquois nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States.

Mohawks fought against the United States in the War of 1812. The Mohawk Nation, as part of the Iroquois Confederacy, was recognised for some time by the French government. The Confederacy was a participant in the Congress of Vienna, having been allied with the French during the War of 1812, which was viewed by the French as part of the Napoleonic Wars. However, in 1842 the Confederacy's legal status was overlooked in Lord Durham's report on the reform and organization of the Canadas.


Members of the Mohawk tribe now live in settlements spread throughout New York State and southeastern Canada. Among these are Ganienkeh and Kanatsiohareke in northeast New York, Akwesasne (St. Regis) along the Ontario-New York border, Kanesatake (Oka) and Kahnawake in southern Quebec, and Tyendinaga and Wahta (Gibson) in southern Ontario. Mohawks also form the majority on the mixed Iroquois reserve, Six Nations of the Grand River, in Ontario. There are also Mohawk Orange Lodges in Canada.

Many Mohawk communities have two sets of chiefs, who rule in unison and are in some sense competing governmental rivals. One group are the hereditary chiefs nominated by clan matriarchs in the traditional Mohawk fashion; the other is the elected chief and councilors with whom the Canadian and U.S. governments usually prefer to deal exclusively. Since the 1980s, Mohawk politics have been driven by factional disputes over gambling, land claims, traditional government jurisdiction, taxation, and the Indian Act.

Both the elected chiefs and the controversial Warrior Society have encouraged gaming as a means of ensuring tribal self-sufficiency on the various reserves or Indian reservations. Traditional chiefs have tended to oppose gaming on moral grounds and out of fear of corruption and organized crime. Such disputes have also been associated with religious divisions: the traditional chiefs are often associated with the Longhouse tradition, practicing consensus-democratic values, while the Warrior Society has attacked that religion and asserted independence. Meanwhile, the elected chiefs have tended to be associated (though in a much looser and general way) with democratic, legislative and Canadian governmental values.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the Government of Canada imposed English schooling and separated families to place children in English boarding schools. Like other tribes, Mohawks have fluctuated in their native language fluency. Many have left the reserve to join the English Canadian culture, and to work in a greater variety of occupations.

Residential Schools

The 'Mohawk Institute' or Residential School, also called the mush hole, was opened in 1850 by missionaries and the church and was funded by the Canadian Government. The school was meant to acculturate Mohawk children of all ages, to teach them the English language, culture, and education. The school was conducted in malice and travesty methods, and many abuse issues came to light including Mohawk children being punished for speaking Mohawk language to one another.

The Mohawk children were taken by the school with the school officials acting in Parens Partriae, and In Loco Parentis often with the youth being expropriated from their reservations. Few incidences involved emancipated minors.Mohawk children of other regions were taken to residential schools in those regions, as well as other native children.

According to another source, a First Nation's historian, Geronimo Henry defines in his "Mohawk Institute" literature that:

"The Mohawk Institute was established in 1831 by the New England Co, a Protestant missionary society based in Britain, to convert and civilize the "wild" native. The school was later run by the Anglican Church and controlled by the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. It wasn't until the latter part of the 1800s that Ottawa took a leading role in the "education" of native children and made residential schools part of government policy".


On October 15, 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo entered into the "Tribal-State Compact Between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the State of New York." The compact allowed the Tribe to conduct gambling, including games such as baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette, on the Akwesasne Reservation in Franklin County under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

According to the terms of the 1993 compact, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the New York State Police and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Gaming Commission were vested with gaming oversight. Law enforcement responsibilities fell under the cognizance of the state police, with some law enforcement matters left to the tribe. As required by IGRA, the compact was approved by the United States Department of the Interior before it took effect. There were several extensions and amendments to this compact, but not all of them were approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On June 12, 2003, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' rulings that Governor Cuomo exceeded his authority by entering into the compact absent legislative authorization and declared the compact void [] . On October 19, 2004, Governor George Pataki signed a bill passed by the State Legislature that ratified the compact as being "Nunc Pro Tunc", with some additional minor changes. [see C. 590 of the Laws of 2004]

The Mohawk Nation is currently in pursuit of obtaining approval to own and operate a casino in Sullivan County, New York at Monticello Raceway. The U.S. Department of the Interior has until recently approved of this action and even after obtaining Governor Eliot Spitzer's concurrence subject to the negotiation and approval of either an amendment to the current compact or a new compact has rejected their application to take the land in to trust [] .

There are currently two pending. The State of New York has expressed similar objections in its responses to take land into trust for other Indian nations and tribes; [] . The other contends that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act violates the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as it is applied in the State of New York and is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York [] .

Traditional Mohawk dress

The Mohawks, like many indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes region, sometimes wore a hair style in which all their hair would be cut off except for a narrow strip down the middle of the scalp from the forehead to the nape, that was approximately three finger widths across.Fact|date=September 2008 This style was only used by warriors going off to war. The Mohawks saw their hair as a connection to the Creator, and therefore grew it long. But when they went to war, they cut all or some of it off, leaving that narrow strip.The women wore their hair long often with traditional Bear Grease or tied back into a single braid. Their heads were often not covered by a covering or hat, often wearing nothing on their heads in winter.

Traditional dress styles of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk peoples consisted of women going topless in summer with a skirt of deerskin. In colder seasons, women wore a full woodland deerskin dress, leather tied underwear, long fashioned hair or a braid and Bear Grease. There was otherwise nothing on their head, except several ear piercings adorned by shell earrings, shell necklaces, and also puckered seam ankle wrap moccasins.

The women also used a layer of smoked and curated peat moss as an insulation absorbency for menses, as well as simple scraps of leather were used. Later menses use consisted of cotton linen pieces where pilgrim settlers and missionaries provided trade and introduced of such items.

The traditional dress styles of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk men consisted solely of a breech cloth of deerskin in summer, deerskin leggings and a full piece deerskin shirt in winter, several shell strand earrings, shell necklaces, long fashioned hair or a three finger width forehead-to-nape hair row which stood approximately three inches from the head and puckered seamed wrap ankle moccasins.

The men would also carry a quill and flint arrow hunting bag as well as arm and knee bands.

During the summer, traditional dress styles of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk children consisted of nothing up to the ages of thirteen, the time before they were ready for their warrior or woman passages or rites. Fact|date=December 2007

Later dress after European contact combined some cloth pieces such as the males ribbon shirt in addition to the place of the deerskin clothing, and wool trousers and skirts. For a time many Mohawk peoples incorporated a combination of the older styles of dress with newly introduced forms of clothing.

According to author Kanatiiosh in "Hodenasaunee Clothing and & Other Cultural Items" Mohawk as a part of the Hodenasaunee Confederacy:"Traditionally used furs obtained from the woodland, which consisted of elk and deer hides, corn husks, and they also wove plant and tree fibers to produce [the] clothing".

Later Sinew or animal gut was cleaned and prepared as a thread for garments and footwear and was threaded to porcupine quills or sharp leg bones, in order to sew or pierce eyeholes for threading.

Clothing dyes were obtained of various sources such as berries, tree barks, flowers, grasses, water and from smoke, and curated urine was sometimes used to extract difficult dyes because of its acidic tendencies. Fact|date=December 2007

Generally a village of Mohawk people wore the same design of clothing applicable to their gender, with individualized color and artwork designs incorporated onto the clothing and moccasins.Durable clothing that was held by older village people and adults was handed down to others in their family sometimes as gifts, honours, or because of outgrowth.Mohawk clothing was sometimes reminiscent of designs from trade with neighbouring First Nation tribes, and was more closely in resemblance to that of other Six Nations confederacy nations however much originality applicable to the Mohawk nation peoples style of dress was often kept as the foundation of the style they wore.


Replicas of seventeenth-century longhouses have been built at landmarks and tourist villages, such as Kanata Village Brantford, Ontario and Awkwasasne's "Tsiionhiakwatha" interpretation village in Quebec, Ontario. Other Mohawk Nation Longhouses are found on the Mohawk territory reserves that hold the Mohawk law recitations, ceremonial rites, and the Mohawk and Handsome Lake religion. These include:
* [ Six Nations] First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
* [ Wahta] First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
* [ Tyendinaga] First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
* [ Awkwasasne] First Nation Territory, Quebec holds two Mohawk Ceremonial Community Longhouses.
* Kanesatake First Nation Territory, Quebec holds two Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouses.
* [ Kahnawahke] First Nation Territory, Quebec holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
* Kanienkeh First Nation Territory, New York State holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
* [ Kanatsioharake] First Nation Territory, New York State holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.

Mohawk communities today

These are grouped by broad geographical cluster, with notes on the character of community governance found in each.
* inland New York:
** Ganienkeh. Warrior Society.
** Kanatsiohareke. Traditional chiefs.
* along the St Lawrence:
** Akwesasne/St.Regis. Traditional chiefs, elected chiefs on US side, elected chiefs on Canadian side. The Warrior society is also active.
** Kanesatake/Oka
** Kahnawake. Elected chiefs, traditional chiefs, Warrior Society.
* southern Ontario:
** Tyendinaga. Elected chiefs.
** Wahta/Gibson in southern Ontario. Elected chiefs, (traditional chiefs?).
** Six Nations of the Grand River. Elected chiefs, traditional chiefs.
*** Bay of Quinte Mohawk
*** Upper Mohawk
*** Lower Mohawk
*** Walker Mohawk

Mohawk skyscraper builders

It's often said New York City has a large Mohawk Indian community, an estimate of 50,000 in the diverse city of 8 million people. The community was founded by the arrival of hired skyscraper construction workers of Mohawk and other Iroquois origin since the 1930s but ceased by the 1970s on special labor contracts to build the Empire State Building and other major skyscrapers. The construction companies felt the Mohawks are "well-skilled", didn't fear heights and brave to work in daring conditions, but the contracts offered lower than average wages and limited labor union membership. Fact|date=July 2008


Mohawk Nation wedding ceremonies are conducted by a chief, since the chief holds the sanction to perform the greatest rituals before the Creator. In a marriage, the couple vow their commitment before the Creator. The marrying man and woman then unite in a lifelong relationship, and there is not any custom for divorce. This is not held as a punishment, however; the Mohawk Nation people are a matrilineal society and hold marriage as a great commitment which should be nurtured and respected. Much respect is given to the woman by her husband because the woman is the head of the household.

The traditional marriage ceremony included a day of celebration for the man and woman, a formal oration by the chief of the woman's nation and clan, community dancing and feast, and gifts of respect and honour by community members. Traditionally these gifts were practical which the couple would use in their everyday religious and working lives.

For clothing the man and woman wore white rabbit leathers and furs with personal adornments, usually made by their families, to stand apart from the rest of the community's traditional style of dress during the ceremony. The "Rabbit Dance Song" and other social dance songs were sung by the men, where they used gourd rattles and later cow-horn rattles. In the "Water Drum", other well-wishing couples participated in the dance with the couple. The meal would commence after the ceremony and everyone who participated would eat.

Today the marriage ceremony may follow that of the old tradition or incorporate newer elements, but it is still used by many Mohawk Nation marrying couples. In addition, there are couples who have chosen to marry in the European manner, as well as in the Longhouse manner, with the Longhouse ceremony usually being held first. [Anne Marie Shimony, "Conservatism among the Iroquois at Six Nations Reserve", 1961]

The Canadian and U.S. government however, do not consider the Mohawk MarriageCeremony to be legal and will not certify a marriage license based upon a marriage by a chief. If the ceremony takes place in a chapel conducted by a Justice of the Peace, it can be recognized by the state.Fact|Jun 2008 - sounds dated|date=July 2008

Notable Mohawks

*Joseph Brant
*Molly Brant
*John Deseronto
*Pauline Johnson, writer
*August Schellenberg, actor
*Jay Silverheels, actor
*Billy Two Rivers, professional athlete
*Michael Martelle, professional athlete
*Alan Hagedon
*Taiaiake Alfred, professor of Indigenous Governance, activist
*Robbie Robertson, guitarist
*Sid Jamieson, college lacrosse

ee also

* Oka Crisis
* Iroquois Confederacy
* The Kahnawake Iroquois and the Rebellions of 1837-38
* Mohawk language
* African Americans with Native Heritage
* Native American tribe
* Native Americans in the United States
* One-Drop Rule
* The Flying Head


* [ Mohawk skyscraper builders and construction workers in New York City] .


*cite book |title=The Iroquois |last=Snow |first=Dean R. |coauthors= |year=1994 |publisher=Blackwell Publishers |location=Boston |isbn=1-557-86938-3

External links

* [ Mohawk Creation Story]
* [ "Tsiionhiakwatha archaeological site and interpretation centre".]
* [ "Mohawk Institute", Geronimo Henry]
* [ Hodenasaunee Clothing and other Cultural Items]
* [ The Wampum Chronicles: Mohawk Territory on the Internet] , a website dedicated to Mohawk history, culture, and current events
* [ Iroquois Book of Rites]


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