Iroquois Confederacy -- The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy.

The people of the Six Nations, also known by the French term, Iroquois Confederacy, called themselves the Hau de no sau nee (ho dee noe sho nee) or People of the Longhouse. Located in a region which became the northeastern United States, the original confederation consisted of five nations and included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The sixth nation, the Tuscaroras, migrated into Iroquois country in the early eighteenth century. Together these peoples comprised the oldest living participatory democracy on earth. Their story, and governance based on the consent of the governed, contained many advanced civilized concepts for a people who have been vilified in history as savages, heathens, untamed..., and worse. The original United States representative republic, fashioned by such central figures as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, drew much inspiration from this confederacy of nations. The Six Nations lived by these general principles for over 800 hundred years.

The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution >

Iroquois Indians
Five Nations, or Iroquois Long House

~1000 ?

Iroquois Indians, pronounced IHR uh kwoy, formed a federation of tribes that once occupied upper New York state. From east to west, the tribes included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The Iroquois called themselves the Ongwanonhsioni. This name refers to their dwellings and means we long house builders. The Iroquois tribes became famous as the Five Nations, or Iroquois Long House. The federation was the most efficient North American Indian organization.

The federation was formed by the early 1600's. About 1722, the Tuscarora Indians joined the Iroquois League, which then became known as the Six Nations. The confederation of states that became the United States of America may have been patterned after the league.

Women played an important part in Iroquois life. They nominated members of the tribal council and removed them from office if they misbehaved. Each tribe sent a given number of its leaders to the great federation council. The language of the Iroquois belonged to a large language family, the Iroquoian.

The Iroquois were brave and skillful warriors. They obtained firearms from the Dutch in the early 1600's, and soon subdued all the Indians from the St. Lawrence River to Tennessee and from Maine to Michigan. They controlled the fur trade in their territory and boat travel on the Great Lakes.

Some historians say that if the French had been able to make allies of the Iroquois, they might have won the French and Indian wars, and the United States might have become French. But the Iroquois, under such leaders as Joseph Brant, sided with the British. Later, however, the league broke up over the question of whether to join the British or the Americans during the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783). All of the Indian tribes except the Oneida and Tuscarora took the British side. In 1779, General John Sullivan, under George Washington's orders, took revenge on the Indians by destroying their villages.

Most of the Cayuga and Mohawk and some of the Tuscarora moved to reservations in Canada. A majority of the Oneida moved to Wisconsin, and a few Seneca went to live in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. The Onondaga and most of the Seneca and Tuscarora remained on five reservations in New York state.

According to the 1990 U.S. census, about 49,000 people belong to the Iroquois tribes. The present headquarters of the Iroquois confederacy are at Onondaga Reservation, south of Syracuse, N.Y. This reservation contains the council houses, the home of the chief, and the grave of Handsome Lake, a Seneca prophet.

Contributor: Robert E. Powless, Ph.D., Prof. of American Indian Studies, Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth.


Use Browser « Back Button To Return To Last Page Visited
Copyright (1998 - 2000): Concord Learning Systems, Concord, NC.
All rights reserved. For details and contact information:
See License Agreement, Copyright Notice.