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The five nations of the Iroquois, tribal area around 1650

The Iroquois (French Iroquois ), their own name Haudenosaunee ("People of the Long House "), English often called Six Nations ("Six Nations"), are North American Indians who belong to a common language family. The Iroquois language groups inhabited a contiguous area around Lake Ontario , Lake Huron and Lake Erie in what is now New York and Pennsylvania as well as parts of Alabama and Georgia ( USA ) and southern Ontarioand Québec ( Canada ). Five, later six, Iroquois tribes were members of the Iroquois Confederation or Iroquois League . In common parlance, these tribes are called the Iroquois: Cayuga , Mohawk , Oneida , Onondaga , Seneca, and Tuscarora .


Iroquois in Buffalo , New York in 1914

The name Iroquois probably comes from their enemies, the Algonquin . They called them Irinakhoiw or Iroqu for short ("rattlesnakes"). With the French suffix ois , the name Iroquois , which is commonly used in the French and English languages, originated in German Iroquois.

The proper name Haudenosaunee for the Iroquois Confederation means "people of the long house". It is said that the Great Peacemaker Hiawatha introduced the name at the time of the unification of the Iroquois League of Nations. It implies that the League's nations should live together like families in the same longhouses . The Seneca were the guardians of the western door of the symbolic tribal longhouse measuring around three hundred kilometers, accordingly the Mohawk acted as guardians of the eastern door.

residential area

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Iroquois lived in an area that lay in the north of what is now the US state of New York and stretched between the Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls . Through campaigns of conquest and emigration, they expanded their domain over the entire northeastern part of today's United States and eastern Canada . Around 1680, the territory they controlled stretched from the north coast of Chesapeake Bay west across Kentucky to the mouth of the Ohio and the Mississippi . To the north, the border ran along the Illinois River to the southern end of Lake Michigan and from there eastward over what is now lower Michigan , southern Ontario and the adjacent areas of southwestern Québec . From here south through New England , the Hudson Valley and the Upper Delaware River across Pennsylvania to the starting point. Within the hundred years or so until the American War of Independence , the Iroquois were forced to retreat to their original settlement area due to wars against the Algonquin tribes allied with the French and the conquest of the British colonists. The Iroquois decision to side with the British in the War of Independence was a grave mistake. The Americans invaded the Iroquois settlement areas in 1779 and drove the residents to southern Ontario. Large Iroquois settlements emerged along the upper St. Lawrence River . Almost half of the Iroquois population lived in Canada. The majority of the displaced were members of the Mohawk and numerous members of other tribes. Most of the Iroquois reserves are now in southern Ontario and Québec.


Admission of the Tuscarora as the sixth member in the league around 1722

Given their importance in North American history, there were relatively few Iroquois around 1600 with around 20,000 tribal members. The spatial distance of their residential area from the coast largely protected them from the first diseases introduced by Europeans. They reached this around 1650 and let their population shrink to about half (except for the Seneca). Another cause of the population decline were losses from the permanent wars against their neighbors. In contrast to other tribes, the population of the Iroquois increased again in the course of the 17th century and reached its maximum around 1660 with around 25,000. The reason was the widespread adoption of defeated Iroquois-speaking opponents, including at least 7,000 Hurons and an equal total of the same number from other hostile tribes such as the Neutral , Susquehannock , Tionontati and Erie . Over time, the Iroquois became a minority in their own confederation, which was not without problems. in the

However, this mass adoption was not extended to other non-Iroquois-speaking tribes, so that the population of the Iroquois fell again. In 1722, 1500 Tuscarora became the sixth member of the alliance, but the total number of Iroquois in 1768 had dropped to 12,000. At the end of the War of Independence in 1783 there were fewer than 8,000 Iroquois. From then on there was a slow recovery of the population, among other things a consequence of the newly awakened national pride of the indigenous peoples to acknowledge their origin. The census of 1940 showed 17,000 people of Iroquois descent in the State of New York and Canada. Today around 70,000 Iroquois are counted living in twenty settlements and eight reservations in New York, Wisconsin , Oklahoma , Ontario and Quebec.

Today's population:

nation population language speaker proportion of
Cayuga 10,000 Goyogo̱hó: nǫ ' 62 0.62%
Mohawk 35,000 Kanien'keha 3,433 9.81%
Oneida 14,000 Onʌyota'a: ka 160 1.14%
Onondaga 1,200 Onǫda'géga ' 17th 1.42%
Seneca 15,000 Onödowá'ga: ' 25th 0.17%
Tuscarora 1,000 Skarù ∙ rę ' 12 1.20%
all Iroquois 76,200 Rotinonhsón: ni (without tsalagi ) 3,709 4.86%

Culture in the 17th century

The cultural differences between the Iroquois-speaking groups were small: all had matrilineal social structures, the women owned all the family property and determined relatives. The women ordered the fields under the supervision of a so-called clan mother ( English clan mother ). In autumn the men went hunting in the woods and did not return to the villages until mid-winter. The men were also responsible for fishing in the spring, while others built houses and cleared fields. However, the Iroquois men saw their main task in warfare . Torture of captive enemies and ritual cannibalism were among the dreaded Iroquois customs, but these were also common among several other tribes in Northeast America. This also included regular sacrifices by albino dogs.

The political system of the Iroquois Federation was unique in all of North America and made them the most powerful group in the first 200 years of colonial history. Strangely enough, their total number was never very large, and the enemies they defeated were often twice the majority. Since the Iroquois League was founded before the first contact with whites, the alliance was not subject to any European influence.


The Iroquois-speaking tribes were semi-settled , farming and mainly growing corn, pumpkin, beans and tobacco. For example, there were seventeen different types of corn, seven types of pumpkin and sixty different types of beans. Later they also cultivated fruits, preferably apples and peaches. The fields were outside the villages and were tilled by women. In addition, they collected numerous wild fruits, nuts, mushrooms and edible roots and tree bark. Salt was hardly used, but maple syrup was very popular for sweetening dishes. Meat from wild animals played a subordinate role for the Iroquois in their diet. The importance of agriculture for the Iroquois was expressed in six annual festivals, which culminated with prayers of thanks for the harvest. This included, among others, the Green Corn Festival (Engl. Green Corn Ceremony ).


A traditional longhouse of the Iroquois

They partially surrounded their villages with palisades and lived in long houses that housed several families. The longhouses they called Ganonh'sees . They consisted of a rectangular pole frame around twenty meters long and six meters wide and six meters high. The flexible bars were bent at the top and tied together. Large pieces of bark from elm, cedar and other suitable trees served as cover and were placed in an overlapping manner and fastened with bast. Building houses and clearing the fields was men's work, but the houses were considered women's property. A longhouse could accommodate five to twenty families, depending on its size. There was a door at each end, from which a two to three meter wide corridor ran the length of the house. There were platforms about fifty centimeters high on either side of the corridor, which were used for sitting and sleeping. About two meters above there was a second platform that served as storage space or as additional sleeping space. In addition, there were family compartments around three meters wide in the nave, which stretched over both sides of the aisle. Two families each shared a fireplace, the smoke from which could escape through the opening in the roof above. When it rained, the hole in the roof could be covered with a piece of bark.

Social and political organization

The smallest economically autonomous unit was the family. Several families lived in one longhouse and several longhouses formed a clan , which was referred to by an animal name. So there were among others the bear, beaver, wolf, turtle and deer clan, which were assigned to a phratry (clan association). The individual tribes of the Iroquois consisted of two phratries, a kinship group that consisted of several clans and traced their association to a common, mythical ancestor. The female and male clan heads formed the tribal council. The Iroquois Grand Council , which consisted of fifty sachems whose titles were hereditary, was superordinate to the tribal council . The organization was described in a constitution based on 114 wampums . Each tribe in the alliance had a fixed number of representatives in the Federal Council: Onondaga 14, Cayuga 10, Oneida 9, Mohawk 9 and Seneca 8. The Tuscarora had no representative. The Federal Council made decisions that affected the entire confederation. He was not allowed to interfere in internal tribal problems. Only unanimous resolutions could be passed. At the council meetings, members wore deer antlers on their heads. The Federal Council always met in Onondaga. On one side of the fire sat the Mohawk and Seneca, opposite them sat the Cayuga and Oneida, while the Onondaga sat between them as keepers of the great council fire and as arbiter. In the event of a tie, the Onondaga could make a binding decision.

Matrilineal kinship system

The Iroquois society was matrilineal. The head of a family was always a woman and the children belonged to the maternal line. The longhouse, the soil and the harvest were the property of the woman. After the marriage, the man moved into his wife's longhouse and the children became members of their clan . Inheritance law favored the daughter or the next female member of the family. An older woman was also in charge of a long house. This also applied to the clan, whose leading wife was assisted by a male chief elected by women . All important people were elected by women and could be deposed by them if they were not up to the task. No war could be waged without the consent of the women and a mother could forbid her son to participate in the campaign.

Weapons and warfare

An early 19th century pipe tomahawk

Before contact with Europeans and in the early colonial times, a stone ax and a ball-headed club were among the most important weapons of the Iroquois. The club, about six feet long, was made of ironwood. The sphere was twelve to sixteen centimeters in diameter and was decorated with carved images of animals. The ball-headed club was later replaced by a pipe tomahawk and the bow and arrow were replaced by a rifle.

The reason for armed conflict was the separation of gentes with disputes over hunting grounds or land in an overall less fertile region with harsh living conditions and high female and child mortality, and since 1740 also the increasing European settlement pressure from the European colonizers. All this led to the establishment of a warlike culture, which was always about the proof of courage and bravery, which had to be provided by the capture of scalp trophies , marriageable women or prisoners for the torture stake . But women also had a strong motive to replace fallen warriors by adopting prisoners of war (so-called wars of mourning). Before the campaign, after a council resolution, a festival was celebrated that was prepared by women. The festival included chants and dances by the young men who mocked the enemy with victorious gestures. They danced from one end of the longhouse to the other. Often the Seneca were besieged and attacked by the Hurons, who lived closest to where they lived. The war campaigns took place mainly in summer, when the dense foliage in the forests offered sufficient cover. Samuel de Champlain reported in 1616 that such undertakings had the character of an "organized sporting event". The warriors traveled leisurely to enemy territory while hunting and fishing along the way. After they had crossed Lake Ontario in a southerly direction by canoe , they split into several groups and reached the enemy village undetected. Often women and children were abducted before the siege began. Usually the attackers retreated to prepared hiding places as soon as they suffered some losses. Open field battles were avoided as far as possible, and when the enemy received reinforcements from other villages, the attackers made their way home. They carried their wounded companions on their backs using a makeshift stretcher. An important motive was also the elimination of the Eastern competition in the fur trade (war against the Hurons 1648/49, against the Susquehannock 1649–1656).


The traditional Iroquois religion is polytheistic with a large pantheon of gods. The god of vegetation, Heno , plays a particularly important role, and was asked for help in times of drought with the Thunderstorm Festival . Two mythical figures that reveal the dualistic aspect of Iroquois thought are Tawiskaron - the evil - and Tharonhiawagon - the good. The public religious cult essentially revolves around six recurring annual celebrations in this order: the maple festival, the corn sowing festival, the strawberry festival, the corn ripening festival, the corn harvest festival and the midwinter festival. The management of these and other secret ceremonies as well as help with illnesses, deaths and everything that threatens the well-being of society, the environment or even the world of gods, are taken over by the medicine associations , which (with significantly reduced tasks and influenced by the longhouse religion) today exist and are the keepers of the "old" religion.

Orenda , a mythical life force that is seen as the actual cause of all events, that connects every living being with all elements and ensures a "healthy balance" also plays a central role in faith .

Probably in defense of the initially not very successful Christian mission , especially of the French Jesuits , Seneca Handsome Lake founded a syncretistic world explanation model as a compromise in 1799: the so-called longhouse religion . In the course of an alcohol delirium , he had a vision : four angels came as messengers of the “Great Spirit” (an equation of the Christian God with Orenda) and brought him the new teaching of the “Good News” (Gai'wiio) . It is based on a syncretistic mixture of traditional cults and Christianity . Many Iroquois, torn between the two cultures, gratefully accepted the new religion, whose creed was heavily influenced by Quakerism . The teaching touched numerous areas of life of the Indians and called for a decidedly moral and ethical life.

A side effect of the Protestant, word-oriented missionary work by the English was the writing of the Iroquois language as early as the 18th century.

The majority of today's Iroquois profess Christianity. According to surveys by the evangelical-fundamentalist conversion network Joshua Project , it was 60 percent in 2016. After a significant decline in the nave religion in the 1960s, it came in the wake of the growing strength of political Akwesasne to a revitalization so again today 20 to 25 percent pendant accepted. The traditional medicine associations have the smallest share.


Early history

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the Iroquois lived in the north of what is now the US state of New York, as can be proven by archaeological artifacts . Remains of longhouses have been dated to at least AD 1100. From the 14th century at the latest, the Iroquois cultivated maize, which among other things resulted in an increase in the population and the potential for conflict. The increase in armed conflicts with the neighboring tribes around 1350 forced the Iroquois to build larger, fortified villages.

The Onondaga evidently emerged from the amalgamation of two villages between 1450 and 1475. The origin of the other four Iroquois tribes is uncertain. When Jacques Cartier first explored the Saint Lawrence River in 1535 , he met Iroquois-speaking Indians. They lived in at least eleven villages between Stadacona (now Québec ) and Hochelaga (now Montreal ). He described Hochelaga as a large fortified village with extensive corn fields and more than 3,000 inhabitants. When Samuel de Champlain followed in Cartier's footsteps in 1603, the Iroquois and their settlements on the Saint Lawrence River had disappeared. Montagnais and Algonquin lived there in their place .

Founding of the Iroquois League

The exact founding date of the Iroquois Confederation is unknown. Today we assume the middle of the 15th century, which seems to be confirmed by archaeological finds and memories of the solar eclipse in 1451. There is also agreement on the causes that led to the foundation of the covenant. In the 15th century the relations between the tribes worsened due to the population increase to such an extent that there were endless, cruel wars between them. The Iroquois were in danger of destroying one another. A myth reports that the heavenly bearer Teharonhiawagon allowed the Iroquois peoples to cultivate different plants in order to secure peace between the peoples, whose languages ​​were mutually barely understandable, by forcing them to exchange products. However, his opponent Tawiskaron repeatedly brought hatred and war into the world.

There are other legends among the Iroquois about the founding of the covenant : Deganawidah , an outstanding leader of the Iroquois who took on the difficult task of uniting the tribes, lived around this time . He secured the support of the Mohawk Sachem Hiawatha . Both enjoyed the highest esteem among the Indians and later a spiritual reverence, so that they are described by science as mythical cultural heroes . Together they convinced the Iroquois tribes to end their disputes and form an alliance. According to legend, he darkened the sun to convince the opponents. In fact, around this time, a solar eclipse occurred that was observed in northern New York. The formation of the Iroquois League ended the wars among themselves and gave the Iroquois a time of peace and relative prosperity. The alliance also led to political unification and military power, and was an almost insurmountable opponent for tribes outside the alliance for about 130 years. Alliance members were only obliged to live in peace among themselves. They could wage war with other tribes and pursue their own interests.

They formed two alliances, namely the Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga in the west and the Mohawk and Oneida in the east. In a fifty year long war that began after 1570, the eastern Iroquois drove the neighboring tribes from the Adirondack Mountains and the Upper Saint Lawrence River to southern New England. There were also disputes over the wampum trade with the powerful Mahican Confederation in the south.

Arrival of the French and Dutch

The engraving is based on a drawing by Samuel de Champlain from 1609. It shows a battle between the Iroquois and Algonquin on Lake Champlain.

Samuel de Champlain established a settlement for France in what is now Québec in 1608 and reached the Montréal area around 1609. According to his account, they had been driving through a war zone on the Saint Lawrence River for days without seeing anyone else. The Algonquin and Montagnais had been so violently attacked by Mohawk warriors that they accordingly stayed away from the river.

The French were only interested in the fur trade and not in settlement areas. The French also wanted their potential trading partners as allies in the fight against the Iroquois. In July 1609, Samuel de Champlain accompanied a campaign by the allied Hurons , Montagnais and Algonquin against the Mohawk. With their superior firearms, the French managed to defeat the Iroquois and kill some of their leaders. The Mohawk then changed their tactics and dispensed with massed attacks and useless wooden breastplates. They also tried to avoid the French musket balls by dropping them at lightning speed before they were shot. Nevertheless, after 1610 they were expelled from the St. Lawrence River area. Over the next 20 years, the Algonquin and Montagnais regained control of the area and the fur trade. The French advanced further west to the villages of the Hurons and took part in an attack on the Onondaga. In doing so, they developed into an enemy that the alliance would fiercely fight against in the future. The Iroquois were able to prevent passage across Lake Ontario and forced the French to make a long detour across the Ottawa River valley to reach the western Great Lakes .

The Iroquois needed rifles and steel tomahawks, which they could only acquire through the fur trade. Around 1610 Dutch traders reached the Hudson River valley . They supplied the Iroquois with the weapons they wanted to join them in fighting the Susquehannock in the south. In 1624 the Dutch set up a trading post at Fort Orange , which was easier for the Mohawk to reach. In addition, the Dutch tried to trade in fur through Mahican intermediaries with the Algonquin and Montagnais in the north. In 1624 a violent war broke out between Mohawk and Mahican, which the Dutch could not prevent. By 1628 the Mohawk had triumphed and the Mahican had drifted east across the Hudson River. The Mahican had to pay tribute in the form of wampum. The Dutch accepted the Mohawk's victory and made them their main ally and trading partner. The Iroquois held an extremely important strategic position. Their residential area was located exactly between the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, the fur suppliers around the Great Lakes and the French fur traders on the Saint Lawrence River.

The Beaver Wars

Hurons in festive clothing in Quebec around 1880

From this situation developed the Beaver Wars , an uninterrupted series of conflicts in eastern North America between the Iroquois League and its neighboring tribes allied with France, which would last about seventy years. Almost forgotten today, the wars are considered to be one of the bloodiest clashes in North American history and were fought with extreme brutality on both sides. Around 1630 the Dutch had equipped their Iroquois trading partners with firearms, so-called arquebuses . However, the use of firearms led to beavers being overwhelmed. Like other tribes in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley area , the Iroquois had overran their territories. They were forced to obtain the furs through trade or war.

Therefore they attacked the weaker neighboring tribes and in 1638 drove the Wenro out of their territory. These fled north to the Hurons . In the spring of 1641 the war began against the Huron villages on the St. Lawrence River in order to end their fur trade with the French. In 1645 there were negotiations between the French and the parties involved, in which the French accepted the Iroquois terms. The next summer, 80 Iroquois canoes brought pelts to the French traders, but they demanded that the Hurons act as middlemen. The Iroquois felt they had been cheated and the war began again.

The Hurons and the Iroquois at that time had roughly the same number of warriors, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 men. In 1647 the Hurons and Susquehannock formed an alliance to counter the Iroquois aggression. In 1648 Iroquois warriors again attacked the Huron villages, killing the male residents and taking numerous women and children prisoner for later adoption. The surviving Hurons fled their land and sought refuge with the tribes on the northern Great Lakes. The Iroquois controlled an area with rich beaver occurrences and had free access to the French traders in Canada.

In 1651 the Iroquois had defeated the Neutral Nation and driven it from its traditional tribal area. The Erie suffered the same fate in 1656. After the peoples in the north and west were destroyed or driven out, the Iroquois League turned its attention to the Susquehannock in the south. With the help of the English colonists in Maryland , the Susquehannock and their allies were driven out of their tribal territory or adopted by the Iroquois in 1663.

In the meantime, the French had rearmed up in the north and brought regular troops into Canada. At the same time, their Indian allies were armed with rifles. An epidemic of smallpox debilitated the Iroquois, who were gradually threatened with extinction from the effects of disease, hunger and war. In 1665, three of the five nations of the Iroquois Alliance signed a peace treaty with the French. After French troops burned the villages and crops of the Mohawk and Oneida, these too were ready for peace in 1667, which lasted 13 years. They also allowed the French missionaries to visit their villages.

The second phase of the beaver war began around 1680. The Seneca, reinforced by the Miami warriors , launched an attack against the Illinois . Many Illinois fled west across the Mississippi. The French occupation of Fort Crèvecoeur and the neighboring Trading Post (German trading post ) withdrew to Wisconsin. With a few exceptions, the villagers who stayed behind were killed. In 1682 Henry Tonti built Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River . This heavily fortified base was able to hold its own against the Iroquois, so the Illinois who had fled returned to their traditional territory, reinforced by Shawnee and Miami who had switched sides. In 1684 around 20,000 Indians had gathered in the Fort St. Louis area. Another attack by the Iroquois failed. This defeat is considered to be the turning point of the Beaver Wars. The French began to organize a multi-tribal alliance against the Iroquois League, to which around seventeen tribes belonged in 1687. The Iroquois were defeated in canoe battles on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie and, after further defeats in the course of the 1690s, had to retreat to their old residential area south of Lake Ontario.

The last phase of the Beaver War took place at the same time as the King William's War (1688–97) between Britain and France. French troops attacked Seneca and Onondaga villages in 1687. They struck back in 1689 and killed more than 200 settlers in Lachine near Montreal. Between 1693 and 1696, the French under Louis de Buade , Governor of Canada, led three separate campaigns against villages of the Onondaga and Oneida and burned them down.

In 1697, the Treaty of Rijswijk ended the war between Britain and France and placed the Iroquois under British protection. Peace with the Iroquois has not yet been made. It was not until 1701 that the fighting between the French and Iroquois ended with the Montreal Peace Treaty . After Albany sent Iroquois delegates confirmed the alliance with England. These treaties determined Iroquois politics in the following decades of the 18th century. After that, the Iroquois League remained largely neutral in future conflicts between the British and the French and was able to direct its main focus on the fur trade.

Eighteenth century

Iroquois trade with Europeans around 1722

In Queen Anne's War (1701–1713) the Iroquois League remained neutral and followed the outcome of the war with interest. The Utrecht Peace Treaty ended the war and the Iroquois were recognized as British subjects. In 1727 they allowed the British to build Fort Oswego on their tribal territory, which soon developed into an English trading center because it significantly shortened the travel route to the tribes on the Great Lakes. By 1728, eighty percent of the beaver pelts in the Albany market came from French allies. The British accepted the neutrality of the Iroquois League and viewed it as a useful buffer between themselves and the French in Canada.

The Iroquois-speaking Tuscarora left their territory in North Carolina and moved to Pennsylvania , where they were admitted to the Confederation by the League as the sixth nation around 1722. They were considered junior partners and their chiefs were not represented on the Grand Council.

One of the most important diplomatic achievements of the Iroquois League was the Covenant Chain , a peace and friendship alliance between the League, other Indian tribes and the British. In 1736, Pennsylvania Colony officials and the League Grand Council agreed that the Iroquois should act as the spokesman for all negotiations between the Indians and the colony.

In King George's War (1744–48) between England and France, the league initially remained neutral and later only participated half-heartedly in the war. The war ended in 1748 with the Peace of Aachen . In the years that followed, the French tried to regain lost influence. They built a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the fork of the Ohio River in 1753 . An expedition under General Edward Braddock against Fort Duquesne in 1755 ended in defeat for the English and left the region under French control.

The Ohio Territory and Skirmishes between Indians and United States forces between 1775 and 1811

When England declared war on France in 1754, the French and Indian War (1754–63) began. The war ended French rule in North America and was of great importance for the later history of the United States and Canada. The tribes of the Iroquois League did not remain neutral in this conflict. While the Mohawk fought on the English side, the Seneca supported the French troops. On February 10, 1763, the war officially ended with the Peace of Paris . France had to cede most of its North American possessions to England.

The Indian tribes in the Ohio area rose in May 1763 in the Pontiac revolt against the British. They captured numerous forts and settlements in the Ohio Valley and western Pennsylvania, but failed at Fort Pitt and Fort Detroit , which was besieged from early May to late November 1763. With their cleverly applied guerrilla tactics , Pontiac's Indians were a match for regular British army units. It was not until the fall of 1764 that the British succeeded in subjugating the Indians again with the help of two expeditions under Colonels John Bradstreet and Henry Bouquet . An essential role was played by the fact that the Indian warriors ran out of ammunition and there was no support from France. The Indians in the war zone had to take note that they were now under British rule.

The American War of Independence (1775–82) developed after initial hopes for the Indians east of the Mississippi as a disaster. Neither the members of the Iroquois League nor the separate tribes could initially decide which side to support or whether to remain neutral. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca eventually opted for the British, while the Oneida and Tuscarora supported the American side. Mohawk chief Joseph Brant was made an officer and fought in the British army. He raided colonist settlements in the border area and inflicted heavy losses on the Americans.

Joseph Brant or Thayendanedea

In 1779 an American expeditionary army under General John Sullivan and Colonel Daniel Brodhead attacked several Iroquois villages in retaliation, devastated the fields and orchards of the Indians and burned their villages down. The residents had previously fled to Canada and stayed there until the end of the war in 1782. In the Peace of Paris in 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the former British colonies.

The tribes of the Iroquois League had to negotiate individually with the American government about where to live in the future. A part of the Mohawk chose the area that had been assigned to them during the war on the Bay of Quinté . The remaining Mohawk wanted to settle on the Grand River in Ontario. They were followed by a number of Cayuga and some Onondaga and Seneca. The majority of Seneca chose land on Buffalo Creek in western New York; they were followed by some Cayuga and Onondaga. Others wanted to stay in their traditional residential area, such as part of the Cayuga on Cayuga Lake and some Onondaga on Onondaga Creek . Part of Seneca settled on land in the Genesee Valley , where they had lived before the war. Another part of Seneca wanted to stay further west in New York State, which had four large settlements that were converted into reservations in the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797. All reserves were named after the rivers they were on: Buffalo Creek , Cattaraugus, Alleghany, and Tonawanda. The Oneida who fought on the side of the Americans were allowed to stay in their former homeland. The Caughnawaga , Saint-Regis , and Lake Two Mountain Iroquois remained in the area they had inhabited before the war.

Brant went to the war, with 2,000 followers, in particular Mohawk, to Canada and settled on the Grand River in southern Ontario on 675,000 acres (27.3 square kilometers), which he described as compensation for lost land of the Iroquois in New York by Governor Frederick Haldimand had received . On this land, the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River was established, in which Brant rekindled the council fire of the Iroquois League, which had gone out in 1777. Brant died on November 24, 1807. The town of Brantford , Ontario was named after him. A second council fire was lit in the Buffalo Creek Reservation in the United States, where large numbers of Onondaga and Seneca and some Cayuga lived.

The Algonquin tribes had lost all hope of reaching an agreement with the new American government. This claimed that the Indians had no legal claim to their own land. In order to be able to offer effective resistance against the invasion of the American settlers, they formed a new confederation under Chief Little Turtle . As traditional enemies of the Algonquin, the Iroquois League, the majority of which were members in Canada, did not join this coalition. The united tribes inflicted two of the worst defeats in American history. First they defeated General Josiah Harmar in the Battle of the Maumee River , then they annihilated General Arthur St. Clair's army in the Battle of the Wabash River , in which the Americans lost over 600 soldiers and militiamen and around 70 drivers and women of the entourage. Despite these defeats, the Americans rejected the Confederation's demands for their own land. Without British support and arms supplies, the Indian situation was hopeless. In the Treaty of Greenville of 1793, the Native Americans ceded large parts of what is now the US state of Ohio to the United States.

Since the nineteenth century until today

Chiefs of the "Six Nations" show the ethnologist Horatio Hale their wampum belts (1871)

The Greenville Treaty brought some peaceful years. At the beginning of the nineteenth century a movement emerged to give new courage to the demoralized natives. At the forefront of this movement were Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa of the Shawnee tribe . The religiously oriented movement was cross-tribal and was driven by a vision of Tenskwatawa. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa gained numerous followers, especially among other tribes in the Ohio area , but the Iroquois remained neutral. Tecumseh's alliance included at least the Mingo , a splinter group of the Seneca. They had followed Tecumseh to Canada and in 1815 signed the Indian Springs Treaty , which allowed them to return to the United States.


President of the Seneca Nation Barry E. Snyder Jr., 2009

With the Indian Removal Act (German law for the resettlement of the Indians), which was enacted by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 , the Indians in the eastern United States should be forced to relocate to areas west of the Mississippi. In the Treaty of Buffalo Creek of 1838, the Indians of New York State agreed to move to the reservations established for them in southeastern Kansas . In fact, many parts of this treaty were not fulfilled because influential Quakers prevented it from being carried out. By 1846 only 210 New York Seneca had moved to Kansas. However, the Seneca continually lost land to whites due to incompetent and corrupt tribal leadership, even though state laws were supposed to prevent these machinations. In response to this, the hereditary chieftainship was abolished. The majority of the Seneca in New York opted for an elected government and formed the Seneca Nation of Indians in 1848 . The Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians split off and retained the traditional chieftainship system. Both tribes are federally recognized .


The Mohawk members live in settlements in southeastern Canada and in the US state of New York.

The largest reserve with around 190 km² is Six Nations of the Grand River in Brant in Ontario . The land was awarded to the Iroquois in the Haldimand Proclamation of 1797 by Governor Frederick Haldimand because they had fought on the side of the British in the American War of Independence. The members of all six nations of the Iroquois League live in Grand River. In December 2010 it had a total of 23,902 members.

The Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is a 73 km² reserve on Quinte Bay in southeastern Ontario. In 2011 the Bay of Quinte Nation had 8,006 members, mostly descendants of the Mohawk. The Kahnawake Mohawk Territory is a 48.05 km² reserve on the south bank of the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal . In 2006 around 8,000 members of the Kahnawake First Nation lived here , also mainly descendants of the Mohawk. Kanesatake is a 11.88 km² reserve on the shores of the Lake of Two Mountains on the Ottawa River in southwestern Quebec. In 2011 the reserve had around 2000 inhabitants. Akwesasne Territory is an area of ​​85.89 km² on both banks of the Saint Lawrence River. Anghröirge of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation live here . The affiliation of the two parts of the reserve to the USA and Canada respectively led to conflicts several times until the 2000s, with the smaller Canadian portion again being divided between the provinces of Québec and Ontario. In Quebec, too, the policy of forced assimilation in Catholic boarding schools was held longer than in the United States and Ontario.

In northeast New York are Ganienkeh with 2.4 km² and Kanatsiohareke .

The 1990 Oka Crisis was a conflict between members of the Mohawk and the Canadian government. It culminated in a shootout between tribesmen and the Quebec Provincial Police, killing a police officer and a Mohawk elder. The trigger was the plan to build a golf course in the Mohawk area. The protests escalated into a two-month road blockade near Oka , Quebec.


Around 1830, the state of New York forced all Indians living there to move to prepared reservations in the west. During this time, numerous Oneida went to Wisconsin and Canada, only a few stayed in New York. Today there is the Oneida Indian Nation in New York, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin on Green Bay in Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation of the Thames in Southwold, Ontario, and the Oneida within the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario.


In November 1794, the Cayuga signed the Treaty of Canandaigua , in which they ceded most of their land in New York to the United States. Today there are three Cayuga groups (English bands ). The two largest are the Lower Cayuga and the Upper Cayuga , which are integrated into the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation . In the United States, there is the Cayuga Nation of New York in Perrysburg and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma in northeast Oklahoma. Both tribes are federally recognized .


Together with other tribes of the Iroquois League , the Onondaga signed the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 , in which they ceded their traditional land in New York to the United States. At the same time, they were officially confirmed that they were the legal owners of the area.

Today there are three Onondaga groups: The Onondaga Nation on the Onondaga Reservation in Nedrow near Syracuse in New York. In Canada, the Onondaga of Oswegen and the Bearfoot Onondaga live , both within the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario.


Descendants of the Tuscarora can now be found in three areas of North America. In the northeast, near Lewiston in New York, is the Tuscarora Reservation with 1152 tribal members (2010 census). More around 2004 Tuscarora (2010 census) live within the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, Canada.

Various groups and organizations of Tuscarora ancestry exist in North Carolina , but none of them are federally recognized. These include: The Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe in Windsor, North Carolina; the 1978 Hatteras Tuscarora ; the Tuscarora Tribe of Indians at Maxton (1979); the Tuscarora Nation of Indians of North Carolina (2006) and the Tuscarora Nation One Fire Council in Robeson County (2010).

Some of the descendants live in Oklahoma. These are Tuscarora, who lived with the Mingo in the early 19th century, first in New York, then in Ohio and Kansas and finally in Oklahoma. From 1937 they are members of the newly founded Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and settle in the northeastern part of Oklahoma. The strain is federally recognized (English federally recognized ).


The liberal constitution of the Iroquois was thematized in writings of the European Enlightenment such as " The great peace woman of the Iroquois " by Johann Gottfried Herder . In Friedrich Engels' work , it occupies an important position in his book “ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State ” (influenced in turn by Bachofen’smother right ”).


  • 2013: In the footsteps of the Iroquois , Bundeskunsthalle , Bonn; then Gropiusbau , Berlin. (Exhibition catalog published by the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany 2013.)

Famous Iroquois

  • Levi General Deskaheh , politician, chief of the Cayuga and spokesman for the Six Nations, who visited the League of Nations in Geneva in 1924 to demand recognition for the independence of the Six Nations.
  • Graham Greene : Oneida from Canada, actor ( who dances with wolves , Clearcut and many more )
  • Ely Samuel Parker : Seneca chief and Northern Army general in the Civil War
  • Joseph Brant : Mohawk chief and ally of the British
  • Hiawatha : Mohawk chief, expelled by the Onondaga, is considered to be the founder of the Iroquois League

See also


  • José Antonio Brandào: "Your fire shall burn no more". Iroquois Policy toward New France and its Native Allies to 1701. Lincoln et al. a. 1997 (English).
  • Bruce Graham Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 15: Northeast. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington 1978, ISBN 0-16-004575-4 (English).
  • Willam N. Fenton: The Great Law and the Longhouse. A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy (= The Civilization of the American Indian Series . Volume 223). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1998 (English).
  • Susan M. Hill: The Clay We Are Made Of. Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River. University of Manitoba Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-88755-189-5 (English).
  • Alvin M. Josephy junior et al. a .: 500 Nations. The Illustrated History of the Indians of North America. Frederking & Thaler, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-89405-356-9 (based on the script for the film documentary by Jack Leustig).
  • Heinz Lippuner: Democracy from Indian hands? Our Federal Constitution and the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederation. In: Small writings of the Schaffhausen Museum Association. No. 5, 1999.
  • Eva Lips : Not just on the prairie. Edition Leipzig, Leipzig 1974.
  • Egon Renner, Boris Kruse: The Iroquois Confederation in the 17th Century. Society, Warfare and Politics. In: Magazine for American Studies No. 1–2, Verlag für American Studies, Wyk auf Föhr 2004.
  • Jillian Ridington, Robin Ridington : People of the Longhouse. How the Iroquoian People Lived. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver 1982 (English).
  • Irene Schumacher: Social Structure and Role of Women. The example of the Iroquois (= sociological writings. Volume 10). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1972.
  • Dean R. Snow: The Iroquois. Blackwell, Oxford 1994 (English).
  • Colin Taylor et al. a .: Indians. The indigenous people of North America. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1992.
  • David Hurst Thomas, Monika Thaler (ed.): The world of the Indians. History, art, culture from the beginning to the present. 4th edition. Frederking & Thaler, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-89405-331-3 (original 1993: The Native Americans ).
  • Thomas Wagner : Iroquois and Democracy. A contribution to the sociology of intercultural communication. Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-6845-1 (doctoral thesis; excerpt from Google book search).
  • Wilcomb E. Washburn (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 4: History of Indian-White Relations. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington 1988, ISBN 0-16-004583-5 (English).
  • Willi Wottreng : "An Iroquois on Lake Geneva". (Subtitle: A true story), Bilger-Verlag, Zurich 2018, ISBN 978-3-03762-073-1 .

Web links

Commons : Iroquois  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k Iroquois History , accessed August 23, 2012
  2. Colin Taylor et al. a .: Indians, the natives of North America , page 227, Bertelsmann Club GmbH, Gütersloh 1992
  3. Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions , Volume 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . P. 148.
  4. a b Colin Taylor et al. a .: Indians , page 231
  5. Hans Läng: cultural history of the Indians of North America, page 118-119. Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach, 1993. ISBN 3-8112-1056-4
  6. a b c Colin Taylor et al.: Indianer , page 232 f.
  7. Christian Feest: In the shadow of the peace tree: From the world of the Iroquois. In: In the footsteps of the Iroquois. Bonn, Berlin 2013, p. 26.
  8. Miriam Schultze: Traditional Religions in North America. In: Harenberg Lexicon of Religions. Harenberg, Dortmund 2002, ISBN 3-611-01060-X . Pp. 883-884, 898.
  9. ^ Heide Göttner-Abendroth : Society in Balance. Gender, equality, consensus, culture in matrilineal, matrifocal, matriarchal societies . Documentation of the 1st World Congress for Matriarchy Research 2003 in Luxembourg. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-17-018603-5 . P. 273.
  10. Marcel Mauss : Sociology and Anthropology: Volume 1: Theory of Magic / Social Morphology. Series: Classics of Social Sciences, 1st edition, VS-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-17002-2 . Pp. 145-146.
  11. a b Handsome Lake cult . In: Encyclopædia Britannica online, accessed December 26, 2015.
  12. Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions , Volume 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . Pp. 195-196.
  13. Joshua Project: Page no longer available , search in web archives: United States - People Groups (Iroquois), accessed on May 18, 2016.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  14. ^ Jordan D. Paper: Native North American Religious Traditions: Dancing for Life. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport (USA) 2007, ISBN 0-275-99097-4 . Pp. 64, 91-92.
  15. ^ Nancy Bonvillain: The Mohawk. Chelsea House Publishing, Philadelphia (USA) 2005, ISBN 0-7910-7991-0 . P. 73.
  16. Christian Feest: In the shadow of the peace tree: From the world of the Iroquois. In: In the footsteps of the Iroquois. Bonn, Berlin 2013, p. 22 f.
  17. Christian Feest: In the shadow of the peace tree: From the world of the Iroquois. In: In the footsteps of the Iroquois. Bonn, Berlin 2013, p. 22 f.
  18. Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions. Volume 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 , pp. 108-109.
  19. a b c d e f Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 15: Northeast, p. 430 f.
  20. a b c d e f g h Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Vol. 15: Northeast, pp. 432-435
  21. a b Alvin M. Josephy jr .: The world of the Indians, page 287-292
  22. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, p. 505 f.
  23. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, p. 466 f.
  24. ^ John Gattuso (ed.): APA-Guides USA Indian Reservations, pp. 303-304. RV Reise- und Verkehrsverlag GmbH, Munich 1992. ISBN 3-575-21425-5
  25. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, p. 481 f.
  26. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, pp. 500 f.
  27. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, p. 491 f.
  28. Bruce G. Trigger: Handbook Volume 15: Northeast, p. 518 f.