The Iroquois (c. 1142- ), who call themselves the Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse”), were American Indians who lived in upstate New York. They lived beyond the mountains north-west of New York City, living between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes.
Going from east to west the Five Nations were:
The Tuscarora joined about 1723, making it Six Nations. Mohawk was the language used for League affairs.
Those who did not join among neighbouring Iroquoian-speaking peoples: the Huron, Erie and Susquehanna. The Cherokee also spoke an Iroquoian language but lived far to the south.
The League was founded by Hiawatha sometime between 1142 and 1570. Not the made-up Hiawatha of Longfellow, but the one of history who followed the visions of the prophet Deganawida. Hiawatha went from nation to nation in a white boat to make peace. That led to the creation of a senate of the 50 top men from the Five Nations. Deganawida uprooted a white pine tree and the men threw their weapons down the hole. When the tree was replanted they joined hands round the tree: the League was formed. It made all decisions about war and peace for the Five Nations. It had a constitution.
Just as five families live in a longhouse, so the Five Nations lived in the League.
Marriage: A married man lived with his wife’s people. His wife could divorce him by putting his stuff outside the door.
Property: Held in common. There were no poor. This made them a model in some Marxist circles.
War: No standing army. Some prisoners of war were given long, painful deaths, as recorded by their enemies, the French, but most became Iroquois.
Food: Men hunted deer, moose, caribou and small game; boys hunted rabbits and birds; women grew maize, squash and beans. They also ate nuts, strawberries and maple syrup.
Religion: These days most are Christians though some follow the teachings of the prophet Handsome Lake of the early 1800s. In the old Iroquois religion shamans cured the sick, the False Face Society frightened away evil spirits and the high god Orenda was at work in all things.
Dreams: Taken seriously, which is why they had what I call prophets. Dreams are how the hidden part of our soul (what we call the subconscious) speaks to us.
Decline and fall: The League, which reached its height from 1600 to 1770 through political unity and guns, was weakened by Catholicism, smallpox and, worst of all, the loss of almost all their land to the Americans.
Some stuff White Americans got from the Iroquois: lacrosse, succotash, ideas about how to create a working constitutional democracy, most of upstate New York.