top of page

the history of the mohicans

Total population today:

The largest single First Nation group in Quebec, there are over 14,735 people in the Mohawk Nation, with more than 12,450 residents in the three Mohawk townships in that province. other cities exist in Ontario, and the United States..

tribal areas:

In the 16th century, the Mohicans were members of the powerful Iroquois corporation known as the Six Nations, or Haudenosaunee, and their territory encompassed what is now known as New England. Today there are three Mohawk areas in Quebec, one spanning the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York State, the other two near the city of Montreal.

The League of Nations of the Iroquois

Six nations join forces - and shape the US constitution

" I roquoia," the territory of the six Iroquois tribes, once stretched from North Carolina up to Quebec and west to Ohio. On a June day in 1744, in the small town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, British colonial rulers were negotiating with Native Americans over the cession of land.
A stirring speaker took the floor. It was Canasatego , an Onondaga chief of about sixty. He recommended to Europeans a union modeled after his people. "Our forefathers," he said, "united us into a confederation and thus gave us unprecedented political power." Canasatego spoke at length, praising the political merits of that constitution which called itself the Great Law of Peace . It united the six nations of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora into the Iroquois League of Nations.
The treaty conference lasted fourteen days. During the talks and negotiations, representatives of the Virginia government made a proposal to the Iroquois: Twelve young Indians should be taught the common sciences at a college in Williamsburg for four years. The Indians considered the offer for a few days and then declined.

Canasatego gave the following justification: "You who are clever must  know, that  different peoples have different conceptions of things; and so you will not blame us if our ideas about this kind of education do not agree with yours." The Indian pointed out that  several young people of his tribe had previously attended schools in the northern provinces. "They were tutored in all your sciences, but when they came back to us they were bad runners, you know  no longer how to live in the forest, could not stand neither hunger nor cold, knew  not how to dissect a deer, build a hut, or kill an enemy. They spoke our language poorly, so they were not fit to be warriors, hunters, or advisors. They were no use at all." Canasatego concluded  with the words: "Nevertheless, we owe you a debt of gratitude for your kind offer, and so we want to make you an offer on our part: If the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in everything that we know, and make men of them."


On the side of the ambassadors from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania sat a man of thirty-eight, busily taking notes. He was a writer and printer for the Pennsylvania government. He would later go down in history as the inventor of the lightning rod and the lead author of the American Constitution (alongside Thomas Jefferson): Benjamin Franklin.

he was fascinated by the Iroquois League of Nations and thought he could set an example for his own nation. "Six nations of ignorant savages," Franklin said, "appeared to have been able to find the right form of government and to practice it in such a way that...  it has endured for centuries and appears absolutely indestructible. It would be strange if such a union were not also applicable to ten or twelve English colonies, for which it is far more necessary."

The Union of the Iroquois, the Union of the Six Nations , still exists today, despite the conquest of the whites

The Iroquois call themselves the Haudenosaunee people of the long house . The longhouse, covered and paneled with elm bark, was the traditional dwelling in which several families of a clan lived together. Each clan was headed by an older woman, the clan mother ; the clan's totem animal was carved above the entrance. Inside there were bunk beds, stoves and food storage.


The settlements consisted of around 50 longhouses. Each village was fenced off by stockades. Beyond were fields where women grew corn and beans. The harvest was brought in by the men. As warriors, they always roamed the forests on foot. The only means of transport was the bark canoe.

In every Iroquois community - similar to our town hall - there is a long house in a central place. It is a place of political, religious and social gatherings. Decisions are only made here in each assembly when unanimity is reached. In the eyes of the Haudenosaunee, majority decisions are undemocratic because the arguments of the minority do not influence the final decision.

Like other Native American tribes, the Iroquois have a close relationship with wildlife. It shows up in the clans: the Mohawk nation, for example, has bear, wolf and turtle clans. Marriages are not allowed within such a large community.

Each clan sends up to three members to the grand council . It consists of 50 people's representatives ( Royaneh ). The election of the individual representatives is left to the clan mothers. They also ensure that the Royaneh do not abuse their office, do not enrich themselves and keep the tone in the longhouse. It is considered indecent to interrupt a speaker. When he has finished his speech, he is asked if he has anything to add before another person takes the floor.

The women have the power to depose a Royaneh again - this act is called dethroning and is preceded by three warnings. The person relieved of his office has to take off his headdress: antlers, the symbol for antennas to the spiritual world.

The women of the Iroquois have always had the power of disposal over all food, including the hunted game brought by the men. Through their control of the economy, Indian women could provide - or refuse - food for meetings, ceremonies, and campaigns.

N ot always went among the Iroquois as civilized to. About 2000 years ago the Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca and Onondaga - although related - tore each other in brutal fights. They outdid each other in torture methods and cannibalism. Only when the Prophet Deganawidah came to an end did the bloodshed come to an end. According to legend, the Peacemaker appeared in a white stone canoe.
Deganawidah planted a pine tree in the land of the Onondaga, under the roots of which the weapons of war were buried.
"Bury the hatchet" - a phrase in our usage that is reminiscent of this historical moment. The year of this occurrence is not known; but the Indians emphasize that the pine was planted before the arrival of Columbus on the new continent (1492).
"This is the tree of peace," spoke Deganawidah. "Above this tree will at all times hover the eagle, watching over the welfare of the Confederacy." The founding fathers of the United States liked the image and adopted the bald eagle as their national emblem.
The country of the Onondaga, south of the city of Syracuse in upstate New York, is still a sovereign island today - much like the village of Asterix in Roman Gaul. All US authorities respect Onondaga's sovereignty. The sheriff of the city of Syracuse knows that he cannot cross the border into Onondaga without the consent of the chief chief (he bears the title of Tadodaho).

W hen came in the 18th century, more and more white to North America, the Indians were weakened not only by fighting and previously unknown diseases. European civilization imports such as the Bible, violin, whiskey and games of chance also found their followers.


And then a man rose in influence who the Longhouse chiefs now say was only biologically a Mohawk: Thayendanega , whose English name is Joseph Brant .
He spoke Greek and Latin, went to church on Sundays, spread his little finger while drinking tea and traveled to Queen Anne in London in 1710. Joseph Brant was a product of English interests.
In 1777, during the American Revolutionary War, the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca and Onondaga allied with the British colonial power. On the other hand, the two remaining Iroquois tribes, Oneida and Tuscarora (the latter were admitted to the League in 1722), went over to the insurgents who demanded independence from Britain. This division was to paralyze the six nations for a long time.
When the War of Independence ended on September 3, 1783, the Iroquois were no longer needed by either side and were allowed to go home. But this home had long since become the object of new expansion plans. White territory had now doubled. When George Washington, first President of the United States of America, recognized the sovereignty of the Six Nations in 1794, only 4,000 Haudenosaunee lived south of the Canadian border. Many Iroquois had migrated to Canada. In order to get to the Great Council in Onondaga, the chiefs now had to cross foreign-ruled lands.

W hen in Geneva was formed in 1920 the League of Nations, the Iroquois sent a representative to Switzerland. They wanted a seat on that body of sovereign nations. Persia, Ireland, Estonia and Panama agreed to support the motion in 1923. England and Canada learned of this prematurely and raged; the government in London sent clear threats to Tehran, Dublin, Tallinn and Panama City. Desgaheh , the Canadian-born Iroquois representative, has never been heard of.

While he was in Geneva, Canada used police force to remove the longhouse government in Osweken, where the Canadian faction of the Six Nations was based. The news of the brutal ouster broke Desgaheh's stamina. He returned home ill, but Canada would not let him enter. On June 27, 1925, the Indian died in Tuscarora, not far from the Canadian border, without having seen his homeland again.

T he beginning of the 20th century saw the chiefs and warriors of the Iroquois often at dizzying heights. Thanks to a head for heights and team spirit, the Indians found their niche in steel construction in the industrial age. There is not a skyscraper in Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York that Iroquois did not help build. Today is the  "Iroquoi's Steelworker"  a respected profession among whites and Indians alike.
When the work is done, the men go back to the small plots of Iroquoia and resume their traditional roles in longhouse society. Sometimes they travel to Europe with their national passports rather than US passports. The Iroquois refuse American citizenship. Delegates regularly visit the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. There they enrage the governments of Canada and the USA with their demonstration of unbroken sovereignty.
But there are shadows on the continuity of the Indian culture: Along with alcohol and Christian sects, drugs and gambling have nested next to the longhouse and led to new divisions among the Haudenosaunee. The reservation's special status allows casinos, although New York state legislature prohibits public gambling.
The elderly have yet another concern: the disappearance of the language threatens the survival of the culture. Only twenty percent of the approximately 60,000 Iroquois still speak their own language. Young people experience the world in English. Even many parents no longer know the language of their ancestors.

Even ecological catastrophes do not stop at the longhouse. the  "Turtle Island" , as the Iroquois have always called the North American continent, is poisoned. The turtles in Mohawk country have such high PCB levels from nearby aluminum factories that their meat has to be treated as hazardous waste.

bottom of page