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Encyclopedia > Iroquois Confederacy

The Iroquois Confederacy (also known as the League of Peace and Power) is a group of First Nations/Native Americans. Based in upstate New York at the time of the arrival of the Europeans, they now occupy territory in Ontario, Quebec and New York.

Panoramic View of Iroquois, 1914

The spiritual union of the nations began before European contact, replete with a Constitution recorded with special beads called wampum that served the same purpose as money in other cultures. Most Western anthropologists speculate that this Constitution was created sometime between the middle 1400s and early 1600s, but other scholars who account for Iroquois oral tradition argue that the event took place as early as 1100, with many arguing for August 31, 1142 based on a coinciding solar eclipse (see Fields and Mann, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, vol. 21, #2). Some Westerners have also suggested that this Constitution was written with European help, although most dismiss this notion as blatant racism.

The two prophets, Hiawatha and "The Great Peacemaker", brought a message of peace to related squabbling tribes. Those who joined in the League were the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawks. Once they ceased (most) infighting, they rapidly became one of the strongest forces in 17th and 18th century northeastern North America. The League engaged in a series of wars against the French and their Iroquoian-speaking Wyandot ("Huron") allies. They also put great pressure on the Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic coast and what is now subarctic Canada and not infrequently fought the English colonies as well.

Modern flag

According to Francis Parkman, the Iroquois at the 17th century height of their power had a population of around 12,000 people. League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through the "Mourning War", raids intended to seize captives and take vengeance on non-members. This tradition was common to native people of the northeast and was quite different from European settlers' notions of combat.

In 1720 the Tuscarora fled north from the European invasion of North Carolina and petitioned to become the Sixth Nation. This is a non-voting position but places them under the protection of the Confederacy.

The combined leadership of the Nations is known as the Haudenosaunee. It should be noted that "Haudenosaunee" is the term that the people use to refer to themselves. The word "Iroquois" comes from a French version of a Huron (Wendat) name - considered an insult - meaning "Black Snakes" (They fought the Algonquin who where allied with the french, due to their rivalry in the fur trade). Haudenosaunee means "People Building a Long House." The term is said to have been introduced by The Great Peacemaker at the time of the formation of the Confederacy. It implies that the Nations of the confederacy should live together as families in the same longhouse.

The Iroquois political union and democratic government has been credited as one of the influences on the United States Constitution.

Member Nations

English Name
Iroquoian Name
Primarily Location
Seneca (5) Onondowahgah People of the Great Hill Seneca Lake and Genesee River
Cayuga (5) Guyohkohnyoh People of the Great Swamp Cayuga Lake
Onondaga (5) Onundagaono People of the Hills Onondaga Lake
Oneida (5) Onayotekaono People of the Upright Stone Oneida Lake
Mohawk (5) Kanien'kéhaka People of the Flint Mohawk River
Tuscarora (6) Ska-Ruh-Reh Shirt-Wearing People From North Carolina, settled just west of Oneidas
Note 5: Member of Original Five Nations (listed from west to east)
Note 6: Sixth Nation (Joined in 1720)


  • "The Ordeal of the Longhouse", by Daniel K. Richter
  • Who Are the Haudenosaunee? (http://sixnations.buffnet.net/Culture/?article=who_we_are)
  • Oldest Living Participatory Democracy (http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/)

Related topics

Iroquois-Class destroyer of the Canadian Navy.

Iroquois kinship is a system of familial comprehension that originated with the Iroquois tribes.

  Results from FactBites:
Iroquois - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1039 words)
The Confederacy was based, at the time of the arrival of the Europeans, in what is now upstate New York.
According to Francis Parkman, the Iroquois were at the height of their power in the 17th century with a population of around 12,000 people.
The word "Iroquois" is reputed to come from a French version of a Huron (Wendat) name—considered an insult—meaning "Black Snakes." The Iroquois were enemies of the Huron and the Algonquin, who were allied with the French, due to their rivalry in the fur trade.
  More results at FactBites »



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