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Iroquois

How do you pronounce the word "Iroquois"? What does it mean?

It's pronounced "eer-uh-kwoy" in English.  The Iroquois tribes originally called their members Kanonsionni, which means "people of the longhouse." Today they call themselves the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations.

Where do the Iroquois Indians live?

The Iroquois tribes are original residents of what is now New York state. Some Iroquois people still live in New York today, while others retreated to Canada in the 1700's.

What language do the Iroquois Indians speak?

Most Iroquois people speak English today. There were six different languages spoken by the Iroquois nations: Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Tuscarora. Some Iroquois people could speak more than one of these languages. In particular, important Iroquois men usually learned Mohawk, because Mohawk was the language they usually used at the Great Council and at Iroquois religious festivals.

How do Iroquois Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?


They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Iroquois children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But Iroquois kids did have cornhusk dolls, toys, and games, such as one game where kids tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among Iroquois boys as it was among adult men.

Iroquois mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted.

What were men and women's roles in the Iroquois tribe?

Iroquois men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war. Iroquois women were in charge of farming, property, and family. These different roles were reflected in Iroquois government. Iroquois clans were ruled by women, who made all the land and resource decisions for each clan. But the chiefs, who made military decisions and trade agreements, were always men. Only men represented the Iroquois Confederacy at the Great Council, but only women voted to determine who the representatives of each tribe would be. Both genders took part in Iroquois storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Iroquois homes like in the past?

The Iroquois people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. Iroquois longhouses were up to a hundred feet long, and each one housed an entire clan (as many as 60 people.)

What was Iroquois clothing like? Did Iroquois people wear feather headdresses and face paint?
 
Iroquois men wore breechcloths with long leggings. Iroquois women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings. Men did not originally wear shirts in Iroquois culture, but women often wore a tunic called an overdress. Iroquois people also wore moccasins on their feet and heavy robes in winter.

The Iroquois didn't wear long headdresses. Iroquois men wore a gustoweh, which was a feathered cap with different insignia for each tribe. Iroquois women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. Iroquois warriors often shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head (the style known as a roach, or a "Mohawk.") Sometimes they added to this hairstyle with feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Iroquois Indian women only cut their hair when they were in mourning, wearing it long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tribal tattoos, but Iroquois women generally didn't paint or tattoo themselves.

What was Iroquois transportation like in the days before cars? Did Iroquois people paddle canoes?

 
Iroquois Indians did use elm-bark or dugout canoes for fishing trips, but usually preferred to travel by land. Originally the Iroquois tribes used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) In wintertime, Iroquois people used laced snowshoes and sleds to travel through the snow.

What was Iroquois food like in the days before supermarkets?

The Iroquois were farming people. Iroquois women did most of the farming, planting crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvesting wild berries and herbs. Iroquois men did most of the hunting, shooting deer and elk and fishing in the rivers. Iroquois Indian dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths.

What were Iroquois weapons and tools like in the past?

Iroquois hunters used bows and arrows. Iroquois fishermen generally used spears and fishing poles. In war, Iroquois men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.

Other important tools used by the Iroquois Indians included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so they could bend it into curved tools. Some Iroquois people still make lacrosse sticks this way today.

What are Iroquois arts and crafts like?
    
The Iroquois tribes were known for their mask carving, which is considered such a sacred art form that outsiders are still not permitted to view many of these masks. Beadwork and the more demanding porcupine quillwork are more common Iroquois crafts. The Iroquois Indians also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on Iroquois wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What kinds of stories do the Iroquois Indians tell?


There are lots of traditional Iroquois legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Iroquois Indian culture.