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The Onondaga within the five nations of the Iroquois, tribal area around 1650

The Onondaga or Onoñda'gega ' or Onöñda'gaga' ("people from the place on the hills, i.e. from Onondaga") are the central or middle tribe of the Haudenosaunee ("people of the longhouse "), better known as the Iroquois League or Iroquois -Confederation , an alliance of originally five (later six) tribes or nations of the Iraqi language family . In common parlance, these tribes are called the Iroquois . They are one of the indigenous groups of the Indians of North America .

The indigenous name used today for the Iroquois League is derived from two phonetically similar but etymologically different words in the Seneca language: Hodínöhšö: ni: h ("people of the long house") or Hodínöhsö: ni: h ("long house builders "), the Mohawk, however, referred to the confederation in their language as Rotinonsionni ("people of the longhouse").

The indigenous names or designations for the individual tribes / nations are first given in the naming convention commonly used today, followed by the self-designation ( autonym ) if possible , then the Seneca designation (historically mostly the most common), then the Mohawk designation and finally the ceremonial council name (mostly borrowed from the Mohawk).

The nations of the Iroquois League included (from east to west):

  • Mohawk ( Kanien'kehá: ka / Kanien'kehake - "People from the Land of Flint ", Kanienkahagen; Council name: "Guardian / Guardian of the Eastern Gate")
  • Oneida ( Onyota'a: ka / Onyota'ake - "people of the (upright) standing stone", Onayotekaono or Oneniotehá: ka / Oneniote'á: ka; Council name: Latilutakówa (Onondaga) or Nihatironta'kó: wa (Mohawk) - "People of the big trees / tree trunks")
  • Onondaga ( Onoñda'gega '/ Onöñda'gaga' , Onundagaono or Ononta'kehá: ka - "people from the place on the hills, ie from Onondaga", council name: Gana'dagwëni: io'geh or Rotishennakéhte (Mohawk) or Kayečisnakwe 'nì · yu' (Tuscarora) - "keeper of the council fire")
  • Cayuga ( Gayogohó: no ' - "People of the Great Marshes", Guyohkohnyoh or Kanawakonhá: ka, Alternative Mohawk name: Kahoniokwenhá: ke - "People from the place where the boats are taken out of the water", Council name: Shotinennawen'tó : wane - "people / keepers of the great pipe")
  • Seneca ( Onondowahgah / Onödowá'ga: ' - "People from the great mountain", Tsonontowanehá: ka / Tsonontowane'á: ka - "People from Tsonontó: wane (the great mountain)", Alternative Mohawk name: Shotinontó: wane - " Your (inhabited) mountain is big ", council name: Rontehnhohanónhnha / Ratihnhohanónhnha or Ronatehnhóhonte / Rotihnhóhonte -" guardian / guardian of the western gate ") and from 1722
  • Tuscarora ( Ska-Ruh-Reh - "hemp collectors" or "shirt-wearing people", Thatihskarò: roks / Tehatiskaró: ros / Taskaroraha: ka / Taskarorahaka; had no right to vote in the council, were represented by the Oneida).

The territory of the Iroquois League was in what is now the central part of the US state of New York . The Mohawk's residential and hunting area was the largest within the Iroquois League and was furthest to the east; they were therefore called guardians of the eastern gate - the Seneca with about 4,000 tribesmen by far the largest tribe within the league were the westernmost nation and therefore the guardians of the western gate (since the Iroquois / Haudenosaunee compared their alliance with a longhouse).

The Iroquois League was first known to the French as Ligue des Iroquois and later as Confédération iroquoise ("Iroquois League ") or Ligue des Cinq-Nations and to the British as Five Nations ("Five Nations"); from 1722 with the entry of Tuscarora after the lost Tuscarora War as Ligue des Six Nations or Six Nations ("Six Nations"). Politically, had the Seneca in the final decision-making in the Council (Grand Council) of the Haudenosaunee as so-called. "Older Brothers" ( Elder Brothers very large) together with the Mohawk and Onondaga impact. Due to the central / central location of their tribal area, their capital "Onondaga" was also the seat of the Great Council (consisting of 50 elected clan chiefs or Hoyane ) of the Haudenosaunee and the Onondaga symbolically the keepers of the council fire of the Iroquois League ; They were responsible for the preparation, organization and decision-making of the council meetings as well as the preservation of the wampums , which were used to document the council decisions. The chiefs were organized into three groups: the "older brothers" ( Older Brothers - 8 Seneca chiefs and 9 Mohawk chiefs), the "younger brothers" ( Younger Brothers , with 9 Oneida chiefs and 10 Cayuga chiefs) and the "keepers of the council fire" ( fire keepers , with 14 Onondaga chiefs), the Onondaga therefore had an outstanding and often decisive function. Today there are also 6 Tuscaro chiefs, previously the Tuscarora had no voting rights in the tribal council.

Today members of the Onondaga Nation live in the Onondaga Reservation in Nedrow, near Syracuse, in the United States, and in the Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation in Ontario, Canada.


In the seventeenth century, the Onondaga villages were between Cazenovia Lake and Onondaga Lake , in an area they had inhabited for the previous two centuries. Their preferred hunting area stretched from Lake Ontario in the north to the headwaters of the Chenango River in the south and encompassed all of what is now Onondaga County . This is where the Onondaga summer camps were, while in late autumn they returned to their permanent villages with their prey. In the time before contact with Europeans, the well-known Salt Springs (salt marshes) near Syracuse apparently played no role. After the arrival of the whites, the situation changed and the economic benefits of salt became increasingly important for the whites, but also for the Onondaga.

Culture and way of life

French attack on an Onondaga fortified village, 1615

The Iroquois League was led by the Great Council , which always met in Onondaga. Each of the tribes involved could send a certain number of sachems to the council, which consisted of a total of fifty people. The Onondaga were represented by twelve sachems. The seating arrangement was precisely defined. On one side of the council fire sat the Mohawk and Seneca, across from them were the Oneida and Cayuga. Between the two blocks sat the Onondaga as referees and keepers of the fire. In the event of disagreements, the Onondaga had to mediate, suggest compromises and finally make a decision that was mostly accepted. The later admitted Tuscarora had no vote in the council.

The Iroquois used wampum cords to document their contracts. Wampum were sea mussel shells that were ground into tubular cylinders and strung on strings in a specific arrangement. Fifty wampums existed as the founding charter of the Iroquois Federation, which served as a reminder and were kept in a special longhouse by the Onondaga. Wampum cords also played a role in the cult of the Onondaga and all Iroquois. In the 17th century, the creator Tharonhiawagon allegedly appeared to an Onondaga in the form of a dwarf and demanded the sacrifice of wampums (representative of appreciation and sincerity), sunflower seeds (for plant food) and white dogs (for meat food) at the dream interpretation festival as part of the midwinter ceremony. Up to ten dogs used to be killed and burned. Today colored ribbons take the place of dogs and wampums.

When the soil was depleted and there was a shortage of firewood nearby, the Onondaga changed the location of their village every ten to twenty years (see also: Shifting agriculture ) . Yet they never lived in more than two villages. The larger village, Onondaga, was the capital of the entire Iroquois League and this is where the council meetings were held. The second village was much smaller. A report by the French Jesuits around 1677 says that there were over 140 long houses in Onondaga, while the smaller village, around four kilometers away, consisted of only 24 houses. In 1681, Father Jean de Lamberville visited the Onondaga. They just moved ten kilometers to their main town, where they had lived for nineteen years. They moved their food supplies and other possessions to their new place of residence on the east side of Butternut Creek near what is now Jamesville .

In the course of the wars against the French, the Onondaga first moved into the mountains on Butternut Creek and around 1720 west to Onondaga Creek . In the eighteenth century, the Onondaga villages were rarely attacked and therefore did not require protection by palisades . The villages were no longer laid out in a concentrated manner, but the one- and two-family houses stretched over a longer distance along the river. In 1743 John Bartram visited the main town of the Onondaga and reported about forty houses, most of which were inhabited by two families, and stretched over three to five kilometers on both sides of the river. Only the town hall was constructed in the manner of a traditional long house. It was covered with tree bark, around 24 meters long, 5 meters wide and had a central aisle 1.8 meters wide. At a height of about 1.50 meters, shelves were attached to both long sides, underneath were 30 centimeter high benches for sitting or lying down. In addition, there were family compartments around 3 meters wide in the nave, which stretched over both sides of the central aisle.

In the following years all the Onondaga families moved to the west side of the river. In 1750, Frederick Cammerhoff and David Zeisberger , who belonged to the Moravian Brothers, reported five small villages and a number of detached houses belonging to the Onondaga.


Beaver Wars

Map of New France around 1750.
In 1690 Frontenac received an English delegation demanding the surrender of Quebec.

The politics of the Iroquois League in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were determined by intrigues that were to strain the relationship between the Dutch, the English, as well as the French and their Indian allies in the west and north. The Onondaga played a leading role during the so-called Beaver Wars . This policy intensified after the Hurons , who until then had dominated the Indian trade with the French, were defeated in 1649. Further extermination campaigns were carried out against the Hurons allied Petun and Tionontati , and later against Erie and Susquehannock . To compensate for their human losses from wars and European diseases introduced, members of the defeated tribes were adopted.

After the successful war against the Erie, the western Iroquois tribes (Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga) strove to make peace with the French. They also hoped to bypass the terms negotiated by the Mohawk with Fort Orange . The Mohawk were seen as a mediator between the Dutch traders and the other Iroquois tribes in the west, who had to pay a kind of duty. In 1653 an Onondaga delegation traveled to Montreal for peace negotiations . The following year, the Jesuit Father Simon Le Moyne visited the Onondaga. On his way back to Montreal, he was captured by the Mohawk. They only released him after the accompanying Onondaga had persuaded them to do so. In 1656, the Jesuits established the permanent Mission Sainte Marie de Gannentaha (Lake Onondaga) on Lake Onondaga. The aversions against the French increased and as early as 1658 the previously warned missionaries had to leave the mission, which was destroyed shortly afterwards.

However, there was a pro-French faction among the Onondaga and in 1661 the Jesuits received an invitation to return to Onondaga Lake. As a result, Father Le Moyne spent the next winter with the Onondaga. The following year the western Iroquois waged war against the Susquehannock. In addition, their villages were hit by a smallpox epidemic, so they wanted to ask the French for help. However, a misleading rumor about the arrival of an army of French soldiers to destroy the Iroquois prevented contact. In the spring of 1664, the Onondaga were still divided into a pro and anti-French faction, but sent a delegation to Montreal for peace negotiations. The mission failed because the envoys were attacked and killed en route by the Algonquin or were taken prisoner. The Mohawk were against an alliance with the French and tried to prevent it. After the governor of New France , Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy , burned down numerous Mohawk villages in 1666, the Mohawk were also ready for peace. At the same time, the Jesuits established the new Saint Jean Baptiste Mission among the Onondaga. However, the peace treaty with the French did not mean that the Iroquois trade with the Dutch in Albany ceased. In 1669 the Onondaga were again embroiled in a costly war with the Susquehannock. The Jesuits reported that nearly all of the Onondaga warriors were killed in this war. The war against the Susquehannock ended in 1675 and tensions with the French soon returned. The Mohawk wanted to avoid a major conflict, as part of their tribesmen had meanwhile moved north as allies of the French on the Saint Lawrence River . The Mohawk who remained in the Mohawk Valley did not want to fight their own relatives in a war. Tensions grew, particularly between the Seneca and the French, and the Jesuits found themselves compelled to close most of their missions in the early 1680s. In 1687, Jacques-René de Brisay led a French expedition against the Seneca to destroy their villages.

The war between France and the Iroquois lasted until 1696, partly at the same time as the King William's War (1689–1697). Louis de Buade de Frontenac led a campaign against the Onondaga and Oneida in 1696. When the Onondaga recognized the superior strength of the army consisting of French and Indians, they burned their main village, which was protected by palisades, and fled. The French completed the destruction by destroying the corn fields outside the village. In 1701 the Iroquois concluded a peace treaty with both the French ( Great Peace of Montreal ) and the English, but the Onondaga still had a pro-English and a pro-French faction of roughly the same size.


The Jesuit missionaries returned to the Onondaga, but already in 1709 they had to flee again; their mission building and chapel were burned down. In the following years the French and English tried in vain to build a fort in Onondaga. In 1725 the English set up a trading post in Oswego to concentrate the fur trade from the west. Oewego developed into one of the most important fur trading centers in the entire American Northeast. In the period that followed, the Iroquois traded not only with the French in the north and west, but also with the English in Pennsylvania and various Indian tribes in the region. The Iroquois League endeavored to consolidate its position also on a political level. In the course of the negotiations with the participating powers, several French and English delegations traveled to Onondaga, the capital of the Iroquois .

Not only fur traders were interested in coming into contact with the Iroquois. For example, the Onondaga received visits from missionaries of the Moravian Brothers under David Zeisberger between 1750 and 1755 . The outbreak of the French and Indian War (1754–1762) prevented further peaceful meetings with Europeans. From 1749 members of the Onondaga, Oneida and Cayuga moved to La Presentation , a fort near today's Odgensburg . The fort was located at the confluence of the Oswegatchie River with the St. Lawrence River, which is relatively narrow here. It was supposed to protect Fort Frontenac and Upper Saint Lawrence from English attacks and to regulate trade on the river. The fort had been recommended to the Iroquois by the Sulpizian missionary Abbé François Picquet . La Presentation was later renamed Oswegatchie and the Indians living there were called Oswegatchie . Although the new settlement was partially destroyed by Mohawk warriors in the first year, it grew rapidly under Piquet's leadership. In 1649 six families settled there, in the following year there were 87 and in 1751 396 people. Shortly thereafter there were over 500 families spread out over several villages. By 1753 there were so many Onondaga there that the Mohawk chief Hendrick found that the fire in Onondaga was almost extinguished. Sir William Johnson suspected in 1754 that half of all Onondaga had meanwhile arrived in Oswegatchie. As a result of Picquet's missionary work, around a hundred Indians had converted to Christianity at that time.

The Oswegatchie sided with France in the French and Indian War . Most of the tribesmen who remained in Onondaga remained neutral. After the defeat and death of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in Quebec in 1760, the French lost the war in North America. François Picquet left La Presentation in order not to come into English captivity and traveled down the Mississippi via Fort Michilimackinac to New Orleans . The Indians continued to stay in Oswegatchie after the war and in 1768 about a hundred warriors were counted there. In the American War of Independence Oswegatchie was on the British side, who maintained a garrison there. In April it was unsuccessfully attacked by Indians under the leadership of two American officers from Fort Schuyler (later Fort Stanwix). After the war, the residents of Oswegatchie were transferred to Indian Point in Lisbon . In 1796 the place consisted of 23 houses. The houses all looked the same and were on either side of a street that ran parallel to the river. They were two-family houses with two fireplaces, a chimney and glass windows. The village was mostly only inhabited in winter; in the summer, the residents went hunting and fishing at Black Lake. Around 1806 the American settlers in the state of New York enforced that the Oswegatchie had to leave the village and were deported to various places.

Dissolution of the tribal unit

At the beginning of the War of Independence, the Onondaga who remained in their homeland numbered around 800 tribal members. Like the rest of the Iroquois League, they were split into three factions, namely pro-British, pro-American and neutral. The pro-British faction was apparently the strongest, because the Americans under John Sullivan and James Clinton attacked Onondaga in particular as part of their campaign against the Iroquois League in 1779 and destroyed houses and corn fields. Numerous Onondaga then fled to Fort Niagara . After the war around 1784, 225 Onondaga decided to follow the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant to Canada in the Six Nations reservation . The members of the Iroquois League gathered there rekindled the extinguished council fire of the Confederation. A second fire was lit in Buffalo Creek , where numerous Seneca, but also Cayuga and Onondaga lived at the time. In this way there were now two council fires, one in Canada and the other in the United States. Each group was led by chiefs with hereditary titles. In the early 1790s, about 300 Onondaga lived in Buffalo Creek and about 100 lived in their old home in Onondaga village. In 1806 there were 143 tribesmen in Onondaga who lived in 21 houses. Apparently some Onondaga returned from Canada in the following years, because in 1821 there were reports of 272 relatives in Onondaga, while 115 lived in Buffalo Creek and 70 in Allegany . By 1830 and 1833 there were 310 tribesmen in Onondaga, 94 in Buffalo Creek, and 80 in Allegany.

The council fire and the confederation wampum records remained in the village on Buffalo Creek, despite numerous Iroquois attempts to bring it back to Onondaga. Only after the death of Captain Cold , the keeper of the council fire, in 1847 did both return to Onondaga. About 150 Onondaga lived at the end of the 19th century in the three reservations Allegany, Seneca and Tuscarora in western New York State, most of them in the Allegany reservation in Cattaraugus County .

The Onondaga reservation in New York

In the Treaty of Fort Schuyler in 1788 (on the ruins of the former Fort Stanwix ) the Onondaga ceded all of their land to the State of New York, with the exception of an approximately 258 km² piece of land in Onondaga County . This area roughly corresponded to the area of ​​today's city of Berlin. In a contract signed in 1793, the Onondaga sold around three quarters of it. In the following years there were further land sales until finally only 24.7 km² (6,100 acres ) remained of the former 256 km² . As a result, the Onondaga received $ 33,380 in cash for $ 1,000 clothing, $ 2,430 pension and 150 bushels (35 liters) of salt.

Pressure continued on the Onondaga to sell their remaining land in New York and move west. In two contracts signed in 1838 and 1842, they sold their remaining land. One group of Onondaga moved to Canada, but others stayed in New York on the Onondaga reservation. Like other Iroquois in the reserves, the Onondaga lived there mainly from fishing and hunting. As their hunting grounds became smaller and smaller and white farmers settled the land, game became scarce and they had to switch to farm and wage labor to earn a living. At the same time, the new religion of Handsome Lake was spreading among the Iroquois. About two years after the Handsome Lakes vision of 1799, a delegation of Onondaga chiefs came to Buffalo Creek and heard the Prophet's sermon . They were so impressed that they subsequently renounced alcohol consumption. Lake was a great influence on the Onondaga, visiting them several times on their reservation until he died on a trip there in 1815. He was buried in the ground under the town hall and a stone monument marks the spot today.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, numerous priests tried to convert the Onondaga to Christianity, but with little success. There were still reservations about Christian missionaries. In the 1840s, resistance to churches and schools decreased. In 1848 a new Methodist church was built. A school had existed since 1845, and in the following year New York State gave money to build a new school and hire a teacher. Yet Christianity had sufficient appeal for only a few Onondaga. Around 1890 there were 23 Methodists, 21 Weysleyans and 24 Episcopalian among the tribe members out of a total of 494 residents of the Onondaga reservation. The longhouse religion still had the largest number of followers, including the Onondaga chiefs. The Onondaga continued to be the keepers of the Iroquois League fire in New York State and the keepers of the wampums until they were given to the New York State Museum in Albany in 1898 .

Situation since 1970

Tadodaho or Sidney Hill, Onondaga, speaks at the United Nations, 2009

The Onondaga still own the 24.7 km² reserve south of Syracuse near Nedrow in New York State. Around 1,000 Onondaga and some Iroquois from other tribes lived here in the 1970s. They lived in single-family houses that had been built along the roads in the reservation. The houses were small, had no sanitary facilities, were often without electricity and were heated with wood stoves.

The village is on Route 11A about five miles south of Syracuse. It has a primary school, three churches (Methodist, Wesleyan and Episcopalian), the Onondaga nave, a meeting house and a fire department. Most of the residents earn their living as semi-skilled or qualified workers in factories in the area, but nobody works as a farmer anymore. Young people in particular have shown an increasing interest in handicrafts using traditional techniques and styles, such as clothing, jewelry, and sculptures made of wood and stone on topics from the earlier Iroquois way of life.

The majority of the residents are Christians and attend one of the churches on the reservation or in Syracuse. Each of the churches offers participation in the church choir, altar service or Sunday school. These services promote the desired social contacts with the white population. Still, it is estimated that a quarter of residents identify with the teachings of Handsome Lake and describe themselves as adherents of the Council House (longhouse religion). In addition to church activities, there is neighborly assistance, such as repairs to the house, building new houses, support with gardening and field work, the corn harvest and the procurement of firewood for the needy, as well as other social services. Older residents can find help with chopping and stacking wood, or in the middle of winter they find game meat that has been placed outside their front door. The nocturnal donors want to remain anonymous and not embarrass the recipients. Those who are physically disabled, can, if necessary, to the group False Face ( the false faces federal ) contact. The Onondaga Volunteer Fire Department is another example of mutual aid in Native American society. Every year there is a fire brigade festival where money is collected to support the fire brigade. Traditional Indian food is offered, such as Indian bread, corn soup and roasted corn. In addition, there are Indian handicrafts and the demonstration of ancient dances and games, such as boxing lacrosse (indoor lacrosse), a specialty of the Onondaga.

The Onondaga Reserve is governed by a tribal council, the members of which are chiefs with inherited titles. These are chosen by the clan mother , usually the oldest woman in the clan. The tribal council decides on social, political, religious and economic matters of the tribe. It determines who is allowed to live on the reservation. At the beginning of the 1970s, for example, he prevented a piece of land from their reservation from being expropriated for the construction of a highway .

According to census of 2010 live in Onondaga reserve near Syracuse 468 tribesmen. In the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Canada there are two groups of Onondaga. The Onondaga Clear Sky had a total of 770 and the Bearfoot Onondaga 593 band members in August 2012 .

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. In the historical specialist literature and to this day the names for the Iroquois League, whose tribes and institutions are borrowed from the Seneca language (the largest tribe within the league at the time) - today these are supplemented or replaced by the Mohawk language, as this is currently the most widely spoken language of the Iroquois League (Onkwehonwehneha).
  2. ^ Haudenosaunee Confederacy - The League of Nations
  3. Kanienkeha - An open source endangered language initiative
  4. Kahnawà: ke Branch of the Mohawk Nation
  5. According to today's Haudenosaunee, however, the Mohawk council name most often given as "guardian / guardian of the eastern gate" is a frequent misunderstanding on the part of Europeans and can be traced back to their interpretation that the Mohawk as the easternmost nation as the "guardian of the eastern door within the Confederation "were known; however, this name was never officially used among the Haudenosaunee, but only used and spread by the Europeans.
  6. a b c d Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC 1978, pp. 491-492.
  7. ^ A b Hans Läng: Cultural history of the Indians of North America. Gondrom Verlag, 1993, pp. 116-117.
  8. Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions , Vol. 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . P. 148.
  9. a b c d Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Pp. 492-494.
  10. a b c Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Pp. 494-495.
  11. a b Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Pp. 495-496.
  12. a b c Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Pp. 496-498.
  13. a b c d Bruce G. Trigger (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15: Northeast. Pp. 498-499.
  14. according to the US census 2010 ( memento of the original from October 26, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.census.gov
  15. Status: August 2012 ( Memento of the original from October 26, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.sixnations.ca