Mohawk (St. Regis) Tribe

“If you have any influence with the great, endeavor to use it for the good of my poor Indians.”-Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), Mohawk

Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant. Photo: Early America.

Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant. Photo: Early America.

Flag of the St. Regis Mohaw - Photo website.

Flag of the St. Regis Mohaw – Photo website.


The Mohawk was one of the tribes affiliated with the Iroquois Confederacy, which dates back to the 1600′s.

This alliance was originally between the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, but later the Tuscaroras joined their league.

Originally, they were located in the north eastern region of New York State extending into southern Canada and Vermont.

The most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation, the Mohawks  were known as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door” because for years, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction by tribes from the New England and lower New York areas.

In 1614, the Dutch opened a trading post near present-day Albany, New York.

The Dutch initially traded for furs with the local Mahican. In 1628, the Mohawk tribe defeated the Mahican, who retreated to Connecticut.

The Mohawk gained a near-monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by not allowing the neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes to trade with them. The Mohawk and Dutch became allies. The Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawk to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwe, Huron-Wendat, and Algonquin.

During 1666 the French attacked the Mohawk destroying their villages and food supplies. The Mohawks decided to make peace with the French. One of the conditions of the peace was that the Mohawks accept Jesuit missionaries.

In 1669, missionaries arrived and converted many Mohawks and relocated to two mission villages near Montreal. These Mohawks became known as Kahnawake and they became allies of the French.

The Mohawk people had continually used this site as part of their fishing and hunting grounds prior to the building of the first church. “Akwesasne” as it is known today, translates roughly to “Land where the partridge drums”. The community became more populated as Mohawks left the Mohawk Valley under distressed conditions in the mid 1700’s. After the American War of Independence, the Mohawk people found it necessary to deal with the government of the State of New York.

In 1802, the Saint Regis Mohawk selected trustees and a clerk at a community meeting held on the reservation. The New York State legislature passed a law recognizing three trustees and a clerk as the Mohawk people’s chosen representatives.

Throughout the 19th century the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Government evolved to a point where the trustees were called Tribal Chiefs, formalized elections are now scheduled each year and definite terms of office were established. The Tribal Council is comprised of three Chiefs, three Sub-Chiefs and a Tribal Clerk.

Tribalpedia Questions for Comprehension and Discussion

1. What group were the Mohawks affiliated with?

2. What group were the Mohawks affiliated with?

3. Who were the other tribes in this group?

4. What does the term “ Kaniengehaga,” mean?

5. Why were the Mohawks known as the “Keepers of the Eastern” Door?

6. Which European group was the Mohawk first allies?

Click HERE for Complete Lesson Plan with Answer Key

Mohawks Today

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

Under the terms of the Jay Treaty (1794), the Mohawk people may pass freely across the International Boundary.

Today, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe administers it own environmental, social, policing, economic, health and educational programs, policies, laws and regulations.

Mohawks people of today have combined centuries-old ways of living into 20th century everyday life. The values of their historical culture still remain present in their daily life. Their distinctive heritage, language, ceremonies and traditional beliefs are still revered and maintained. The system of clans, or family lineage, is still kept intact. Among the Iroquois, descent and consequently clan membership are traced through the mother’s family line only.
For centuries the Roman Catholic Church and its missionaries have interacted with the Mohawk people. The Saint Regis Mohawks, as their name reflects, have had a close association with the Church for more than 200 years.

More than 300 years ago a young Mohawk woman embraced the Catholic faith and carried out works of charity and benevolence among her people for most of her very short life.

Her name was Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri, the Iroquois form of Catherine (her baptized name), means pure and Tekakwitha translated means putting things in order. Her very name signifies the mission for which her life and death are now remembered.  In the 1940s, the Vatican bestowed the title venerable on Kateri, this was the first step toward canonization. In June 1980, she was *beatified and now is known as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

*Beatification (from Latin beatus, blessed) is a honorary recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name (intercession of saints). Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process. A person who is beatified is given the title “Blessed”.

Tribal Community Supports Kids Fishing Program

There are good  schools and programs for children, such as the Akwesasne Right To Read program, which  represents one of the 74 community-based sites designated in 1972. The program is housed in the Mohawk Library Cultural Center which is located near the middle of the Mohawk Reservation on the U.S. side. There are also recreation and cultural programs such as the Fishing Program for children.

Mohawk Creation Story 

“As the Mohawks and other tribes of the Iroquois Nations tell the story, there was no earth in the beginning. Instead, there were two levels—a great ocean that stretched farther than anyone could see, and far above this, the Sky World. In the Sky World lived an ancient chief and his young wife. And in the middle of the Sky World grew a magnificent tree that produced many kinds of fruits and flowers, and had enormous roots that spread north, south, east, and west.
The man and his wife, Sky Woman, were expecting a child. Sky Woman decided that she needed some bark from the root of the tree—perhaps for medicine, perhaps to eat. As the husband dug around the base of the tree to expose a large root, a hole broke through. Curious, Sky Woman leaned over it—she could see the water below. But then she slipped. As she fell down through the hole she frantically grasped at the tree roots and the seeds on the ground. The birds gathered to rescue Sky Woman, stretching out their broad wings in a raft to catch her and slow her fall. As Sky Woman approached the water, a great sea turtle came up from the ocean floor. The birds let Sky Woman down on the turtle’s back.
Sky Woman thought she would die. But the creatures of the ocean came to help her. She asked them to dive down and try to find some earth in which she could plant the seeds and roots that she had clutched in her hand. Only the muskrat succeeded, resurfacing with a small clod of dirt in her paw. The muskrat placed the dirt on the turtle’s back, and it began to grow and grow, until it became the whole world. Sky Woman planted the seeds and the roots, and the world became green. In time she gave birth to a girl, who in turn would gave birth to twin boys. These twins represent a balance in nature.”


St. Regis Mohawk home site

Saint Regis Mohawk Culture and History

Mohawks: Wikipedia 

Mohawk Creation Story: Iroquois Museum