The Iroquois League

Long before the Europeans arrived on this continent there was born to the Huron people a man who had a vision of bringing peace to his people. In his vision he saw a great pine tree. The roots of this tree were five powerful nations. From these roots, the tree grew so high that its tip pierced through the sky and on top there was an eagle watching to see that none of the nations broke the peace among them. This Peacemaker was a man named Deganawida (also spelled Deganawidah).

According to oral tradition, Deganawida named each of the allied nations, choosing a place as the distinguishing feature of nationality:

  • Seneca: the big hill people, or the people of the big mountain
  • Cayuga: the people at the landing, in reference to portaging a canoe
  • Mohawk: the people of the flint, in reference to the flint quarries in their territory
  • Onondaga: the people of the hill, in reference to the hill where a woman long ago had appeared to give the people corn, beans, squash, and tobacco
  • Oneida: the people of the standing stone, in reference to the supernatural stone which followed them

Deganawida’s vision, articulated through the great Mohawk orator Hiawatha, united five Iroquois-speaking nations – the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Mohawk– into the League of Five Nations. Later the Tuscarora would join them to form the League of Six Nations. The League is also called the Iroquois Confederacy. They refer to themselves as Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse).

With regard to the Great Law which established the Confederacy, Kevin White, in an article in Indian Country Today, writes:

“The core concepts of the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee are peace, power, and righteousness.”

Former Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, in his book Indians of the Americas, writes:

“The plan was to renounce warfare between one another and to present an alliance against a warring world.”

He also calls the League of Five Nations “the most brilliant creation in the record of man.” The Haudenosaunee put it this way:

“The Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, is among the most ancient continuously operating governments in the world. Long before the arrival of the European peoples in North America, our people met in council to enact the principles of peaceful coexistence among nations and in recognition of the right of peoples to continue an uninterrupted existence.”

These principles include kinship, women’s leadership, and the widest possible community consensus.

The story of Deganawida and the founding of the League is a story of epic proportions which continues to be recounted in the oral traditions of the Iroquois today. According to anthropologist William Fenton, in his chapter in North American Indians in Historical Perspective:

“A knowledge of the teaching imputed to Deganawidah goes far to explain Iroquois self-confidence, their superiority to their neighbors, and at times their polite arrogance to the representatives of European governments.”

While the designation “Iroquois” is often used to refer to the Five or Six Nations, it should be remembered that not all Iroquois-speaking nations in the Northeast were members of the League. Deganawida’s own nation – the Huron – did not join.

The League of Five Nations originally had 50 permanent offices filled from the member nations: 14 from the Onondaga, 10 from the Cayuga, 9 from the Oneida, 9 from the Mohawk, and 8 from the Seneca. The men who filled these offices are known as sachems. According to former Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier:

“The Confederacy was one of delegated, limited powers; and with exhaustive care and success, it was so structured that authority flowed upward, from the smallest and most organic units, not downward from the top.”

He goes on to say:

“The Confederacy was a nation which enhanced the liberty and responsibility of its component parts down even to the minutest member.”

It was the women who first accepted the message of Deganawida, the prophet who first envisioned the League. Therefore, the women have a great deal of authority. The sachems are selected by the clan mothers. Women also have the right to initiative, recall, and referendum.

With regard to Iroquois leadership, Onondaga chief Oren Lyons, in Voice of Indigenous Peoples: Native People Address the United Nations, says:

“Our leaders were instructed to be men with vision and to make every decision on behalf of the seventh generation to come, to have compassion and love for those generations yet unborn.”

Deganawida, the Peacemaker and Founder of the League of Five Nations, is said to have advised the sachems that their “skin should be seven thumbs thick so that no outrageous criticism or evil magic could pierce them.”

There are three great double doctrines or principles (six principles in all) upon which the League was founded. The first principle stresses: (a) health of mind and body, and (b) peace among individuals and groups. The second principle stresses: (a) righteousness in conduct, including advocating this righteousness in thought and speech, and (b) equality in the adjustment of rights and obligations. The third principle stresses: (a) physical strength, power, and order, and (b) spiritual power (orenda).

Traditionally at the meetings of the League, each of the delegates from the Five Nations sat at assigned places in accordance with their position in the confederacy. As firekeepers, the Onondaga would give the topic for discussion first to the Mohawk and Seneca. The Mohawk would then discuss the matter among themselves and then refer it to the Seneca. After discussing the issue, the Seneca would return the item to the Mohawk who would hand the item across the fire to the Younger Brothers. It would then be discussed by the Oneida and then by the Cayuga. The Oneida would then hand it back across the fire to the Mohawk who would announce the combined opinion to the Onondaga. In her chapter “The League of the Iroquois: Its History, Politics, and Ritual,” in the Handbook of North American Indians Elizabeth Tooker reports:

“If the Onondaga disagreed, they referred it back for further discussion, but in so doing they had to show that the opinion of the other tribes was in conflict with the established custom or with public policy.”

While speaking, the speaker would hold a wampum belt which would then be handed to the tribe being addressed. In his book The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, historian Alan Taylor reports:

“As a sacred substance, wampum confirmed the earnest importance of a message. Without accompanying wampum, words were frivolous.”

Traditionally, an issue would be introduced at the council on one day, but not discussed that day. At some later time it would be discussed. It is tradition that the issue be slept with prior to discussing. Anthropologist William Fenton puts it this way:

“No Iroquois to this day will answer to a proposition on the same day, nor will he press another party for a reply until the latter is ready. One listens carefully, repeats the main points of what he hears, and then takes the message home and puts it under his head for the night as a pillow.”

Speeches at the council were made by individuals who were not only well-versed in proper Iroquois protocol, but also articulate orators. Historian José António Brandão, in his book “Your Fyre Shall Burn No More” Iroquois Policy toward New France and Its Native Allies to 1701, writes:

“They could be subtle and evasive enough to give an answer that the other side wished to hear, but without actually committing their tribes to a specific course of action.”

One important Iroquois custom was documenting their words with wampum belts. All agreements, for example, were accompanied by wampum belts which symbolized the important points of the agreement. At later times, the belts would be brought out and “read” if the agreement needed to be discussed again.

In order to record what was said in council, the Sachem presiding over the meeting would have a handful of small sticks. A stick would be given to one of the Sachems present so that the person with the stick would be responsible for remembering what the speaker said.

Historian José António Brandão summarizes the governing power of the Iroquois Confederacy during the 17th century:

“The Iroquois had no permanent governing body constantly in session and directing policy. What they had instead was a framework that allowed for joint action when the member tribes felt the need for it.”

Anthropologist William Fenton describes the League this way:

“What made the League effective was not its ability to centralize power and communicate authority to the margins, in which it failed miserably, but the consensus not to feud among the Five Nations and to compound such infractions by ritual payments of wampum.”

Among the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, there were two hereditary war chiefs and both of these titles belonged to the Seneca. They were Needle Breaker who belonged to the Wolf clan and Great Oyster Shell of the Turtle clan. The Seneca, as Guardians of the Western Door, were the first of the Iroquois to face the danger of an attack on the western frontier. These two chiefs assumed the planning for the military operations of the Five Nations.

The League of Five Nations also had Pine Tree Chiefs who served as advisors to the sachems. The Pine Tree Chiefs were outstanding orators, war leaders, and others who did not hold hereditary offices. Anthropologist William Fenton writes:

“Pine Tree chiefs were orators for the council or they spoke for the women, and they went on embassies.”

Within the League, the tribes are divided into two sides or moieties. In council, the Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca are considered “brothers” to each other and as “fathers” to the younger tribes (Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora). The Cayuga call the Oneida “elder brothers” and they call the Tuscarora “younger brothers”.

The members of the League of Five Nations made a distinction between civil chiefs and war chiefs. However, more prestige was given to the civil chiefs. The civil chiefs were viewed as fire keepers in the center of a concentric ring of warriors, women, and the general public.

Another important position in the Iroquois political system was the runner. In noting the importance of this position, historian Laurence Hauptman and former Oneida tribal secretary Gordon McLester, in their biography Chief Daniel Bread and the Oneida Nation of Indians of Wisconsin, write:

“Iroquois runners summoned councils, conveyed intelligence from nation to nation, and warned of impending danger. It is also important to note that the Iroquois use the term runner to describe a person who serves the council as a conduit for the conduct of essential business, and who is accorded respect as a community leader worthy of other higher positions of authority and prestige in the nation.”

The League of Five Nations Council traditionally met in the later summer or early fall at the council fires of the Onondaga.

The Iroquois Peace, 1700 to 1713

Around the year 1451 five Iroquois nations—the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk—met to form the confederacy envisioned by the Huron prophet Deganawida. The five nations buried the instruments of war and planted a pine tree of peace. By 1700, the Iroquois Confederacy, commonly known as the League of Five Nations, was in between two rival European nations: the French and the English.

To the north of the Iroquois, the French sought to establish trading relations with the Indian nations, including the Iroquois. The French, who often spoke Indian languages, married Indian women, and dressed in Indian style, did not require their Indian business partners to change their cultures.

On the other hand the English, who occupied lands to the south and to the east of the Iroquois, felt that the extermination of the Indians, or at least of Indian cultures, was necessary to “tame the wilderness.” The English rarely spoke Indian languages, generally prohibited intermarriage with Indians, and viewed Indian religions as a form of “devil worship.”

The French and the English were traditional enemies, often fighting a religious war. The English, who were Protestants, strongly opposed French Catholicism which they viewed as an atheistic, evil religion.

In 1700, three French ambassadors traveled to Onondaga to speak to the Council of the League of Five Nations. They told the Iroquois that it was time for peace and that they wished to exchange prisoners and to place a Jesuit mission in Iroquoia. The sachems (a sachem is a chief in the Northeastern Indian nations) agreed to send a delegation to Canada to arrange for the peace and for the exchange of prisoners, but they would not agree to accept a Jesuit mission.

When the Iroquois attempted to release their French prisoners, however, many refused repatriation. They had been adopted into Iroquois families and refused to abandon their new lives. Only 13 French captives agreed to return.

Upon hearing about the French delegation to the Five Nations, the English governor of New York sent a representative to the Council to tell the Iroquois not to be deceived by the French. The Indians perceived the English message as one that challenged their sovereignty and implied that the English looked upon them as subjects.

The Iroquois felt that they could work the animosity between the French and English to their own advantage. In 1701, the Iroquois made two treaties: one with the British in Albany and one with the French in Montreal. These treaties began a policy of armed neutrality between the two contending European powers. In the treaty with the British, the sovereignty of the Five Nations over a vast tract of land along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Huron was recognized. The King of England guaranteed Iroquois hunting in that area for their heirs and descendants forever. The Great Peace treaty with the French included 31 other Indian nations who were allied with the French. The two treaties marked the beginning of a period of material prosperity for the Iroquois. The Iroquois allowed trading posts only at the borders of their territories.

In 1702, war broke out between the French and the English in the form of Queen Anne’s War (War of Spanish Succession). Both the French and the English sought to keep the Iroquois neutral in this conflict so that the fur trade would not be interrupted. By remaining neutral, the Iroquois continued to trade with both and to maintain their dominant position in the fur trade.

In 1709, the British Governor met with four of the Five Nations (all except for the Seneca) to renew the Covenant Chain. The British told the Iroquois that they wanted them to take part in a military expedition against Canada. The Iroquois agreed to provide the British with 150 Mohawk, 105 Oneida, 100 Cayuga, and 88 Onondaga. However, the English war ships never arrived to supply the invasion and the war fizzled out before it began.

In 1710, Fort Hunter was built by the English in Mohawk territory. A wooden chapel was built within the fort and Queen Anne gave it a set of communion plates. The building of the chapel marked an intensification of Protestant missionary activity in the region. The following year, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent a missionary to Fort Hunter to convert the Mohawk.

 In 1712, the Iroquois Five Nations received wampum belts from the Tuscarora in the Carolinas. The Tuscarora asked for help in fighting the Catawba and the Virginia and Carolina colonists. When the governor of New York heard of the request, he warned the Iroquois not to get involved. The Iroquois promised to ask the Tuscarora to stop fighting if the governor asked the colonists to put down their arms. The French, however, convinced the Iroquois to send some warriors to aid the Tuscarora.

Queen Anne’s War between the French and English ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Under this treaty, the Iroquois were considered British subjects and trade was permitted with the western Indians by both the British and the French.

An Iroquois in Oregon

In 1857, Enos Thomas, whose tribal identity is simply listed as Iroquois, was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford, Oregon to be tried for war crimes committed during the recent Rogue River War. When the primary witness against him failed to appear, the Justice of the Peace William Copeland ordered the sheriff William Riley to free Enos. As soon as the blacksmith had freed him from his chains, a mob seized him, gave him some whiskey to drink, took him to the historic Battle Rock, and hung him. His body was buried at Battle Rock.

This type of incident—a mob hanging an Indian for “crimes” committed during a “war” with the United States—was common in the nineteenth century West. The interesting question is, however, how did an Iroquois, whose homelands are in the Northeast, come to be a war leader among tribes in southern Oregon?

The answer to this question lies in the early nineteenth century fur trade. The fur trade in the Pacific Northwest (in what would become Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) was dominated by two major fur companies: the London-based Hudson Bay Company (HBC) and the Montreal-based North West Company (the Nor’westers). As the Nor’westers moved into the area, they brought with them a number of Iroquois who were employed as trappers. These Iroquois had been educated by the Jesuits at the Caughnawaga Mission near Montreal in Canada. It was relatively common for these Iroquois to leave their employer and to settle among the tribes in the region.

The designation “Iroquois” does not refer to a single tribe, but is most frequently used to refer to the six Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora. The Iroquois homeland had originally included most of what is now New York and Ontario. Following the American Revolutionary War, many of the Iroquois settled in Canada.

Since many of the Iroquois who came to the Pacific Northwest spoke French as their primary European language, it was common for American settlers in the region to view them as French-Canadian. In most cases, the historic record does not indicate which of the Iroquois nations these trappers came from.

While there are no records regarding the early life of Enos (whose name is also indicated as Enas and Eneas and who is often described as a Canadian Indian), it is likely that he came into the region in the employ of HBC after the merger with the Nor’westers. He may also have grown up in a community of former HBC employees who had settled in Oregon. If this was the case, then his mother was most likely from an Oregon tribe or a Métis whose family was associated with the fur trade.

According to some historians, Enos may have worked as a guide for the 1843-1844 exploring expedition of John Charles Frémont: in 1843 Frémont hired two Indians—neither their names nor their tribal affiliations are recorded—to guide him from The Dalles to Klamath Lakes. According to Frémont’s records, one of these Indians had been to Klamath Lake and bore the battle scars of encounters with the Native people of that area. The physical description of this Indian appears to match that of Enos.

By 1855, Enos was living among the Tututni and had a Tututni wife. He was also friends with Benjamin Wright. In 1852, Wright had organized a party of volunteers in northern California for the purpose of killing Modocs. The Americans wanted to punish the Modoc for supposedly attacking wagon trains as they passed through Modoc territory. Wright then invited 46 Modocs to a peace conference. They first attempted to poison them with strychnine, but the Modoc declined the feast which was offered to them. The volunteers then opened fire with rifles on them. The Modoc had no guns. Only five of the Modoc, including Schonchin John and Curly Headed Doctor, escaped. The bodies of the dead Modoc were scalped and mutilated. The volunteers were proclaimed heroes and the state of California paid them for their services.

The following year, a group of Indians were invited into Wright’s camp under a white flag in order to negotiate peace. In a well-planned attack, Wright’s volunteers killed 38 Indians and scalped them.

In 1854, Benjamin Wright was appointed as special sub-Indian agent to handle affairs in the Port Orford, Oregon district. Enos and his wife gained Wright’s trust and he brought them into his confidence and sought their counsel.

In 1855, the so-called Rogue River War broke out between the Americans (particularly gold miners) and the various Indian nations along Oregon’s Rogue River. In 1856, Enos asked Benjamin Wright to meet with him at the Tututni village to discuss a possible peace. Wright, together with John Poland who represented the mining communities in the area, went upstream to meet with Enos and the Tututni. Both men were then killed and their bodies mutilated. Their bodies were never found by the Americans. These murders were the first step in a well-planned Indian uprising. The following day, the Indians attacked a volunteer regiment on the north side of the Rogue River and then went downstream to attack the community of Gold Beach. Under the leadership of Enos, the Indians burned about 60 non-Indian cabins and killed 31 people. The Americans branded Enos as a war criminal.

The siege of Gold Beach lasted for about a month and the Americans easily recognized Enos riding a white horse and encouraging the Indians in their fight. When U.S. Army troops reached the area, the Indians retreated upstream. According to one account, Enos was wounded in the thigh at a skirmish at Pistol River.

In late July, 1856 (perhaps the 26th or 27th), Enos was at the camp of Tututni Chief Taminestse at Port Orford where the Indians were awaiting transportation to the Siletz Indian Reservation. Indian agent William Chance describes his arrest:  “He made no resistance, said he could not keep away. He did not know why but it appeared to him that he had to come to the reservation.”

Among the Indian leaders of the Rogue River War, only Enos was arrested and singled out for trial. While Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer advocated the execution of all Indians who were known to have killed non-Indians during the war, only Enos was chosen for punishment. Enos was transferred from the coast reservation to Fort Vancouver where he was to be held awaiting a civil tribunal. The charges against him were murder and inciting to massacre.

In the spring of 1857, Enos was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford by steamer. Due to bad weather, the ship had to dock to Crescent City to the south, when Enos was held in the local jail. When the weather cleared, he was taken north to Port Orford where he would be hung without a trial.

While it seemed to be important to the Americans to have a legal ritual (trial) before executing an Indian, in reality most Indians accused of crimes at this time were simply killed without this formality.

Joseph Brant in Canada

During the Revolutionary War, many Indians allied themselves with their old trading partners, the British. For the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, the divided loyalties led to the ritual covering of their council fire so that each nation was free to choose sides. At the 1777 Battle of Oriskany, for example, the pro-British Iroquois under the leadership of Joseph Brant (Mohawk) and Chainbreaker (Seneca) fought against the pro-patriot Iroquois under the leadership of Nonyery Tewahangaraghkan (Oneida). Following the war, the Indian allies of the British expressed anger and disbelief as the British handed over their Indian lands to the Americans. The Americans seemed determined to extract retribution from all Indians regardless of whether they had fought for or against the Americans. As a result many Indians, including many former British allies, fled north to Canada.

In 1783, Joseph Brant accepted new lands along the Grand River, just north of Lake Erie, for the Iroquois League of Six Nations who had remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. The land was viewed as compensation for their loss of land in New York. Brant was also commissioned as Captain of the Northern Confederate Indians.

In New York, Joseph Brant met with the chiefs of the Iroquois League of Six Nations and invited them to join with him in his reserve in Ontario. He felt that the British government would serve the Iroquois better than the new American government. The chiefs entrusted the decision to the clan matrons. The clan mothers decided that the Six Nations should divide, with half in Canada and half in the United States.

The following year, a group of 1,843 Iroquois Loyalists under the leadership of Joseph Brant settled in Ontario. The group included members from all six of the Iroquois League (though most were Mohawk and Cayuga) as well as some Delaware, Nanticoke, Tutelo, Creek, and Cherokee. The migrants settled in small tribal villages along the Grand River.

The Mississauga sold their land claims to Joseph Brant so that the Mohawk could have clear title to their new territory. Mississauga leader Pokquan announced:  “We are Indians, and consider ourselves and the Six Nations to be one and the same people, and agreeable to a former, and mutual agreement, we are bound to help each other.”

In their new Ontario home, Joseph Brant and others built the Mohawk Chapel (Anglican) in the Mohawk village. The church housed the Queen Anne Silver Communion Plate and Bible which had been given to the Mohawk in 1710 when the chapel at Fort Hunter, New York was built.

In 1785, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant talked with the Mohawk under the leadership of Captain John Deserontyon about joining him at the Grand River. Deserontyon, however, prefered to remain in his own village.

While Joseph Brant was generally recognized by the British as the leader of the Iroquois and other tribes in the Grand River area, there were some Indians who were not happy with his leadership. In 1788, Captain Aaron and Captain Isaac attempted to assassinate Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. When the attempt failed, they fled to the Mohawk village of John Deserontyon who welcomed them to his community.  

 In 1792, two Mohawk men—Hendrick and Kellayhun—murdered a French Canadian trader. The British military commander demanded that the chiefs surrender the two men so that they could stand trial under British law. Instead of surrendering the men, the chiefs asked that they be allowed to cover the grave with gifts for the relatives of the deceased. This was a traditional Native practice in resolving the crime of murder. According to Joseph Brant: “We have forms and Ancient Customs which we look upon as Necessary to be gone through as the Proceedings in any Court of Justice.”

From the Indian view, to accept British legal jurisdiction would be to deny their own sovereignty. The British, on the other hand, viewed the Indians as British subjects and therefore subject to British law. The case was suspended rather than dropped.

In 1793, John Graves Simcoe, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, drafted the Simcoe Patent which stipulated that all land transactions of the Iroquois Six Nations would have to be approved by the Crown. Simcoe insisted that Indians had always mishandled their land. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant and the other Iroquois chiefs, however, rejected this concept. According to Brant:  “It seems natural to Whites to look on lands in the possession of Indians with an aching heart, and never to rest ‘till they have planned them out of them.”

The Iroquois had sold or leased several large blocks of land to non-Indians because Brant felt that the non-Indians would provide useful models for the Iroquois.

 In 1795, Isaac Brant, the eldest son of Joseph Brant, killed a deserter from the American army. Isaac Brant was known to have a temper, particularly when he was drunk. Furious because a saddle had not been completed on time, he buried a tomahawk in the deserter’s brain. Brant was convicted of murder by a jury, but the Iroquois chiefs insisted that the victim’s grave be covered instead. While the British military commander wanted to send in troops to retrieve Isaac Brant, the governor, wishing to avoid bloodshed, delayed. The situation was solved when Isaac Brant attacked his father in a drunken rage and Joseph Brant killed his son in self-defense.

In 1795, Joseph Brant was authorized by the Six Nations to sell large blocks of land directly to speculators who were lusting after the fertile land. The land was sold for 18 times what the government had offered for it.

In 1798, in order to disrupt the alliance between the Mississauga and the Six Nations Iroquois, the government established a separate agency for the Mississauga at York. The Mississauga protested the change and indicated that they wanted to continue their affiliation with the Iroquois.

In order to show that Indians had military importance to Ontario, in 1798 Joseph Brant convened a muster of 400 Indian warriors and a settler militia company.

Joseph Brant died on his estate near Brantford, Ontario in 1807. He was 67 years old.

Red Jacket, Seneca Sachem

Red Jacket photo Red_Jacket_2_zps92ee32c4.jpg

In 1830 Red Jacket, the most famous Seneca orator, died in New York at the age of 74. Seneca writer, historian, and archaeologist Arthur Caswell Parker described the deathbed scene this way:

“He murmured that his old comrades were around him, some chiding him for his mistakes and urging him to see that there was a task ahead.”

 

Red Jacket was born to the Wolf Clan (since the Seneca are matrilineal he belonged to his mother’s clan) and was given the name Otetiani (“He is Prepared”) and took the name Sagoyewatha (“He Causes them to be Awake”) when he became a chief. His English name, Red Jacket, came from the scarlet coat given to him by the English for fighting on their side during the Revolutionary War.

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War Red Jacket argued for neutrality, but the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Cayuga-all part of the larger Iroquois Confederacy-decided to support England. He served with the British forces. During the war he served primarily as a dispatch courier.

During the Revolutionary War, animosity developed between Red Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. Brant alleged that during the Battle of Newtown in 1779, when the Seneca and the Mohawk were allied with the British, Red Jacket had killed a cow, then used the blood to claim that he had killed an American rebel. In the years that followed, Brant would contemptuously refer to Red Jacket as “cow killer.”

Red Jacket became the principal spokesperson for the Seneca following the Revolutionary War.

After the Revolutionary War, the United States assumed that since it had defeated the British it had earned the right to superimpose a series of treaties on the Indian nations. In 1784, American negotiators met with the Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy at Fort Stanwix. The Americans refused to recognize the Iroquois Confederacy (Six Nations) and insisted on dealing with each nation by itself. The American negotiators were aided by force of arms and by hostages to be used in negotiating the treaty terms. One notable leader was absent from the Fort Stanwix council: the Seneca sachem Red Jacket. According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Red Jacket remained aloof, not caring to face the humiliation that would be heaped upon his disorganized and distracted people.”

In 1791, the federal government held a council with the Iroquois Six Nations. The American emissary, Timothy Pickering, pressured the Iroquois to provide the United States with warriors for the Indian wars in Ohio. Pickering boasted of American military supremacy and unwittingly insulted the Iroquois. For the Iroquois, public councils were settings which were meant to nurture a friendly, peaceful frame of mind. Councils were to build consensus. This error created an opportunity for Seneca leader Red Jacket to utilize oratory and to create an image for himself as the conservator of hallowed traditions.

In 1792, Red Jacket was among a number of Iroquois leaders who met with President George Washington in Philadelphia. Here he received a large silver medal.

That same year, three Seneca chiefs-Red Jacket, Cornplanter, and Farmer’s Brother-attended a council in Ohio with the Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and Wyandot in which they presented a peace proposal from the Americans. Shawnee leader Painted Pole reminded the Seneca that while the Iroquois were doing nothing, the Shawnee and their allies had defeated the American army twice. Ridiculing the Seneca, the Shawnee hurled the written copy of the American peace proposal into the fire.

In 1794, Red Jacket along with 50 other Iroquois leaders signed the Treaty of Canadaigua in which they ceded much of their land to the United States.

In 1801, the Seneca Council debated the possible sale of a strip of land along the Niagara River to the Americans. The prophet Handsome Lake opposed the sale on the grounds of revelations given to him by angels. His nephew Red Jacket, the speaker of the Seneca Nation, favored the sale. Handsome Lake accused Red Jacket of witchcraft and Red Jacket accused Handsome Lake of manufacturing his visions.

In 1802, a Seneca known as Stiff-Armed George got into a drunken fracas outside of a tavern. He was beaten and pursued, but then pulled a knife and stabbed two non-Indian men, one fatally. Reluctantly, the Seneca chiefs surrendered him to New York state authorities. According to Seneca leader Red Jacket:

“Did we ever make a treaty with the state of New York, and agree to conform to its laws? No. We are independent of the state of New-York.”

He then presented the state’s governor with a copy of the Treaty of Canandaigua which clearly placed the case in federal jurisdiction. However, the governor wanted to prove state jurisdiction over all of the Indians in New York and the federal government declined to intervene.

In 1805, Seneca chief Red Jacket responded to a Christian missionary’s proposal to convert his people:

“You have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.”

He went on to say:

“We are told your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.”

He told the missionary:

“Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.”

War broke out between England and the United States in 1812. In New York, the Americans call together a council of the Iroquois nations. The Americans invite the Iroquois to join them in their war against the British. Seneca leader Red Jacket told the Americans:

“My people care more for peace than for war.”

According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Though Red Jacket argues for the neutrality of his people, he clearly declared their loyalty to the United States.”

Red Jacket argued against joining the British and urged his people to ally themselves with the Americans. When the Seneca declared war against the British, Red Jacket became a captain in the United States Army.

In 1816, the Iroquois Six Nations met with the Shawnee, Ottawa, and Wyandot in Ohio to discuss the possibility of the removal of the New York tribes to Ohio. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant felt that it would be a good idea for the Seneca to move to Sandusky where they could join with the Wyandot. Arthur Caswell Parker described the council:

“The chiefs of the Six Nations, long accustomed to the clothing of the white man, were once more dressed in their ancient costumes.”

Seneca leader Red Jacket addressed the council and reminded them that those tribes who recently sided with the British had lost a great deal. Red Jacket told them:

“We have always lost by taking up the hatchet. Even the British, upon whom we pinned our hopes, sold our land to the Americans after every war in which we were allied with them.”

Red Jacket spoke against selling land to the Americans:

“To command respect, you must possess extensive territory! Keep your holdings sufficiently large so that you may not be crowded on any side by the whites.”

In 1819, the Ogden Land Company, with the approval of the federal government, met with the Seneca to discuss buying their land. To watch out for the best interest of the Indians, the government appointed two agents to make sure that the Indians were not cheated or deceived. The Seneca chiefs-Little Billy, Red Jacket, Tall Chief, Young King, Two Skies, Infant, and Destroy Town-listened to the offer which was expressed in glowing terms about its benefit to the Seneca. One of the agents appointed by the government told the Seneca that the President James Monroe felt that it was in their best interest to sell their lands. The Seneca gave in and sold their land for 55 cents an acre and the land company quickly resold it for many times that amount. Arthur Caswell Parker wrote:

“Federal commissioners, delegated to prevent ‘cheating of the Indians,’ entirely forgot that they might have insisted upon a much higher compensation at a public sale, the profits of which could have been used to benefit these Indians for many years.”

In 1821, the Seneca tribal council convicted Kauquatou of sorcery. Acting on behalf of the tribal council Chief Tommy-Jemmy cut Kauquatou’s throat. In response, the state of New York prosecuted Tommy-Jemmy for murder. Red Jacket and Tommy-Jemmy’s court-appointed attorneys argued that the death of Kauquatou was not murder under New York law because it was a legal execution under Seneca law, on Seneca land, by the sovereign Seneca people. The circuit court referred the case to the New York State Supreme Court which noted that no law extended state murder jurisdiction over the Iroquois.

By 1824, Red Jacket was considered the leader of the Seneca Pagan Party which advocated traditional ways and which opposed both the Long House religion of Handsome Lake and European Christianity.

In 1827 Red Jacket traveled to New York City to talk with the Quakers about providing aid for his people. According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Red Jacket trusted few persons other than the stalwart Quakers, who could not be intimidated and who were quick to expose a fraud.”

However, the Quakers were involved with helping the Onondaga and did not have any resources with which they could respond to the Seneca request.

While in New York City, Red Jacket agreed to have his portrait painted by R. W. Weir, one of the noted artists of the city. In posing for the painting, Red Jacket dressed in a costume which he felt was appropriate: a caped coat with braid and tassels, a red sash, his Washington medal, and his pipe tomahawk.

In 1827, the Seneca deposed Red Jacket as chief because of his alcoholism and his inflexible political views. Part of the opposition to him stemmed from his involvement with the Pagan Party.

In 1829, Red Jacket once again asked the Quakers for aid. The Quakers provided the Seneca with both farm equipment and sound advice.

Red Jacket photo Red_Jacket_monument_zps1e012a14.jpg

Shown above is the Red Jacket Monument at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. In 1884, Red Jacket’s remains were reburied at this cemetery. Against his wishes, Red Jacket was given a Christian burial.

The Ancestors of the Iroquois

When the Dutch and the French, and later the English, began to enter into what would become New York State searching for trading partners in the seventeenth century, they encountered a large, well-organized alliance of tribes known as the Iroquois. The League of Five Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was composed of five culturally and linguistically similar nations who had come together to promote peace among themselves.

Tribal Map

The map above shows the approximate location of the Iroquoian and Algonquian tribes when the Europeans first began to enter the area.  

The designation “Iroquois” was given them by the French and was most likely a French mispronunciation of a derogatory term used to describe them by enemy peoples. They call themselves Haudenosaunee which is often translated to mean “People of the Longhouse” and they symbolize their confederacy as a longhouse with five hearth fires.  The longhouse is symbolically seen as being oriented west to east, with the Seneca occupying the western door; then the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and, finally, the Mohawk occupying the eastern door.

Iroquois Map

The map above shows the relative location of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Iroquois Longhouse

A drawing of an Iroquois longhouse is shown above.

Archaeologists have identified the ancestral Iroquoian culture in New York as the Owasco cultural tradition which began to flourish about 900 CE. The Owasco people were farmers whose lives centered on the raising of the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. This vegetable diet was supplemented with a diversified subsistence of fish, game, and wild plants.

With agriculture, the Owasco people tended to be sedentary, living in villages, hamlets, and satellite camps. These ranged in size from a few dozen people to a few hundred people. At the beginning of the Owasco period, these ancestral Iroquois people built their villages in the fertile sites of their fishing grounds, on flood plains or just above on slightly higher terrain. Archaeologists have found numerous cache pits and remains of large vessels in these sites, which suggests that they had a stable and prosperous communal life.

The Owasco villages were made up of a number of longhouses. There was intense warfare between the communities: there was no over-arching political structure at this time.

The phase of Iroquois history called Carpenter Brook Owasco by archaeologists began about 1000 CE. This phase marked the beginning of a shift in settlement patterns from riverine villages to permanent towns located on hilltops.

In 1100 CE, ancestral Iroquoian people began to occupy the Maxon-Derby site. This site was an un-palisaded Owasco village which covered about two acres. It housed a maximum of 200 to 250 people. The people were living in small oblong houses with rounded ends. In addition to the small houses, there are two larger structures, about 60 feet in length, which resemble the later Iroquois longhouses.

By 1140, Owasco people were living at the Sackett site on Arsenal Hill near present day Canandaigua. This village covered more than three acres and was enclosed by an ellipsoidal ditch measuring 343 feet by 202 feet. The Owasco people dug the trench to a depth of two to three feet and to a width of seven to eleven feet. Within the village, the people were living in small wigwams. While there were no longhouses at the site, some of the features in the wigwams, such as narrow shelves or benches around the interior-are features which are found in later Iroquois longhouses.

In 1290, Owasco people established a village at the Chamerlin archaeological site. The village was surrounded by a palisade and contained longhouses which were up to 80 feet in length.

In 1300, the phase of Iroquois history called Oak Hill Iroquois by archaeologists began. During this time, Iroquois settlements were primarily permanent stockaded villages located in defensible sites. By this time, a pattern of village removals and resettlements had been established. Every 25 to 50 years, the villages would outgrow their sites, exhaust soil fertility and firewood, and would move two or three miles away.

In 1400, the phase of Iroquois history called Chance phase Iroquois by archaeologists began. In the Onondaga area there was a village resettlement which resulted in a larger village being fairly close to a smaller village. Having two towns fairly close to each other is a clear indication that they had some type of non-aggression pact and perhaps saw themselves as being part of the same nation and/or political entity.

In 1451, the Iroquois Confederacy-the League of Five Nations-was born when Deganawida, a Huron born of a virgin, crossed the great lake in a stone canoe and began to bring forth his vision of a great peace. Deganawida had a speech defect and had Hiawatha speak for him to the several Iroquoian tribes. As a result of their efforts, the Five Nations-the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk-met and buried the instruments of war and planted a pine tree of peace. The wampum belts recorded:

“I, Deganawida, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep underneath currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayenarhekowa, be established.”

This was the alliance which the French, Dutch, and English encountered in the seventeenth century.

The Iroquois Longhouse

When the Dutch first travelled up New York’s Hudson River to establish trading posts with the Indians they encountered one of the largest and most powerful Indian confederations in North America: the League of Five Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The Iroquois were an agricultural people who lived in permanent villages. They used the symbol of their house-the hodensote or longhouse-as the symbol of their confederacy.  

The Iroquois Nations:

While the designation “Iroquois” is often used to refer to the Five or Six Nations, it should be remembered that not all Iroquois-speaking nations in the Northeast were members of the League. The Huron, an Iroquois-speaking confederacy located north of the Great Lakes, was the most prominent Iroquois group which did not belong to the Confederacy.

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The territory of the original Iroquois Five Nations is called Iroquoia and that of the Huron is called Huronia. The confederated villages of Iroquoia ranged from the Schoharie river in the east to  the Genesee River in the west; the Adirondacks and Lake Ontario marked its northern flank, the headwaters of the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Allegheny marked the south. Huronia lay just north of Lake Ontario and was centered at Georgian Bay.

Iroquois Map

Pictured above is a map showing the location of the Iroquois-speaking nations and their neighbors.

Five Nations Map

The above map shows the location of each of the five nations about 1650.

The Huron were a confederacy of four major tribes: Bear, Rock, Barking Dogs, and White Thorns (also known as Canoes). The people called their confederacy Wendat or People of the Peninsula. They were given the name Huron by the French.

The French applied the name Neutral to a number of allied Iroquoian-speaking groups who lived between Huronia and Iroquoia. These groups remained neutral in the hostilities between the Huron and the Iroquois. The Neutral groups include Attiragenrega, Niagagarega, Antouaronons, Kakouagoga, and Ahondihronon.  

There were also a number of Iroquoian-speaking tribes located along the Saint Lawrence River at the time of first European contact in 1535. However, by 1603 these tribes had disappeared and a number of Algonquian-speaking groups were living  in the area. There are many anthropologists and archaeologists who feel that the Saint Lawrence Iroquois were Oneida-Onondaga who had expanded into the area after 1100 and then retreated back to New York after 1535. Others, however, feel that the Oneida, Onondaga, and Saint Lawrence Iroquois were different groups.

The Longhouse:

The center of Iroquois life and the symbol of the League of Five Nations was the hodensote or longhouse. This was a large structure – up to 300 feet in length – framed with bent saplings and covered with bark. The average longhouse was 60 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 15 feet high.

Iroquois Longhouse

Photobucket

Shown above is a reconstruction of an Iroquois longhouse.

The longhouse was occupied by a group of matrilineally related families. Each family had its own compartment within the longhouse. For each two families there would be a hearth, usually spaced at about 20 foot intervals. To let the smoke out, there was a smoke hole-a large rectangular opening in the arched roof-covered by a piece of bark which could be moved by a pole from below.

The two families sharing the hearth would live in compartments across the aisle from each other. Each family’s room was considered its private domestic space and contained sleeping platforms and shelving for storage. Bunks along the inside wall served as beds at night and as benches during the day. A curtain was hung from a pole above the benches. At night, this curtain, which was sometimes painted, would be dropped down providing the bed with some privacy.

Overhead shelves provided storage space for clothing and baggage. Sometimes, children would also be stowed away in this area. Corn, dried fish, and other dried foods were hung on the overhead poles.

Construction of the longhouse began with two rows of forked poles at about four or five foot intervals. The frame for the arching roof was then formed with bent poles attached to the base poles. The structure was strengthened with rafters and additional transverse poles. The structure was then covered with large sheets of bark, usually from cedar, elm, ash, basswood, fir, and spruce. The bark was stripped from the trees in the spring when the sap was flowing.

The longhouse had a door of animal hide or of hinged bark at either end. Over the front door there would be a panel carved or painted with the clan symbols of the families who lived there. Since the clan was matrilineal – traced through the mother – the women owned the houses.

The inside of the longhouse tended to be noisy, crowded, and smoky. The first Jesuits to describe the longhouses reported an abundance of fleas and lice, which they believed were the result of children urinating on the floor.

Villages:

Onondaga Village

A drawing of an Onondaga village is shown above.

Iroquois villages were usually near streams or rivers. A small Iroquois village might have only four or five longhouses, while a large village would have more than 100. The larger villages were sometimes called “castles” by the European immigrants and had populations of about 3,000 people.

The population of an Iroquois village varied greatly according to the season. During the summer, villages would be nearly abandoned. Men would often leave the village during the summer for extended hunting, fishing, and warring expeditions. Women and children would move to small cabins closer to the fields so that they could tend the crops.

While the Iroquois lived in permanent villages, meaning that these villages were occupied year-round, villages tended to move on a regular basis. After about ten years the farmlands adjacent to the village would begin to become exhausted and crop yields would fall. In addition, it was difficult to keep bark-covered homes up for long periods of time. After about a decade, it was harder to clean and repair the house.

Among the Huron, village size rarely exceeded 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants. One of the limiting factors was the rapidity with which local resources-firewood being a major concern-were used up. Disputes within a village would sometimes result in a fissioning of the village.

Between the longhouses and around the perimeters of the Iroquois villages were refuse dumps which contained large amounts of organic waste. These conditions would attract blood-feeding insects, like ticks and mosquitoes. It addition, the waste was attractive to scavenging dogs and rodents.

When the villages were moved, not everyone moved at the same time nor to the same location. People were free to move when they wanted and where they wanted. Some people would move to different communities and some to a new location. It would take several years for a village to be completely abandoned.

Iroquois villages were often stockaded and located in easily defensible high places near water. The stockade was made from logs and was often 15 to 20 feet in height. Often the stockades were made in double, triple, and even quadruple lines which were interlaced and reinforced with heavy bark. Some villages had a deep ditch surrounding the village as an additional defense line. On the top of the stockade would be piles of stones which could be thrown down at attackers, and jars of water which could be used to put out fires caused by burning arrows.

A typical village might enclose from five to ten acres within the palisade and would use several hundred acres outside of the palisade for farming.  

Iroquois Spirituality

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Long before the Europeans arrived on this continent there was born to the Huron people a man who had a vision of bringing peace to his people. In his vision he saw a great pine tree. The roots of this tree were five powerful nations. From these roots, the tree grew so high that its tip pierced through the sky and on top there was an eagle watching to see that none of the nations broke the peace among them. This Peacemaker was a man named Deganawida (also spelled Deganawidah).  

The Iroquois Nations:

According to oral tradition, Deganawida named each of the allied nations, choosing a place as the distinguishing feature of nationality:

Seneca: the big hill people, or the people of the big mountain

Cayuga: the people at the landing, in reference to portaging a canoe

Mohawk: the people of the flint, in reference to the flint quarries in their territory

Onondaga: the people of the hill, in reference to the hill where a woman long ago had appeared to give the people corn, beans, squash, and tobacco

Oneida: the people of the standing stone, in reference to the supernatural stone which followed them

Deganawida’s vision, articulated through the great Mohawk orator Hiawatha, united five Iroquois-speaking nations – the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Mohawk- into the League of Five Nations. Later the Tuscarora would join them to form the League of Six Nations. The League is also called the Iroquois Confederacy. They refer to themselves as Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse).

While the designation “Iroquois” is often used to refer to the Five or Six Nations, it should be remembered that not all Iroquois-speaking nations in the Northeast were members of the League. Deganawida’s own nation – the Huron – did not join.

Iroquois Spirituality:

The Iroquois tribes, like many other Indian cultures, viewed themselves as a part of nature: neither subordinate to it nor in dominion over it. Seneca archaeologist Arthur Caswell Parker, in his biography of Red Jacket, writes:

“Life was like water; it flowed on like a river and then entered a great sea and mingled in a vast pool of life. Old age was like a tree whose branches had been broken by storms and whose trunk had become weather-beaten and decayed. Good words were like flowers that bloomed and bore seed that lived on after the flowers had withered.”

In maintaining harmony with the world, individuals had guardian spirits to aid them. Everyone-especially young men-found a special guardian spirit at puberty. Great emphasis was given to individual contact with the spirit world. To obtain spiritual aid, people would fast and/or give gifts of tobacco to the spirits. Humans share the natural world with spirit powers and it is important to communicate with these spirit powers.

Everything has a soul. This includes the plants, the animals, the lakes, the rivers, the rocks, and the forces of nature. All things have power to communicate their will and to influence human experience to some degree. In a generalized form, spiritual power is called orenda.

One of the most important aspects of Iroquois spirituality is the dream. Writing in 1668 about the Seneca, the Jesuit missionary Father Fremin observed:

“The Iroquois have, properly speaking, only a single Divinity-the dream. To it they render their submission and follow all its orders with the utmost exactness.”

With regard to spiritual beliefs, the Iroquois believed that all living things were filled with an essence called orenda. Dreams were the main form of contact between orenda and human beings. Individuals would fast and pray to obtain a vision. Dreams expressed the desires of the most inner realm of the soul. The fulfillment of a dream was absolutely essential.

As with tribes in other culture areas, the Iroquois also had a vision quest. Young people were expected at puberty to engage in the vision quest in order to seek out a personal guardian spirit. This guardian spirit was usually associated with the person’s new and sacred name.

Dreams could also tell of the future, providing advice on what to do and not do. Dreams were taken into account at council meetings. In addition, it was common for trade, hunting, fishing, and war expeditions to be organized in response to a dream.

In mid-winter, the Iroquois would hold a dream festival. During this time, old fires would be put out and new fires would be lighted.

Among the Huron, each person has two souls: one of these souls animates the body and one soul extends beyond physical activities. In sleep, one soul communicates with spirits and with other human souls. When this soul returns to the body, dreams are the way in which the soul’s experiences are communicated. It was essential to reenact these dream adventures in order to unify the two souls and make each person whole again. The failure to do this would result in serious illness which could impact the entire village.  

The Iroquois False Face Society

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American-Indian-Heritage-Month

photo credit: Aaron Huey

Among many cultures around the world there are two kinds of illness. First are those which have a clear physical cause, such as a broken arm. Then there are those for which the cause is less readily apparent. Curing these illnesses often involves ceremonies and spirituality.  

The Iroquois tribes have a number of different medicine societies which can perform different curing rites. The Little Water Society, for example, dealt with general illness and was usually called in when the patient had had a vision of the dwarf spirits (that is, the Little People). The healing rite would begin by placing tobacco on the fire and calling for the spirits of the dwarfs.

In cases of an illness which modern physicians call dementia, the Bear Society would be called in. In their healing rites, the members would dance counter clockwise around the patient.

There were times when the patient would not improve after the ceremony from the healing society. In cases of serious illness when other medicine societies have failed to bring about a cure the Wooden False Face Society would be called in. This society dates back to a time during creation when the world was ruled by mythical beings.

The wooden False Face masks are made from white pine, maple, basswood, and poplar. To make a mask, the features are first carved in a living tree. During the process of carving the mask and cutting it free, a prayer is addressed to the evolving mask and to the spirit forces which it represents. The mask is then painted and adorned with horse hair. The new mask is consecrated to human service by placing it in the hot coals and ashes of the longhouse fire.

All of the masks are characterized with distorted features and deep-set eyes. The noses are bent and crooked. The masks are generally painted red and black and have pouches of tobacco tied onto the hair above their foreheads. With regard to the symbolism of the masks, they portray the Great Doctor, dwelling at the world’s rim, whose broken nose and twisted mouth derive from a mythical struggle with the Creator for control of the world. The masks also symbolize the forest-dwelling ‘Common-faces’ seen in dreams. In addition, some of the masks are beggar masks which caricature neighbors and strangers alike.

The masks are not artifacts, but living representations of a spirit. One of the rules governing the care of the masks is the need to periodically anoint them with a mixture of sunflower seed oil and animal grease. At the same time the masks are fed white corn mush. In payment for their services tobacco is burned for them and small bags of tobacco are tied to them.

Members of the Wooden False Face Society might be called at any time of day or night to perform ceremonies for those who are ill. Upon recovery, the patient is expected to join the False Face Society. The actual curing ceremony is sacred and is not to be shared with those outside of the society.

Traditionally, the Wooden False Face Society would perform two community rituals each year. During this ceremony, the story of the False Faces is told. The members of the society, wearing their masks, then go through the community, entering the houses and driving out all sickness, disease, and evil.

At the present time, there are several concerns about the False Face masks. First, there are a number of non-Iroquois artists who are making what they call False Face masks and selling them to the general public. Second, a number of False Face masks are in the hands of private collectors who do not care for them in the traditional manner. The Iroquois have called for collectors and museums to return the masks to the tribes so that they can be cared for in a respectful manner. The National Museum of the American Indian has returned a number of these items. The Iroquois Traditionalists Society opposes the sale of False Face masks to private collectors and museums.

No photos of the False Face masks are shown in this diary as public display of the masks and photographs of them is considered improper by the Iroquois people.  

The Tuscarora and the Iroquois League

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Long before the arrival of the English and French colonists in North America, five autonomous tribes had come together to form an alliance known as the League of Five Nations, or the Iroquois Confederacy. The five member nations were the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Mohawk, and the Seneca. The purpose of the League was to renounce warfare among the member nations and to present a unified front against other nations. The League was created because of the spiritual vision of one man-Deganawida-and the speaking ability of another-Hiawatha. With the arrival of the French and English colonists in the American Northeast, the League became an important trading partner and power broker.

In 1722 the League of Five Nations became the League of Six Nations when the Tuscarora were admitted to membership. The expansion of the League to include the Tuscarora was brought about by conflicts with the English settlers.  

In 1710, the Tuscarora had the Susquahannock tribe carry a formal petition of peace to the English Provincial Government of Pennsylvania. As a result, two peace commissioners from Pennsylvania met with the Tuscarora chiefs as well as Opessa, the Shawnee head chief at Conestoga. The Tuscarora chiefs delivered eight wampum belts to the English. The first belt was from the women who asked that they might be able to fetch wood and water without danger. The second belt was from the children, including those not yet born, asking for room to play without the fear of death or slavery. The third belt was from the young men who ask to be able to hunt without the fear of death or slavery. The rest of the belts asked for a lasting peace and for a way of communicating with Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania commissioners did not give the requests a favorable reception. At this time, the English did not see the Tuscaroras as presenting any sort of threat. There was no war between the Tuscarora and the English colonists; there had been no massacre by the Tuscarora.  The English felt that there was no reason to agree to peace.

A year later, British traders from North Carolina encouraged the Yamasee and the Creek to attack the Tuscarora. In addition, the British traders supplied guns to the Cherokee with the understanding that these guns would be used against the Tuscarora.  

It was not just the English colonists who were creating problems for the Tuscarora. In 1711, Swiss Baron Christoph von Graffenried founded the colony of New Bern on Tuscarora land in North Carolina without obtaining Tuscarora consent or paying them for it. The Tuscarora, angered by the European land developers who paid little attention to Tuscarora land and to their treaties, captured a surveying party who were laying out the new colony. The captured men were taken to the Tuscarora town of Catechna and tried before a council of chiefs. One of the men, the provincial surveyor-general, was condemned to death and executed.

The Tuscarora attacked the Swiss settlement, killing nearly 200, including 80 children. Concerned about slave-raids from English traders, the Tuscarora expanded the war by raiding frontier farms.  A number of other tribes joined with the Tuscarora in their war against the European invaders.

By 1712, the Tuscarora were involved in a full-scale war against the Europeans colonists in Virginia and the Carolinas. The colonists were regularly attacking Tuscarora villages, killing hundreds, and capturing many Indians who were sold into slavery. The colonists also recruited the Catawba and other tribes in their war of Tuscarora extermination. The English were motivated by their greed for Tuscarora land as well as the profits which could be made through the sale of Tuscarora slaves. The newly captured slaves were generally shipped to the Caribbean slave markets.

The Tuscarora sent wampum belts north to the Iroquois Five Nations asking for help in their fight against the colonists. When the governor of New York heard of this request, he warned the Iroquois not to get involved. The Iroquois promised to ask the Tuscarora to stop fighting if the governor would ask the colonists to put down their arms.

In 1713, a unified force of 800 Creek, Cherokee, and Catawba, together with 100 colonial volunteers from South Carolina, attacked the Tuscarora fortified town of Noeheroka. The attacking force took 192 scalps and 392 slaves.

By 1713, the colonists had defeated the Tuscarora, and settlers began taking not only Tuscarora lands, but also the lands of tribes which had aided the colonists in their war against the Tuscarora. As a result, many Tuscarora families begin to move north and seek shelter in Iroquois communities in Pennsylvania. The following year, a group of about 500 Tuscarora families, fleeing from North Carolina and Virginia, sought refuge among the Iroquois in New York.

When the Iroquois met with the colonial governor of New York in 1718 to renew the Covenant Chain (a trading agreement), the Iroquois expressed their concern that the English were planning to take over their lands as they had done with the Tuscarora. The English explained that the Tuscarora lost their land because they attacked the colonists in the Carolinas. To ease Iroquois fears, the governor gave the Iroquois a quantity of gun powder as a gift.

In 1722, the Tuscarora formally joined the Iroquois and the League of Five Nations becomes the League of Six Nations. As a member of the League, the Tuscarora are considered the younger brothers of the Cayuga. Their chiefs were not sachem chiefs within the league and thus the number of chiefs who sat in council did not change. In New York, the Tuscarora maintained their village between the Oneida and Onondaga villages.  

The Iroquois Confederacy

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In 1987, the United States Senate passed a resolution which acknowledged the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution. Furthermore, the resolution acknowledged the historical debt which the United States owes to the Iroquois Confederacy and to other Indian nations for the demonstration of enlightened, democratic principles of government.  

The Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the League of Five Nations and as the League of Six Nations, was formed in 1451. Deganawida, a Huron prophet, had a vision for bringing peace to the world and so he crossed the great lake in a stone canoe so that he could tell the people about his vision. However, there was a problem: Deganawida had a speech defect, a serious problem among Indian nations who held oratory in high esteem. Fortunately, he encountered the great Onondaga orator Hiawatha and convinced him to carry the message of peace to the Indian nations.

As a result of Hiawatha’s work, five autonomous Indian nations– the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk-met and buried the instruments of war. Over the hole into which they threw their hatchets, they planted a pine tree of peace. The Iroquois wampum belts recorded:

“I, Deganawida, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep underneath currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayenarhekowa, be established.”

Ne Gayaneshagowa or the “Great Binding Law” became the constitution for the Haudenosounee or League of Five Nations. The new League was essentially a non-aggression pact among the five nations. The great law is based upon three great double doctrines or principles (six principles in all). The first principle stresses: (a) health of mind and body, and (b) peace among individuals and groups. The second principle stresses: (a) righteousness in conduct, including advocating this righteousness in thought and speech, and (b) equality in the adjustment of rights and obligations. The third principle stresses: (a) physical strength, power, and order, and (b) spiritual power (orenda).

The council for the League is based upon the concept of representational democracy. There were originally 50 offices filled from the member nations: 14 from the Onondaga, 10 from the Cayuga, 9 from the Oneida, 9 from the Mohawk, and 8 from the Seneca. The men who fill these offices are known as sachems.  

It was the women who first accepted the message of Deganawida,. Therefore the women had a great deal of authority. The sachems were to be selected by the clan mothers. Women also had the right to initiative, recall, and referendum.

Power in the League was seen as flowing upward, from the families to the council, rather than from the council to the families. With regard to the sachems, Deganawida is said to have advised the sachems that their skin should be seven thumbs thick so that no outrageous criticism or evil magic could pierce them.

At the meetings of the League, each of the delegates from the Five Nations sat at assigned places in accordance with their position in the confederacy. As firekeepers, the Onondaga would give the topic for discussion first to the Mohawk and Seneca. The Mohawk would then discuss the matter among themselves and then refer it to the Seneca. After discussing the issue, the Seneca would return the item to the Mohawk who would hand the item across the fire to the Younger Brothers. It would then be discussed by the Oneida and then by the Cayuga. The Oneida would then hand it back across the fire to the Mohawk who would announce the combined opinion to the Onondaga.

While speaking, the speaker would hold a wampum belt which would then be handed to the tribe being addressed. The wampum belt was a sacred substance and thus confirmed the earnest importance of a message. Without accompanying wampum, words were considered frivolous.

Traditionally, an issue would be introduced at the council on one day, but not discussed that day. At some later time it would be discussed. It is tradition that the issued be slept with prior to discussing. In practice, this allowed the sachems, who were men, to discuss the issue with their clan mothers. When they met again in council, they would speak words that reflected the wisdom of these clan mothers.

One important Iroquois custom was to document their words with wampum belts. All agreements were accompanied by wampum belts which symbolized the important points of the agreement. At later times, the belts would be brought out and “read” if the agreement needed to be discussed again.

In order to record what was said in council, the Sachem presiding over the meeting would have a handful of small sticks. A stick would be given to one of the Sachems present so that the person with the stick would be responsible for remembering what the speaker said.

In 1722, the Tuscarora petitioned the Iroquois Confederacy for membership and the League of Five Nation thus became the League of Six Nations.

During the 18th century, the English-speaking colonists were very aware of the Iroquois form of government. In 1744, representatives from the Iroquois League of Six Nations met with Pennsylvania government officials to discuss a number of matters of mutual concern. At this conference the Onondaga sachem Canassatego told the colonists, including Benjamin Franklin, that the colonies should form a confederacy similar to that of the League of Six Nations. Canassetego told  them:

“Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy, and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh strength and power.”

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin, in an attempt to encourage a union of the colonies, noted the success of the Iroquois League of Six Nations and suggested that this might be the governmental model for the colonies. Franklin wrote:

“It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union, and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted for ages, and appear indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies, to whom it is more necessary and must be more advantageous, and whom cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their interests.”

Again in 1754, Benjamin Franklin pleaded with the American colonists to emulate the Iroquois and form a government based on representational democracy.

In 1775, as the war broke out between the American colonists and the English, the Iroquois again advised the colonists to form a union similar to their League. The Continental Congress later referred openly to the Iroquois ideas of government. In a letter to the Iroquois from the Congress signed by John Hancock:

“The Six Nations are a wise people. Let us harken to their council and teach our children to follow it.”

The Iroquois gave John Hancock the name of Karanduawn which means “Great Tree.”

In 1781, the United States adopted the Articles of Confederation which called for a weak central government and powerful states. Benjamin Franklin envisioned the new country’s structure as being modeled on that of the Iroquois League. In 1787 the U.S. Constitution was adopted which was loosely inspired by the Iroquois concept of representational democracy.