This is for the coursework Assignment. The topic details, reference book and web page references are shown below. There are four questions to be answered, the first three questions shall be two pages and fourth question shall be one page.
Peacekeepers of the Northeast: The Iroquois Confederacy
1. Kehoe, North American Indians, Chapter 5
2. Biolsi and Zimmerman, Indians and Anthropologists, Chapter 9
In this unit we concentrate on the northeastern portion of the United States, surveying both the united tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Huron people outside the Confederacy. As you read, pay particular attention to the Iroquoian-speaking groups. The material on the Algonkian speakers should serve as background information for you and perhaps inspire you to research one of these groups in more detail for your paper.
The Iroquois Confederacy, the League of Five Nations, the League of the Iroquois, and the League of Six Nations all refer confusingly to the same alliance of Northeast tribes that was brought about by the legendary Hiawentah to bring peace to warring tribes. To those outside the League, it meant only a greater concentration of enemies against them and their territory. This unit traces the history of the League, the culture and organization of the Northeast tribes, and their contribution to the United States Constitution. You will see in the Biolsi and Zimmerman reading, however, that the history of the Iroquois is rife with disagreement, and perspectives depend largely on who is relating the history--whites or Indians. The reading also shows the difficulties that scholars, particularly anthropologists, have in presenting perspectives not their own. Although not a flattering portrait of scholars versus Iroquois people, it will alert you to the complexity of historical accuracy and the many layers and viewpoints associated with any historical event.
In this unit, you will learn about the following:
1. The mythical and historical creation of the Great Council of Peace a thousand years ago, whose traditions and responsibilities are still upheld today by the current peacekeeper.
2. The effects of the fur trade on the Iroquois League, followed by colonization of tribal lands by white settlers, and the response of Handsome Lake to these events.
3. The conditions of the League and non-League tribes today and their impact on academia.
In the Kehoe reading, we return briefly to the Paleo-Indian and Archaic periods of the Northeast and find that this area has been inhabited since at least 7000 B.C. As with the other areas that you've studied so far, the Archaic period was a time of stabilization for climate, plants, and game, and allowed the development of technology and lifestyles based on the environmental conditions. Read Section 1 of the Kehoe chapter for this unit for general background only. You will not be tested on this material, but you should be aware of the continuity from prehistory to the present.
Because this area not only presents some of our most distorted stereotypes of Indians (for example, Hiawatha, the "last of the Mohicans," and Squanto) but also lends itself to a great deal of confusion, let us clear up a couple of points before proceeding.
First of all, a group of tribes in and around what is now the state of New York who spoke the Iroquoian language have been designated as the Iroquois, but it is important to keep in mind that there is no one tribe called Iroquois, a word which came from the French and was used to designate the language family. The Iroquois tribes are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, all of central New York State, who, with the later addition of the Tuscarora, became the Iroquois Confederacy. Surrounding these tribes were the Huron, Tionontati, Neutral, Erie, and Susquehannock, also Iroquoian speakers but not included in the Confederacy.
Second, Longfellow's famous poem has set Hiawatha firmly in American folklore as an Ojibwe of the Great Lakes. Although we know that this is inaccurate, there is still disagreement on whether Hiawentah (his real name) was Mohawk or Onondaga, two closely related tribes from central New York.
Finally, a distinction can be made between Iroquoian and Algonkian tribes: The Iroquoian-speaking people were more intensive farmers, with denser and more permanent populations, and were characterized by their distinctive dwellings, the longhouses. Algonkian tribes, inhabiting regions farther north, were generally hunters and gatherers with a less formal social and political organization.
The League of Five Nations
According to Onondaga legends, the League of Five Nations was created one thousand years ago. European explorers put the date in the late sixteenth century, or about five hundred years ago. The date is less important than the event, the creation of a great league of peace.
Why was a great peace required? Archaeological evidence reveals Iroquois towns heavily fortified with as many as three concentric log palisades, situated far enough from rivers to avoid silent attack from canoes. Clearly at war with each other and surrounding Algonkian tribes, these five central tribes must have found life difficult. Nor was peace easy to obtain. We read of Hiawentah and Dekanawida traveling up and down the land, preaching the message of alliance to suspicious Iroquois towns, and we must applaud the diplomacy and statesmanship that finally brought bitter enemies together in a grand council. At this council, too, a Tree of Peace was planted in a hole into which, prior to planting, had been thrown weapons of war to symbolize that the allies would no longer lift a hand against each other--hence the phrase "to bury the hatchet
According to the Iroquois people themselves, the purpose of the Great Peace was to set down the principles by which the Iroquois would henceforth live, principles of spiritual well-being followed by the welfare of the people. Kehoe argues that the purpose was less for peace and more for the acquisition of large tracts of land that could be safely farmed to support a population necessary to raid and make war upon more distant and unallied towns. Whatever the motive, the League became a powerful force in the Northeast and won the respect and admiration of its enemies for at least the next five centuries.
People of the Longhouse
It is not surprising that a metaphorical symbol to celebrate the alliance was the Longhouse of the League. In reality, the Iroquois had lived in permanent longhouses for a long time. Agriculture in the form of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers led to sedentary and increased populations, as we have seen previously. As is also usual with agricultural groups, clans descended through the mother, as well as property such as fields and houses. For the Iroquois, however, things took a slightly different turn. The power of the women in politics was considerably greater, since they alone had the right to choose or depose a sachem (leader). And instead of maintaining separate households in a town, as did the Cherokee, or forming the nucleus for an extended homestead, such as we saw with the Navajo head mothers, each matrilineal Iroquois clan inhabited its own dwelling, the longhouse.
These houses were often up to 400 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 30 feet high, housing fifteen to twenty families. Because elm bark was the major building material, fire was a constant hazard. The longhouses were generally faced into the prevailing northwest winds, with the hope that if a fire broke out, it would sweep back along one longhouse rather than jump to its neighbors.
As many as one hundred people lived in each longhouse, along with their most valued and commonly used possessions and, in the winter, their dogs. Early French explorers noted that the interiors were smoky, even with smoke holes above each hearth, and that most of the adults suffered from eye ailments. Lice were also an ever-present plague. In addition to the physical stress, for the Iroquois men, at least, there was also a psychological stress in that, as with other matrilineal cultures, the husband moved into his wife's home, where he remained a clan outsider. To make matters worse, because hunting and warfare dictated the frequent absence of the men, the women managed the homes and towns, the child rearing, and the food production, and left the husbands with little to do between raids, a situation that could scarcely have pleased either the overworked wives or the underworked husbands.
Division of labor was much stricter among the Iroquois than among any other group that you have studied thus far. For example, a man would not cook food in a village under any circumstances. If he had no wife, mother, or sister, or, for that matter, any woman who might be willing to take care of him, he would be forced to go hungry or, in extreme cases, starve to death. Fear of humiliation and a high sense of honor went hand in hand for Iroquois males, and suicide was not unusual for a man who faced shame and ridicule--for example, for being left by his wife or for being unable to pay gambling debts. Parents were especially indulgent with their children, fearing they would commit suicide if they were treated severely.
The Fur Trade
While the council fires burned brightly in the Iroquois League of Five Nations, tribes such as the Huron, Neutral, Erie, Petun, and surrounding Algonkian peoples, who had not been invited to join the League, were finding a new source of wealth--Dutch, French, and English traders. Throughout the seventeenth century the demand for furs to make felt hats for Europeans was insatiable, and it was the Huron and the other nonallied tribes who were the first to benefit. Metal tools and cooking pots, beads and colored cloth, and, most important, guns and ammunition were offered in exchange for all the beaver furs the tribes could produce. The Huron, who controlled access to the fur-rich lands above Lake Ontario and who had made a name for themselves already as a principal Northeast trading nation as far west as Wisconsin, were in an excellent situation. They could trade for furs along established trade routes, and they had exclusive access to the French suppliers. To the east and southeast, the Algonkians blocked the Iroquois League from both the English and the Dutch.
As with other tribes that you've studied so far, the arrival of these Europeans effected massive changes in Indian life. With the Five Nations, two changes were most profound. First, to profit from the fur trade, the Five Nations in the 1630s nearly wiped out the beaver population in their territory through intensive trapping, a previously unheard-of event. Second, after contact with the Dutch and acquisition of guns and ammunition, the Five Nations turned to all-out war against the Huron, again an unheard-of situation. In 1648 and 1649, a real army of over a thousand League warriors descended upon five Huron towns and totally destroyed them.
Following this total warfare, the League then overran the Erie Nation and then the Susquehannock, taking over territories evacuated in the face of their onslaughts and incorporating refugees into their ranks as full-fledged clan members. In 1713 the Tuscarora became the sixth nation of the League as the Five Nations struggled to gain a monopoly throughout the entire area.
You will read of the complexities of the fur trade in Kehoe, but you are encouraged to concentrate on the effects on the Iroquois Indians of the Northeast. These include an increasing dependency on European goods, the loss of traditional skills of hunting and toolmaking, and the introduction of alcohol. The forms of payment for furs--alcohol, flour, tea, guns, and ammunition--were all destructive to Iroquois subsistence. Trading posts became magnets for the Indians between trapping trips, with the traders nominating one man as the leader with whom they would deal, thus bypassing the traditional role of Iroquois women in decision making. Matrilocality--the practice whereby the husband moved to the wife's home--was also disrupted by extended stays at the trading posts. Perhaps unintentionally, then, traders imposed on the Northeast tribes their own European patterns of work groups, family structure, and authority.
The final result of the fur trade was poverty. As fur-bearing animals were trapped out and game became scarce, more and more time was required to gather furs to buy a tool, a bolt of cloth, or an item of food from the trading post, leaving little or no time to work fields that, at any rate, had been long neglected in the migration to the trading posts. Old skills of toolmaking had been lost, as had the ability to live off the land. Long-established Indian trading routes also broke down, since the people were unable to amass goods for trade. On average, the relative affluence of the initial contact with fur traders lasted about a generation; from then on, for most tribes, it was downhill to defeat, demoralization, and inexorable decline.
The Eighteenth Century and Beyond
While England, France, and later the new United States of America fought each other for control of the new country, the League of Six Nations generally sided with the English. The American Revolution posed an especially knotty dilemma for the Iroquois. From their perspective, it was a war between Englishmen and none of their business. Their English allies, however, expected their support. To the relief of the rebels, the League decided that as long as both sides respected Iroquois sovereignty, the League would remain neutral.
Neutrality was short-lived, however. An invasion into League homeland by rebel forces so angered the Iroquois that they agreed to fight with the British, with the exception of the Oneida, who sided with the rebels. As a result, nations of the League fought each other for the first time since the Great Peace had been established.
Alas, the end was the same for all the Iroquois, regardless of whether they fought for or against the Americans. Treaties following the war claimed United States jurisdiction over all Indian lands upon Britain's surrender (Britain being seen as having the right to surrender Indian lands as well as their own), and small reservations were set up for the mighty Iroquois Nations in New York.
Parceled out (as were the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast) to various missionary denominations, plagued by alcoholism, and utterly bereft of old skills, the broken League faced tough times by the end of the 1700s. Into this period of demoralization came the message of Handsome Lake, a revitalization movement similar in intent to the Ghost Dance of the Plains but advocating more concrete measures than dancing the white people away. The most important part of Handsome Lake's message was the ban against drinking. Although he advocated that the Iroquois men work the fields as American men did, in contrast with the Iroquois custom of women growing and harvesting the crops, he incorporated Iroquois religious beliefs and traditional rituals into his Good Word. The message of Handsome Lake was eagerly accepted by the Iroquois and helped many communities improve their deteriorated conditions.
Stronger, or perhaps just more stubborn than the Southeast tribes, the Iroquois successfully resisted the removal policy of the 1830s, helped by the Quakers in their midst, who won exemption for the League tribes. Individual ownership of land was also resisted, mainly by Iroquois women, who realized it would break their clan-based cooperative power, force them and their children into dependency upon the men, and constrict their economic base. In the past, by sharing the labor among adult women so that none were unduly burdened, the women had freed the men to seek additional resources through hunting, raids, or trade. With the women retaining the right to work the fields and to share the produce communally within their clans, Iroquois men hunted and trapped furs, then felled and rafted timbers and worked on railroads and in construction. Most recently, they have become sought-after high-steel construction workers.
As you will read in Kehoe, individual League nations have continued to struggle for their rights--for example, the Mohawk insist on the right to freely cross the border between the United States and Canada. Only the Oneida were dispossessed, betrayed by a Christian Iroquois and unscrupulous land speculators. Despite the protests of the Oneida sachems, they were forced to Wisconsin, to land ceded by the Menominee. The Mohicans who had taken refuge with the Oneida in New York were also forced to Wisconsin, where they now reside on the tiny Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation sharing a common boundary with the Menominee Reservation. The Mohican language vanished in the 1980s in Wisconsin with the deaths of the last Mohican-speaking elders.
Of all the Iroquois tribes, the Onondaga remain the strongest. As fire keepers and wampum keepers, this tiny nation in central New York has retained its continuity with the League of Six Nations. In recent years, its prominence has been emphasized by the appointment of Oren Lyons as chief by the clan mothers. An artist who gave up a successful career in New York City to answer the summons of the clan mothers, Lyons has traveled and written extensively, addressed the United Nations, and played a major role in the World Council of Religions.
Relative success has not come without its cost. In the 1980s, the Onondaga clan mothers reached a painful decision to eject nearly 25 percent of the people without clan affiliations from the nation. The decision was aimed at all Onondaga men who had married white women and returned to the nation to live because housing was cheaper, medical and educational services were free, and no state taxes were levied on tribal income. Since clan descent is reckoned matrilineally, the children from these unions were not considered Onondaga. Looking to the future, the clan mothers foresaw a time when scanty nation resources would support a large number of non-Onondaga people, so they ruled that all residents not affiliated with a clan must leave. The result was the breakup of many families, with white mothers and children forced to leave the nation and their husbands choosing to remain behind. When entire families migrated out, Onondaga grandparents were left with only the children of their daughters in close proximity; the children of their sons, being non-Onondaga, were moved to surrounding cities. Whether right or wrong, the decision has strengthened the unity of the nation and reaffirmed the power and authority of the clan mothers.
As a final note on the Northeast Iroquois, we observe that in the late 1980s the United States government formally thanked the League of Six Nations for its contribution to the federal political structure framed by the founding fathers. It was the concept of the great council, the representation of each village and nation at the council, and the binding agreements reached at the council that inspired the drafters of the Constitution and served as a model for America's own Congress. The recognition was perhaps two hundred years late, but for the surviving peoples of the League of Six Nations it was nonetheless welcome.
The distinctive longhouses and fortified towns of the Iroquois of the Northeast demonstrate a long history of warfare among these tribes. The Great Peace, developed by Hiawentah and the Huron Dekanawida, brought peace to central New York. It brought strength to five Iroquois nations--the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Oneida (later to be joined by the Tuscarora)--and made the League a force to be reckoned with for European arrivals. The insatiable demand by Europeans for fur originally brought prosperity to the Northeast tribes, particularly those such as the Huron outside the League. But disaster was the result when the League attempted to penetrate the lucrative trade, first trapping out its own territory and then turning on non-League members in wars of extermination.
Attempts to remain neutral during the American Revolution proved futile for the League, and when the Oneida sided with the rebels, the Great Peace was jeopardized. For the other nations, England's loss spelled their own, and they were forced onto tiny reservations in central New York. The message of Handsome Lake brought a revival of Iroquois beliefs and culture that endures today, most notably with the Onondaga Nation, which retains its position as first among equals in the League. Successfully resisting removal and individual land allotments, the Iroquois peoples remain a strong and viable force among the Indians of the Northeast and an example for tribes across the country.
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For a different perspective of the Iroquois Six Nations today, see the following Web site:
Note: We make every effort to keep this information as current as possible. However, Internet Web sites and their addresses occasionally change without notice. If you encounter any difficulty in accessing the Internet Web sites, please contact your instructor for help.
Please answer the following questions. Please limit your answers to two pages each.
1. Briefly describe Iroquoian cultures prior to, or at the time of, contact, including housing, subsistence, clan descent, and settlement patterns. What similarities do you see between the Iroquois and the Cherokee from the last unit? To what do you attribute the similarities?
2. Trace the effects of the fur trade on the League and non-League nations of the Northeast. Pay particular attention to the changes in lifestyle brought about by the trade and contrast them with the traditional lifestyle.
3. Revitalization movements are not uncommon among oppressed and exploited peoples. Both the shattered Plains culture and the broken Iroquois League turned to visionary and mystical means to cope with drastic changes in their lives. Briefly compare the Ghost Dance of the Plains and the message of Handsome Lake to the Iroquois. Why do you think the white Americans reacted so differently to the movements (that is, fear of the Ghost Dancers and tolerance for the Handsome Lake followers)? You might want to consider the general attitudes toward Indians at these two times and in these places in this portion of your answer.
4. After browsing the Six Nations Web site (see Web Resources), describe a current issue that the Iroquois League is addressing, e.g., political, environmental, participation in the United Nations, and so forth.
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