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Iroquois Confederacy

The Iroquois Confederacy or the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse), was made up of five tribes, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and the Seneca originating from New York. In 1722, the Tuscarora tribe, who originated from North Carolina, joined the Confederacy.

The nations of the confederacy saw themselves as the important parts that hold up the one united longhouse. They were also said to be the only Nation to not be conquered by European settlers.

The Iroquois Confederacy were also known as the Iroquois League, Five Nations, the Iroquois, and later the Six Nations. The confederacy was formed around 1350 to 1600 during a dark time of constant wars in between the original five tribes.

Dekananwida and Hiawatha were responsible for the confederacy’s formation and created a political system that convinced the chiefs from all of the tribes to unite. The tribes were split into clans and the oldest woman in each clan, called the clan mother, chose one or more men to serve as clan chief. These chiefs formed the Grand Council of Chiefs, which included forty-nine chiefs and the chief of chiefs. When making decisions for the confederacy the Council’s vote had to be unanimous. However, if the vote was not unanimous each tribe was able to act independently. The league also established the Great Law which set the rules for settling disputes between the tribes. This helped end sometime generations-old feuds. After being defeated by settlers the Tuscarora joined the Iroquois Confederacy in 1722. However, they were represented by the Oneida in the Grand Council.

When the first European explorers came over the Iroquois was a settled agricultural community. Though between the tribes there was peace the confederacy still raided other tribes in the area. This caused the Iroquois to gain a fearsome reputation among Europeans and showed their value as allies. The league was allied with the English in multiple wars until they signed a treaty with the French in 1701, leading to them being mostly neutral. During the French and Indian War however, the Iroquois allied with the British. In 1763 after the war the British government used the Iroquois’ conquest to claim the Northwest Territory and issued a proclamation which restricted settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains. This proclamation was ignored by most colonists.

The Iroquois tribes were divided on who to side with during the American Revolution. Most of the tribes in the confederacy were more comfortable siding with the British because they seemed like less of a threating than the colonists who sought native land relentlessly. After the American Revolution the tribes that sided with the British were driven from their lands by the now American settlers.

The Iroquois’ population was around 5,500 in the seventeenth century. By 1990 a United States census reported 52,557 members of the Iroquois’ nations, making it the seventh-largest tribe in the U.S. In 1995 the census in Canada and the United States reported 74,518 tribal members. The Iroquois now have eight reservations in New York and Wisconsin and two more in Ontario, Canada. Most of the tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy are federally recognized tribes.


Encyclopedia, Britannica. “Iroquois Confederacy.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1998. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Iroquois-Confederacy.

Malinowski, Sharon, Anna J. Sheets, and Linda Schmittroth. U·X·L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. Detroit, MI: U·X·L, 1999.

Weiser-Alexander, Kathy. “The Powerful Iroquois Confederacy of the Northeast.” Legends of america, 2020. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/iroquois-confederacy/.

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