The Iroquois Confederacy to Six Nations

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Northern Kentucky University
The Iroquois
Confederacy to Six Nations

Thesis: Examine how the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Cayuga, and the 1722 addition of the Tuscarora, resulted in the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations and their influence on the creation of the Constitution.

Nicole Cushingberry
Cultural Anthropology
Michael Striker
December 16, 2011

Nicole Cushingberry
Instructor: Michael Striker
Anthropology 100

The Iroquois: Confederacy to Six Nations
The Iroquois Confederacy, also known as Five Nations or Six Nations after the 1720 inclusion of the Tuscarora, was a collective of tribes that occupied the upper region of New York state around Lake Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Southern Ontario and Quebec. The term Iroquois is an English deviation from a French deviation of an offensive Algonkian (group of Native American Indian languages used from South Carolina to Labrador, Canada and west to the Great Plains) term for “real snakes”. Originally, the members of the confederacy described themselves as Kanonsionni (compound word – kanonsa meaning “house” and “ionni” meaning extended) or “people of the longhouse” whereas today the term Haudenosaunee is used which translates to “people building an extended house”. The literal meaning of these terms describes the housing arrangement of the Iroquois – a dwelling typically 60 feet long (as large as 300 feet long) constructed of young, bendable trees, covered with bark.

Historically and by native traditions, Dekanawidah, a Huron tribe member and shaman, is credited with creating the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as The Great Law of Peace, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Great Law of the Iroquois was communicated orally, believed to be one of the earliest collections of governing principles equivalent to the constitution, and was utilized as a justice system to be applied to tribe members by their chiefs. Chief Hiawatha, an Onondaga living amongst a Mohawk tribe and an equivalent to a modern day politician, was persuaded by Dekanawidah to teach The Great Law of the Iroquois in hopes of eliminating the ongoing conflicts between the tribes resulting in the raiding of villages to obtain captives, retaliation, and murder. Dekanawidah also hoped that by uniting the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca, they would be able to defend themselves against European invasion. Tribal Society

Several tribes of the Northeast region spoke the Iroquois language but not all of them were members of the confederacy (at left, map shows the tribes and regions in New York State; the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy is shown in red). The Five Nations, was formed when the Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Seneca agreed to abide by the principles of The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy; Six Nations was created when the Tuscaroa, a tribe from North Carolina, Requested admittance into the confederacy

to gain protection from European colonization
moreover, enslavement.

The Six Nations of the confederacy is comprised of clan groups of matrilineal descent, with members being part of the mother’s family (all members of each clan were related to other clans via the mothers) automatically at birth and will remain as such for their lifetime. Family kinship was determined by bifurcate merging, with unilineal descent. The Iroquois were matrilocal; when a man was selected as being worthy to join their longhouse as a husband by the elder women, after marriage, the couple resided in the longhouse of woman’s birth. Though women were in the position of power commonly held by men, they did not dominate the society. The most senior woman lead her clan and was charged with the naming of children, working her advisors to elect a chief to represent the clan and remove him if he did not meet his obligations, food production and distribution, making clothing, participating in medicinal groups, and...
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