Iroquois history - Native Americans
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Iroquois History

clay pot fragment with a face molded on it
Mohawk pottery

September 2016 - Iroquois people originally came to America with the other Native Americans. They first settled in the north-eastern part of North America around 1000 AD. The Iroquois (EAR-oh-koi) may have moved northward up the Susquehanna river (from modern Maryland) because of global warm weather between 1000 and 1300 AD, just as the Inuit moved east and the Vikings moved west because of it. The Iroquois took their land from a smaller group of nomadic people we call the Woodland people. In the 1200s AD, for instance, the Cayugas (a kind of Iroquois) drove the Allegans away from the north end of Owasco Lake (now the town of Auburn), a trade town where two important trails crossed. The Iroquois didn't call themselves "Iroquois", which is an Algonquin insult meaning "snakes". They called themselves the "Haudenosaunee", meaning "people who live in longhouses." Or they called themselves by the kind of Iroquois they were - the Cayugas, the Mohawks, the Oneida, or the Seneca, for instance.

The Iroquois probably brought farming with them when they arrived in this area (modern New York and Pennsylvania). Iroquois farmers grew corn and beans and squash, and also sunflowers and tobacco.

Around 1350 AD, the warm weather ended, and the environment began a "Little Ice Age", with colder weather. The Iroquois started to fight a lot of wars around this time, and they started to build their villages on high ground and surround them with strong log walls. One of their main enemies was the Algonquin, who were trying to move further south where the weather would be warmer.

belt of white and brown beads
Iroquois wampum belt

At some point around the 1400s AD, the Iroquois formed a confederacy (con-FED-ur-ah-see), which is a sort of club or organization. This was an agreement between the different groups of Iroquois - the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and the Onandagua - to get along and fight as allies against their enemies, instead of fighting each other. Iroquois leaders recorded their agreement with wampum. Wampum was a kind of decoration made by fastening thousands of tiny seashell beads together. It was super hard to make wampum, so Iroquois people used wampum to mark very important occasions like marriages, or treaties.

Learn by doing: making a wampum belt
More about the Iroquois

Bibliography and further reading about early Iroquois history:

iroquois iroquois iroquois

The Iroquois: The Six Nations Confederacy, by Mary Englar (2006).

If You Lived With The Iroquois, by Ellen Levine (1999). Written - very lively and with a lot of good detail about daily life. I really liked it.

The Iroquois, by Barbara Graymont (2004). More detailed information.

Iroquois history after 1500
Cherokee history
Algonquin history
Native Americans home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017