The Haudenosaunee

The Storyteller by L.F. Tantillo

I. The Haudenosaunee Creation Story

        A. Main Characters

  1. Sky Woman

            a) Sky Woman�s Husband - Sky Holder

  1. Sky Woman�s Daughter - Corn Mother

            a) The West Wind - Father of the Twins?

  1. Left Handed Twin - Flint

  2. Right Handed Twin - Sapling

        B. Locations

  1. Sky World

  2. Turtle Island

        C. Main Ideas

  1. Balance in Nature - plant eaters (prey) and predators.

  2. Good vs. Bad - Sapling vs. Flint.

  3. Explains the world and the Iroquois� place in it.

II. The Word Iroquois

        A. Iroquois is a French version of an Algonquian term meaning �Rattlesnake People�.

        B. The Iroquois referred to Algonquians as Adirondack or �They Eat Trees�.

        C. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee or �People of the Longhouse�.

III. Patterns of Space

        A. The Forest

  1. Giant Trees and Trails.

  2. Cool and Dark.

  3. Domain of the Hunter and Warrior.

  4. Inhabited by Spirits.

        B. The Clearing

  1. The Village and the Fields.

  2. Bright and Sunny.

  3. Domain of the Clan Matron and Farmer.

  4. Inhabited by People.

 C. The Longhouse

  1. Earliest longhouses, called Ganusas, are approx. 600 years old.

  2. 15 to 20 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and from 50 to 150 feet long.

  3. Constructed with logs, bent saplings, and elm-bark shingles.

  4. Doors on either side allowed the winds to purify the house.

  5. Clan emblems were above the doors.

  6. Children lived near the doors, so they could run in and out.

 IV. Patterns of Time: Calendar & Festivals

       A. The Iroquois year had two parts

  1. Summer - �Growing Season�.

  2. Winter - �When the earth sleeps�.

       B. The Iroquois year was divided into 13 months, or �moons�. 

  1. Each moon had 28 days.

  2. Moons were named according to seasonal events:

a) �Maple Moon�, �Planting Moon�, �Corn Harvest Moon�,

�Moon of Falling Leaves�, �Moon of Snow and Blizzards�.

       C. The Iroquois recalled important events that happened during each year.

       D. Each season had its own festivals.

  1. Midwinter Festival (February) - the end of one year and the beginning of another.  This most important Iroquois festival lasted seven days.

  2. Maple Dance (early March) - gave thanks to the maple tree for its sap. This celebration lasted one day.

  3. Planting Festival (late May or early June) - marked the beginning of planting season.

  4. Strawberry Festival (June) - gave thanks to the strawberry.

  5. Green Corn Festival (mid-summer) - gave thanks to the Three Sisters for the corn, beans, and squash.  This lasted four days when the first crops were ripe enough to eat.

  6. Harvest Festival (fall) - the Iroquois Thanksgiving, gave thanks for a successful harvest. It lasted four days.

 V. Kinship & Family

A. Nuclear Family - a family unit that consists of parents and their children.

B. Extended Family - a nuclear family plus all relatives related by blood ties.

C. Patrilineal Family - traces family line through the father.

  1. Most Indian and European cultures considered the father the �head� of the family.

D. Matrilineal Family - traces family line through the mother.

  1. The Iroquois considered the �Chief or Clan Mother� (the oldest woman relative) to be the �head� of the family.

  2. Families numbered from approx. 50 to 250 persons.

  3. The family lived with the Chief Mother in one longhouse.

a) her husband, her unmarried sons, her daughters and their husbands and children, her granddaughters and their husbands and children, and her sisters and nieces etc.

b) all married males lived with their wife�s family but they belonged to the longhouse family of their mother.

  1. All property and land belonged to the women.

E. Clans - Groups of Iroquois families that believed they were descended from the same mother, far back in time.

  1. There were nine clans, each with it�s own animal emblem: i.e. Bear, Beaver, Deer, Eel, Hawk, Heron, Snipe, Turtle, & Wolf.

  2. Every nation did not have every clan, but all Iroquois nations shared three clans - Bear, Turtle, and Wolf.

  3. Members of �your� clan were considered relatives, no matter where they lived.

 VI. The Roles Of Men and Women

        A. Womens Responsibilities:

  1. Planting and harvesting crops.

  2. Gathering fruits, nuts, roots, and forest plants and herbs.

  3. Preparing food for cooking and storing.

  4. Making clothing and jewelry.

  5. Weaving baskets and making pottery.

  6. Choosing Sachems (chiefs) for tribal councils.

        B. Mens Responsibilities:

  1. Hunting and fishing.

  2. Guarding the village from enemies (Warriors).

  3. Clearing trees from land.

  4. Building longhouses.

  5. Making weapons and tools.

  6. Serving as Sachems on tribal councils.

VII. Agriculture

A. Farming was the Iroquois main activity.

  1. Men would clear the fields.

  2. Women farmed the land (and owned it!).

B. Corn, Beans, and Squash, known as The Three Sisters or Our Supporters, were the most important crops.

C. Tobacco - the sacred plant, sunflowers - for cooking oil, and pumpkins were also raised.

D. The Iroquois also gathered and harvested many wild fruits, nuts, herbs, roots, and forest plants.

VIII. The Iroquois Confederacy

A. According to legend Deganawida (the Peacemaker), a Huron, brought the Good Message of Peace to the Iroquois people.

B. The message stressed righteousness, health (peace), and power as the means to make a balanced whole.

C. Since a woman was the first to accept Deganawida's message, women have an prominent place in Iroquois society.

D. Some scholars believe that the Great Law of Peace was adopted by all of the original five nations on August 31, 1142.

E. The original five nations were:

  1. The Mohawk - Keepers of the eastern door or People of flint.

  2. The Oneida - People of the standing stone.

  3. The Onondaga - Keepers of the council fire or People of the hills.

  4. The Cayuga - People at the landing.

  5. The Seneca - Keepers of the western door or Great hill people.

F. The Tuscarora - Shirt wearing people, a sixth nation was allowed to join as a non-voting member in 1722.

G. At its height, in the late 1600s, the Iroquois Confederacy numbered approximately 25,000 people.

IX.  The Iroquois Constitution

A. The Kainerekowa or Great Law of Peace simply stated that the Iroquois people should not kill each other. Five arrows together are stronger than one arrow alone.

          B. The Iroquois Constitution was based on 114 wampums.

          C. The Iroquois Council was composed of 50 sachems or peace chiefs.

  1. Iroquois women nominated and chose the sachems.

  2. Each of the original five nations had a set representation:

D. The Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca members of the council were known as the elder brothers.


E. The Oneida, Cayuga, and Tuscarora members were known as the younger brothers.


F. The Mohawk and Oneida formed one faction in the council and the Seneca and Cayuga formed the other. The Onondaga represented compromise.

          G. All decisions of the council had to be unanimous.


X.  Power of the Iroquois Confederacy

A.  Unity - They were united and could use the strength and resources of all the nations in the Confederacy.

B.  Skill as Warriors - They were fierce warriors and, with the help of Dutch and British guns, they were able to dominate most of the neighboring Indian nations.

C.  Waterways and Trails - They controlled the waterways and paths into, around, and within what is now New York.  This allowed them to control the European fur (beaver) trade and gave them an edge over their neighbors.

D.  Rich Resources - Iroquois agriculture, an abundance of food, and the richness of their lands gave Iroquois warriors the time and ability to conquer their neighbors and protect themselves.