Iroquois Confederacy - Winston Knoll Collegiate

How First Nations Helped Shape the Modern
Who are they?
The Iroquoian
Confederacy is NOT a
tribe/nation it is a
political and cultural
union of several
different nations/tribes
As you can see in the
map these nations are
based in what is now
the provinces of
Ontario and Quebec as
well as the state of
New York
The original confederacy consisted of 5 nations the:
Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca peoples.
The Mohawk tribe lived along the Mohawk River of the
Mohawk Valley in upstate New York to South Quebec and
East Ontario - Possessors of the Flint.
The Seneca tribe lived in New York State south of Lake
Ontario and were the were the largest nation of the
Iroquois Confederacy - Great Hill People
The Onondaga tribe lived between Lake Champlain and the
Saint Lawrence River - People on the Hills
The Oneida tribe lived east of Lake Ontario, around Oneida
Lake - Granite People
The Cayuga tribe lived around Cayuga Lake in New York
State - People of the Great Swamp
Prior to the confederacy the various nations
were often at war with each other
For warriors honor could only be gained
through bravery and aggression in battle,
weakness was not tolerated
The constant warfare between the nations
was weakening all of them which helped lead
to the formation of the Confederacy in
around 1450
Politics in the New World
According to
tradition the two
people most
responsible for the
formation of the
confederation were
sometimes known
as the Great
Peacemaker and his
disciple Hiawatha
The primary reasons for the formation of the
Confederacy include:
To eliminate incessant intertribal warfare
To create peace and give united strength
To create a powerful force of tribes
To safeguard existing Iroquois territory and defend
against invasion
◦ To expand their territories
◦ To establish a democratic government with
representatives from each of the tribes to ensure
fairness and equity
The Confederation’s
sometimes called the
Great Law of Peace,
was recorded on the
Hiawatha Wampum
Belt (see top picture)
It is also symbolized
in the tree of peace
(see bottom picture)
There were to be 50 chiefs, these chiefs had
to be married and have children but there
was no age limit and are appointed for life
The 50th chief is the league’s spiritual leader,
and is the only one selected by the entire
The Clan Mothers (a group of women leaders)
were the only people who could remove a
chief, after having given him a warning
In addition the head of the 50 chiefs is
appointed by the Clan Mothers
Iroquois political and diplomatic decisions are
made on the local level, and are based on
assessments of community consensus.
Unanimity in public acts was essential to the
Council, no Iroquois treaty was binding
unless it was ratified by 75% of the male
voters and 75% of the mothers of the nation.
In revising Council laws and customs, a
consent of two-thirds of the mothers was
How the Iroquois helped to
change the world
While no historians argue that the Iroquoian
Confederation was the basis for the US
Constitution a number argue that it influenced
the US Constitution
Those arguments include:
◦ American government divided into 2 houses (House of
Representatives and Senate), the Grand Council is
divided into 3 (Elder Brothers, Younger Brothers and
◦ Both groups had ingrained checks and balances in their
◦ Both documents stress prosperity and liberty as goals
for their people
◦ Both groups had a federation style government with a
focus on local rather than centralized power
France would become involved in the American War of
Independence in 1778
This involvement would bring many French military leaders
into close ties with America’s founding fathers and their
Further one of the more influential American founding
fathers, Benjamin Franklin, became America’s Ambassador
to France from 1776-1783. His writings would catch the
imagination of the new French thinkers
The high debt France incurred directly supporting the
Americans, in addition to fighting the British on the sea
were one of the most important factors leading to the
French Revolution. At least part of this debt was incurred
fighting the Iroquois who were allies of the British

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