The Iroquois Confederacy The Romans of the New World 1570-1784 Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the First Nations peoples had evolved societies that operated on principles and assumptions quite different from those prevailing in sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury Europe. Background Founded in the 16th century in what is now central New York State, the original confederacy consisted of five tribes—the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca—and was known as the Five Nations, or the League of Five Nations. After the Tuscarora joined in 1722, the confederacy became known to the English as the Six Nations and was recognized as such at Albany, N.Y. (1722). More Background Tradition credits the formation of the confederacy, between 1570 and 1600, to Dekanawidah, born a Huron, who is said to have persuaded Hiawatha, an Onondaga living among Mohawks, to abandon cannibalism and advance "peace, civil authority, righteousness, and the great law" as sanctions for confederation. The Iroquois Confederacy, possessed an "inclusive" character that stood in stark contrast to the hierarchical decisionmaking processes popular in Europe. The Confederacy's decision-making processes were governed by a "constitution," the "Great Law," which possessed many of the attributes found in twentieth century constitutions. The Great Law Identified the rights of citizens, delineated the parameters of the powers of leaders, formalized societal decision-making processes, and prescribed the conduct of foreign affairs. Provisions within the Great Law encouraged public participation in societal decision making. – There were provisions for referenda, recalls of leaders, and publicly-sponsored initiatives. The Great Law (cont’d) Decision making in the Confederacy was not solely a male prerogative as in Europe. Women possessed influence and rights enabling them to have a meaningful and critical role in the selection of leaders. Although members of the Grand Council were male, most had to be nominated by women of their extended family. The Great Law (cont’d) Leadership was accountable to a degree not paralleled in Europe at that time. – The Great Law insisted that Chiefs had to be tolerant and attentive to criticisms from members of their nation. – Individuals, both male or female, could bring complaints against a chief to the Council. – The Council could remove the chief if it was deemed that he was not acting in the best interest of his people, or not obeying the rules of the Great Law. The Great Law (cont’d) The sovereignty of each of the member nations of the Confederacy was addressed in specific provisions of the Great Law. – A complex system of checks and balances ensured that all member nations would participate in the Confederacy's paramount decision-making body, the Grand Council. – Measures, such as a declarations of war, could only be enacted by the Grand Council with the approval of the representatives of all five nations. The representatives could convey the decision of their nation to the Council only after a lengthy debate within their respective nations. What were the chief characteristics of the Iroquoian Peoples ? The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee meaning "people of the longhouse." They lived in and around the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Lowlands. Characteristics of the Iroquoians Iroquois villages were generally fortified and large. The distinctive, communal longhouses of the different clans could be over 200' in length and were built over a framework covered with elm bark. The Iroquois had a matriarchal social structure meaning the women owned all property and determined kinship. After marriage, a man moved into his wife's longhouse, and their children became members of her clan. They were sedentary, which means they had a way of life that involved living in a permanent community. Their villages were permanent in that they were moved only for military defensive purposes or when the soil became depleted (about every fifteen to twenty years). Characteristics of the Iroquoians (cont’d) Agriculture provided most of the Iroquois diet. Corn, beans, and squash were known as "deohako" or "life supporters." The women owned and tended the fields under the supervision of the clan mother. Men usually left the village in the fall for the annual hunt and returned about midwinter. In the spring the men fished. Like the Algonquians, the Iroquoian religion was based on the worship of a great spirit who had power over the lives of all living things.