The Iroquois Indians

By Lily Hofer

The Iroquois are nation of six tribes that were active in trading during the time of the Atlantic World. They traded with the Europeans because they wanted weapons to fight the Algonquian Indians, their rivals. The Algonquians also traded with the Europeans for this same reason. The majority of the Europeans were Dutch, French and English. They had a government similar to ours, and they lived in longhouses. The Iroquois were religious, treated women very differently than other nations, and had a very advanced political government for their time.
The name Iroquois is actually an Algonquin insult that means “snakes”, and it refers to a language, not a tribe. The Iroquois were also called the Haudenosaunee, The People of the Longhouse, and the Five/Six Nations. The original five tribes are the Cayuga, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, and the Seneca, but a sixth nation, Tusacora, joined after European contact. Each tribe lived separately in their own land, most of which was located in what is now upstate New York and the Canadian province Ontario. The typical Iroquois village consisted of two or more large longhouses. A longhouse was usually large enough to hold a family of 30 to 60 people and it could be anywhere from 25 to 150 feet long. Their clothes were usually made of deerskin, and the men hunted deer and other game. Older boys could go along as soon as they had killed their first deer by themselves. While the men hunted, the women tended the crops. Sometimes in the winter, during times of peace, there was little for the men to do.
Women held a prominent position in Iroquois society. They could own longhouses, control property, choose their chief, and when a man married, he lived with the women’s family. The Iroquois were very religious, and they had several festivals each year to give thanks for health, clothing, food, and happiness. The festivals were New Year Festival, the Maple Festival, the Corn Planting Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Green Corn Festival, and the Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving. The Iroquois were rivals of the Algonquian Indians, and during the French and Indian war, they fought for opposite sides. The village moved about every 10-15 years because crops no longer grew well. Farming determined how the Iroquois lived. They planted corn, beans, and squash, and they called them “The Three Sisters.”

Women and girls wore skirts, vests, and moccasins. They liked to decorate their clothes with porcupine quills and shell beads. They also wore necklaces made of shell beads, and the teeth of various animals. Women that lived in the northern areas often times wore leggings. In the winter, they sometimes wore capes or shawls tied over the left shoulder. The men wore deerskin breechcloths in the summer, and in the cold weather, they wore leggings and tunics. The men wore moccasins made of leather or corn husks.

The Iroquois usually made tools out of stones and used fire to help fell trees. They also used fire to char the bottoms of posts. They did this so that they wouldn’t rot as fast while buried underground The Iroquois also used fire to cut posts and poles. As a controlled fire burned, the blackened and charred parts were scraped and chopped away with a stone tool, and canoes were shaped the same way. Using fire was much easier for them than using stone tools. Later, they were able to obtain metal tools, knives, and other weapons from the Europeans, and they didn’t need fire as much as they had before.
The Iroquois were very advanced in their social and political organization. They had a government similar to the United States’, with the three branches, judicial, executive, and legislative. The government was called “The Council.” It was also similar in the way they chose the leader. They honored the women and let them help choose the chief, who was always a man. They could “dehorn” a chief who didn’t represent the best interests of the people or who committed a serious crime.
The Iroquois had a special society called The False Face Society. The Society was made up of medicine men who wore masks to heal people. The masks were thought to have special powers, and when the men wore the masks, they were able to use the power to restore the tribe to good health. Making a mask was a difficult and time consuming task. When a new member was inaugurated, he had to make his own mask. He was sent into the woods with some stone tools, and then he carved the face of the mask into a living tree. The mask was then cut out of the tree and decorated.
This nation of six tribes helped shape America with their interest in trading, treatment of women, and government. When they agreed to trade with the Europeans, they opened a new route for traveling and started a new age of trading. They treated their women in a way that was not appropriate in America until at least 1920. Women did a lot of the work that in our society would be a job for a man. Their government was extremely advanced for the 1500s. They even had the rough equivalent of the Constitution! The Iroquois drastically improved the future of America before the country was even founded.

I had put pictures in here but they showed up as URLs that were pages long, so I deleted them.