Haudenosaunee: Civil History in Brief

Established in either 1142 or 1451, the Five Nations Iroquois confederacy consisted of the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas. When the Tuscaroras joined in 1712 the union adapted the name Haudenosaunee, which translates to mean “People building a longhouse”.

In treaties and other colonial documents they were known as the “Six Nations.” While each tribe controlled its own domestic affairs, the council at Onondaga controlled matters that referred to the nation as a whole. Similarly, despite the fact that all spoke the same language, each tribe had a distinct dialect of its own. Thus not only did the Iroquois provide a strong government and military base to protect their farmland, they also formed one of the nation’s earliest and strongest diplomacies.

In terms of spirituality the Iroquois practiced a religion of love. They believed that the Great Spirit Tarachiawagon, which literally means “Holder of the Heavens”, cared for his people and asked that they care for one another. Furthermore, Tarachiawagon had appointed to each of the Six Nations its own dwelling place, taught them how to use the corn and fruits of the earth, and could be approached by way of the woods.

Their religion also contributed to their deep sense of brotherhood. Social grades did not exist because the tribe shared everything. Leaders were respected, but considered equals with their lowest members. Words for “your highness”, “your majesty” and “your excellency”, were nonexistent; the English governor was called “Brother” and Shikellamy, the “great pro-council at Shamokin”, died in rags. This sense of brotherhood examplefies further that in their minds the true strength of the Iroquois was not exhibited through military victories, but rather through the large number of allies they had.