“..Simply put, the Iroquois were the most important Native group in North American history…It was the Iroquois political system, however, that made them unique, and because of it, they dominated the first 200-years of colonial history in both Canada and the United States. Strangely enough, there were never that many of them, and the enemies they defeated in war were often twice their size.”- Lee Sultzman
Although much has been made of their Dutch firearms, the Iroquois prevailed because of their unity, sense of purpose, and superior political organization. Since the Iroquois League was formed prior to any contact, it owed nothing to European influence. Proper credit is seldom given, but the reverse was actually true. Rather than learning political sophistication from Europeans, Europeans learned from the Iroquois, and the League, with its elaborate system of checks, balances, and supreme law, almost certainly influenced the American Articles of Confederation and Constitution… The Iroquois were comprised of several tribal groups. This Included the Mohawk, the Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca. The Iroquois were also known as the Confederate Indians, and the Five Nations. The original location of the Iroquois was in upstate New York, between the Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls. By 1680, through conquests and migration, the Iroquois had gained control of most of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.
The exact date of the founding of the Iroquois Nation is not clear. The general consensus places the union in approximately 1570. What is definite is that the Iroquois were established before European contact. The Iroquois union was made to maintain peace among the five tribes.
Prior to the union, there were constant wars and revenge killings. It is said that a holy man named Deganawida ( known as the Peacemaker) from the Huron tribe went to Hiawatha, a Mohawk war chief, and convinced Hiawatha that there should be peace among the Iroquois. With a lot of effort, eventually, they were able to convince the other Iroquois to join together in a league. The following is an interesting excerpt by Lee Sultzman pertaining to this union:
…Legend tells that Deganawida blotted out the sun to convince the reluctant. A solar eclipse visible in upstate New York occurred in 1451 suggesting another possible date for these events. The formation of the League ended the warfare between its members bringing the Iroquois a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. It also brought political unity and military power, and unfortunately, Deganawida’s “Great Peace” extended only to the Iroquois themselves. For outsiders it was a military alliance and the “Great War” against any people with whom the Iroquois had a dispute, and during the first 130 years of the League’s existence, there were very few tribes who managed to avoid a dispute with the Iroquois…
The Iroquois continued to fight and conquer other tribes. There were battles fought that involved enemy tribes (any tribe that opposed them), the French, the Dutch and the British. What was constant was the powerful unity of the Iroquois. Interestingly, there were those tribes who refused to be dominated by the league, regardless of their power. …The League’s actual power to speak for some tribes was far from absolute. No amount of threat and intimidation could force the Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, Catawba, or Choctaw to submit to the League’s authority, and Iroquois attempts to enforce their will often led to warfare.
The American Revolution took place from 1775-1783. This war forced the British to seek alliance with several of the tribes, including the Mohawks to help fight the Americans.
Both the British and the Americans sought the support of the Iroquois, however, the league chose to remain neutral. Unfortunately the neutrality did not last: …The League listened respectfully to both arguments, but although they recognized the new United States in 1776, their decision was to remain neutral. .. If the League had been able to remain neutral, it probably would have survived the war. However, this was not to be…
…The “Great Peace” ended in 1777, and the Iroquois League was destroyed two years later. The Caughnawaga and the other members of the Seven Nations of Canada also intended to remain neutral in the beginning but were drawn into the war during which its members fought on both sides… …Their decision to side with the British during the Revolutionary War was a disaster for the Iroquois. The American invasion of their homeland in 1779 drove many of the Iroquois into southern Ontario where they have remained. With large Iroquois communities already located along the upper St. Lawrence in Quebec at the time, roughly half of the Iroquois population has since lived in Canada.
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
For the following questions from the reading mark them either T (True) or F (False) if they are False make the correction.
1. The Iroquois were comprised of several tribal groups.
2. This did not Included the Mohawk, the Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca.
3. The original location of the Iroquois was Florida.
4. The Iroquois were established before European contact.
5. The Iroquois never fought with other tribes, they were friends with all people.
6. What was constant was the powerful unity of the Iroquois.
7. The British Revolution took place from 1775-1783.
8. Today, the Iroquois are located in Quebec.
The Iroquois are located in seventeen different communities in New York State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ontario, and Quebec. The Iroquois work in construction (predominantly high steel), as educators, and in their nation’s government. There are a very large number of unemployed Iroquois, and many receive welfare. There are elementary schools, but many students attend high schools and colleges off of the reservation. On many of the reservations, Iroquois are building health and cultural centers, museums, and centers for recreation and sports. As shown in the photo above they have a very competitive Lacrosse team!
An Iroquois Myth: Why The Owl Has Big Eyes
One day the Everything-Maker was busy creating various animals. He was working on Rabbit, and Rabbit was saying: “I want nice long legs and long ears like a deer, and sharp fangs and claws like a panther.” “I do them the way they want to be; I give them what they ask for ,” said the Everything-Maker. He was working on Rabbit’s hind legs, making them long the way Rabbit had ordered.
Owl, still unformed, was sitting on a tree nearby and waiting for his turn. He was saying, “Whoo, whoo, I want a nice long beak like Eagle’s, and a nice long neck like Swan’s, and beautiful red feathers like Cardinal’s, and a nice crown of plumes like Heron’s. I want you to make me into the most beautiful, the fastest, the most wonderful of all the birds.”
The Everything-Maker said, “Be quiet. Turn around and look in another direction. Even better, close your eyes. Don’t you know that no one is allowed to watch me work?” The Everything-Maker was just then making Rabbit’s ears very long, the way Rabbit wanted them. Owl refused to do what the Everything-Maker said. “Whoo, whoo,” he replied, “nobody can forbid me to watch. Nobody can order me to close my eyes. I like watching you, and watch I will.”
Then the Everything-Maker became angry. He grabbed Owl, pulling him down from his branch, stuffing his head deep into his body, shaking him until his eyes grew big with fright, pulling at his ears until they were sticking up at both sides of his head.
“There,” said the Everything-Maker “that’ll teach you. Now you won’t be able to crane your neck to watch things you shouldn’t watch. Now you have big ears to listen when someone tells you what not to do. Now you have big eyes-but not so big that you can watch me, because you’ll be awake only at night, and I work by day. This is your punishment.” So Owl flew off, shouting: “Whoo, whoo, whoo.”
Now Rabbit had been so terrified by the Everything-Maker’s anger, even though it was not directed at him, that he ran off half done. This is why today Rabbit’s legs are long, and he has to hop about instead of walking and running. Also, because he took fright then, Rabbit has remained afraid of most everything, and he never got the claws and fangs he asked for in order to defend himself. Had he not run away then, Rabbit would have been an altogether different animal.
As for Owl, he remained as the Everything-Maker had shaped him in anger. With big eyes, a short neck, and ears sticking up on the sides of his head. On top of everything, he has to sleep during the day and come out only at night.
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