The Iroquois were linguistically related to neighbouring nations such as the HURON, PETUN and NEUTRAL, and to more distant communities including the Cherokee and Tuscarora. There are also suggestions of ancient relationships to the Siouan and Caddoan language families of the Great Plains.
Ancestors of the Iroquois
The French maintained trading and military alliances with many of the enemies of the Iroquois; hence, Iroquois and NEW FRANCE were often at war (see IROQUOIS WARS). During periods of peace some Iroquois were converted to Catholicism and persuaded to settle on the St Lawrence. The Iroquois remained firmly tied to the Albany, NY, trade and rivalry between the French colony, and the Dutch and English at Albany precluded a lasting peace between New France and the Iroquois. The Iroquois frequently raided French settlements on the St Lawrence and, in 1660 at the Long Sault and in 1689 at Lachine, Qué, sent large armies to attack the colony. France successfully attacked Iroquois towns in 1666, 1687, 1693 and 1696.
Treaties with both the French and English in 1701 marked a shift in Iroquois policy toward neutrality with European powers in North America. At this time population losses for the league, owing to both disease and war, had been considerable, even though the Iroquois had absorbed large numbers of war captives and refugees and had incorporated them into their society. Despite official neutrality, the Mohawk under the influence of Sir William JOHNSON did on occasion take the field as English allies, and the Seneca at times fought beside French armies, as at the defeat of General Braddock in 1755.
Except for the Oneida, who fought for the American cause, the Iroquois supported the LOYALISTS and British in the American Revolution, joining that conflict in 1777. The Mohawk lost their homes to neighbouring rebel settlers, and most Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga towns were burned in 1779. In turn the Iroquois and their allies, under the leadership of Joseph BRANT and others, repeatedly attacked and burned rebel forts and settlements, driving the frontier east to Schenectady, NY. After the war, many Iroquois followed Brant to settle on a land grant secured for them by Governor Frederick HALDIMAND on the Grand River and others settled on the Bay of Quinte.
Social and Political Life
Before the disruption of their culture by the events of the historic period, the Iroquois were horticulturalists, living year-round in stockaded villages of several hundred people. Social structure was based on matrilineal principles. The basic unit was the matrilineage, consisting of the descendants, through females, of a single woman. Female members lived together with their husbands (who belonged to other matrilineages) in a single longhouse; a village would contain anything from a few small longhouses to as many as 50. Several matrilineages formed the matrilineal clan which, besides being of symbolic and ceremonial importance, served to regulate marriage patterns. Marriage was forbidden between members of a clan. The Mohawk and Oneida had three such clans; the other Iroquois nations had from 8 to 10 clans. For the most part these clans bore animal names (eg, Bear, Wolf, Turtle, Hawk). The league was governed by a council of 50 sachems, with each of the 5 founding members of the confederacy represented by a delegation of 8-14 members. Each of these positions was hereditary within a matrilineage. The individual communities and villages were governed by councils of their own sachems and chiefs.
According to the 1996 Census, around 50 000 Iroquois are dispersed among several reserves in Canada. Among the largest concentrations of Iroquois in Canada are the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont, the Mohawks of Akwesasne near Cornwall, Ont, and Kahnawake outside Montréal.
Author PETER G. RAMSDEN
L.H. Morgan, League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois (1861, repr League of the Iroquois, 1962); A.A. Shimony, Conservatism among the Iroquois at the Six Nations Reserve (1961); B.G. Trigger, ed, Handbook of North American Indians, vol 15: Northeast (1978).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Extensive site devoted to current and historical issues of importance to the Six Nations community.
A Heritage Minute about the Iroquois legend of the great Peacemmaker, who created the confederacy known as the League of the Six Nations. From the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related learning resources.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Exploration, the Fur Trade and Hudson's Bay Company
This nicely illustrated website chronicles the turbulent early years of Canada’s fledgling fur trade. Features stories about European explorers, Aboriginal communities, the North West Company, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Also includes online maps, teacher materials, and links to primary sources in the Early Canadiana Online database.
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada
The Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the period in 1535-1536 when Jacques Cartier and his shipmates wintered near the Iroquoian village of Stadacona. This National Historic Site also recalls the establishment of the first residence of the Jesuit missionaries in Québec, in 1625-1626.
Raid on Deerfield
A narrated history of the 1704 Raid on Deerfield and its aftermath from Native and European perspectives. Also features fascinating stories about Native societies, cultures, trade practices, and traditions. This multimedia website is from the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Virtual Vault: The Four Indian Kings
The four Indian kings first travelled to London in 1710 to meet Queen Anne as delegates of the Iroquoian Confederacy in an effort to cement an alliance with the British. Queen Anne was so impressed by her visitors that she commissioned their portraits by court painter John Verelst. The portraits are believed to be some of the earliest surviving oil portraits of Aboriginal peoples taken from life. From Library and Archives Canada.
A superb multimedia website dedicated to native dance traditions from coast to coast in Canada. Features audio and video clips, in-depth interviews and articles for students, the image research database for scholars, downloadable resource kits for teachers, and more. Produced by Carleton University and The Sumner Group Inc., with the assistance of many other organizations and contributors.
To learn more about the Iroquois languages and to hear Cayuga words and phrases, visit Ohwejagehka Hadegaenage.
The website for the Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Centre, an ancient Iroquoian village near the La Guerre River in what is now the municipality of Saint-Anicet, Québec.
See page 51 for a portrait of Red Jacket. Also includes an account of the tenuous relations between Iroquois leaders and British and American officials in the 18th century. From the New York State Museum.
Eastern Woodland Indians Culture
A brief history of various Woodland First Nations subcultures that existed throughout the eastern half of North America. From the "Woodland Indians Culture" website.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...