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Haudenosaunee -
“People who build a house”


  • Haudenosaunee, “People who build a house”

  • Rotinonshonni, “Longhouse people” (the Mohawk variant of Haudenosaunee)

  • Ongweh’onweh, “Real human beings”

  • Note: Iroquois was a derogatory term from the Algonquin language used by the French meaning “Snake”

Language Group:

  • Iroquois; there are at least 10 languages comprising the Iroquois language including the individual languages of the Six Nations.


  • Extended clans (family groups) that lived in longhouses

  • Usually, the oldest woman was the leader of the clan; the Haudenosaunee follow a matrilineal heritage


  • Prior to contact: as far west as Livingston County, NY (Seneca), some parts into Canada, as far east to Fort Orange near Albany

  • Post-contact: Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and across Upstate and Western New York

Contact Period:

  • Prior – before 1500s

  • Post – fur-trade in 1500s

  • During the Seven Years War, the French and English tried to recruit the different nations based on their trade relations

  • Life changed dramatically after the Revolutionary War when they were relocated, repeatedly, eventually to Wisconsin

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy

Five nations came together to form the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy

  • Mohawk/ Kanien’kehaka - “People of the Flint." 
    Also referred to as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door” because they are the nation furthest to the east in the Confederacy

  • Oneida/ Onayotekaono - “People of the Standing Stone”
  • Onondaga/ Onundagaono - “People of the Hills.”
    Also referred to as the “Keepers of the Central Fire” because they were the center and capital of the Confederacy
  • Cayuga/ Guyohkohnyoh - “People of the Great Swamp”
  • Seneca/ Onondowahgah - “People of the Great Hill.”
    Also known as the “Keepers to the Western Door” because they are the nation furthest to the west in the Confederacy
  • Tuscarora/ Skaruhreh - “The Shirt Wearing People.”
    In 1722, the Tuscarora moved from North Carolina to the Haudenosaunee area to seek refuge and they were invited to join the Confederacy


Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Online Resources

•   Native New York Guide for Educators from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian:

•    Haudenosaunee Confederacy: https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/

•    Stockbridge-Munsee community Band of Mohican Indians: https://www.mohican.com/

•    Mohawk resources on the Native Land website: https://native-land.ca/maps/territories/mohawk/

•    Oneida Indian Nation (in New York): https://www.oneidaindiannation.com/

•    Oneida Nation (in Wisconsin): https://oneida-nsn.gov/

•    Onondaga Nation: https://www.onondaganation.org/

•    Skä•noñh Center, The Great Law of Peace Center, an Haudenosaunee cultural center: https://www.skanonhcenter.org/

•    Cayuga Nation: https://cayuganation-nsn.gov/index.html

•    Seneca Nation of Indians: https://sni.org/about/

•    The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma: https://sctribe.com/

•    The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum: https://www.senecamuseum.org/

•    Ganondagan State Historic Site: https://ganondagan.org/

•    Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina: http://tuscaroranationnc.com/our-history

Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Bibliography

Bonaparte, Darren. Creation and Confederation: The Living History of the Iroquois. Mohawk Territory: The Wampum Chronicles, 2006.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. and James Kirby Martin. Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Hauptman, Laurence M., Coming Full Circle: The Seneca Nation of Indians, 1848-1934. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 2019.

Hauptman, Laurence M., "Four Eastern New Yorkers and Seneca Lands: A Study in Treaty Making," The Hudson Valley Regional Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 1996

Hauptman, Laurence M., In the Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Nation of Indians since World War II. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 2014.

Hauptman, Laurence M., Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations Since 1800. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 2008.

Hauptman, Laurence M., "The Recognizable Ramapough: Chief Butch Redbone's Quest for Federal and State Acknowledgement," The Hudson River Valley Review,    Vol. 28, No. 2, Spring    2012

Nammack, Georgiana C., Fraud, Politics, and the Dispossession of the Indians, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 1969.

Rice, Brian. The Rotinonshonni: A Traditional Iroquoian History Through the Eyes of Teharonhia:Wako and Sawiskera. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 2013.

Ruttenber, E. M. History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson's River: Their Origin, Manner and Customs, Tribal and Sub-Tribal Organizations, Wars, Treaties, Etc., Etc. Orignally Published 1872. Kennikat Press reprint. 1971.

Snow, Dean R., Gehring, Charles T., and Starna, William A., Editors. In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives about a Native People. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1996.

Trelease, William A. Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: The Seventeenth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1997.

Wonderley, Anthony, and Sempowski, Martha L. Origins of the Iroquois League: Narratives, Symbols, and Archaeology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 2019.

Haudenosaunee Summary:

The purpose of this entry is to provide general information about the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Hudson River Valley. This is an ongoing effort; HRVI will add and update these pages as often as possible based on additional research, access to new materials, and new scholarship. Readers are encouraged to learn more from the online resources, books and articles listed here.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy consists of six nations that lived across present-day New York State. The name means “People who build a house,” though there are other names by which they are referred to. The French called the group Iroquois, which is a derogatory term derived from the Huron term for black snakes, because of their stealth. Ongweh’onweh is another term used to describe the Confederacy, which means “real human beings.” Lands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy span as far west as Livingston County, New York, some parts of Canada, and as far east as Fort Orange, near Albany, New York. After colonization and westward expansion, the Confederacy was moved to Wisconsin and Oklahoma, though a significant population remains in upstate and western New York.

The organization of the Confederacy is made up of six nations. Within each of the nations were clans. These were like extended family groups. Usually, the oldest woman was the leader of the clan, which makes the Iroquois follow a matrilineal heritage. Additionally, the clans were often named after animals, such as birds. The clans lived in longhouses made of timber and bark, which is where Haudenosaunee gets its name. The boundaries were provisional as villages changed locations seasonally, which was done amicably unless an outside tribe approached.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was founded by peacemaker prophet, Hiawatha, and the exact date of the nations’ unification is unknown. According to the official Haudenosaunee Confederacy website, “Each nation maintains its own council with Chiefs chosen by the Clan Mother and deals with its own internal affairs but allows the Grand Council to deal with issues affecting the nations within the confederacy.” Furthermore, it is said that this Confederacy is one of the oldest democracies in existence and the American Constitution was modeled after the Haudenosaunee.

There are at least 10 languages comprising the Iroquois language including the individual languages of the six nations. This is very different from many of the other tribes in the area as many spoke dialects of Algonquin, which made the Haudenosaunee Confederacy distinct.


The Mohawk, or Kanien’kehaka, means the “People of the Flint” and are also referred to as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door” because they are the nation furthest to the east in the Confederacy. Their territory spans from present-day Albany, New York, west to Utica, New York, and as far north as Montreal and Ottawa, Canada.  During the Revolutionary War, the Mohawk sided with the British.


The Oneida, or Onayotekaono, means the “People of the Standing Stone.” Oneida was the second easternmost nation in the Confederacy next to the Mohawk.  The Oneida territory spans present-day New York cities such as Binghamton, Utica, and Syracuse and reaches as far north as the St. Lawrence River.  The Oneida were allied with the American patriots during the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Valley Forge.


The Onondaga, or Onundagaono, means the “People of the Hills.” There is another reference to this nation, which was “Keepers of the Central Fire” because they were in the center of the Confederacy, where the nations would assemble. The Onondaga territory covers present-day Syracuse, Cortland, Watertown and Binghamton, New York as well as Kingston, Canada across the St. Lawrence River.


The Cayuga, or Guyohkohnyoh, were known as the “People of the Great Swamp.”  They were the second westernmost nation in the Confederacy.  The Cayuga Nation is a smaller nation that reaches as far south as present-day Ithaca, New York and as far north as Lake Ontario. It does not reach as far west as Rochester or as far east as Syracuse, making it a narrow territory.  Unfortunately, the Cayuga nation lost most of their land after the Revolutionary War. The Cayuga have five clans including turtle, bear, wolf, heron, and snipe.

The Seneca, or Onondowahgah, were known as the “People of the Great Hill,” but also known as the “Keepers to the Western Door” because they are the nation furthest to the west in the Confederacy.  The Seneca Nation spans as far north as Rochester, New York all the way to the current-day border of Pennsylvania. As far as width, Batavia, Olean, and Elmira, New York are present cities and towns that the Seneca land included. The Seneca Nation is comprised of eight clans, which are the turtle, bear, wolf, beaver, snipe, heron, deer, and hawk.


The Tuscarora, or the Skaruhreh, were the last group to join the Confederacy, which was originally only five nations. In 1722, some Tuscarora moved from North Carolina to the Haudenosaunee area to seek refuge from European settlements and they were invited to join the Confederacy. Their name means “The Shirt-Wearing People.”  Their land is in Niagara County and is the smallest of the six nations because they were taken in as refugees.


Haudenosaunee Today:


The Mohawk people today live in Quebec, Ontario, and New York state. Before the American Revolution, many members of the nation sold or leased their lands and moved to Canada over time, so there were smaller populations in the original areas of New York that were occupied by the Mohawk. The remaining people mostly sided with the British.


The Oneida people currently live in Canada, Wisconsin, and New York State. Their relocation was due to European settlement. Treaties cut the once six million acres of Oneida property down to thirty-two, resulting in many in the tribe moving to Canada and Wisconsin by the 1830s.  


During the American Revolution, the Onondaga were neutral but eventually sided with the British, like the Mohawk. After the war, the Onondaga joined the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Canada along with other members of the Confederacy. There is 7300-acres of land near Syracuse, New York that the Onondaga presently live on.


According to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, “Today there are three Cayuga nations including Lower Cayuga and Upper Cayuga, who both reside in Ontario at the Six Nations of the Grand River reservation, and the Seneca-Cayuga of Oklahoma.  A small population of Cayuga still live in New York State, though they have no official land base.” The Cayuga have been mostly displaced, like many other Native Americans, but a small population remains.


Remaining Seneca still live mainly on the Cattaraugus, Allegany and Tonawanda reservations in New York as well as the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma and the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, Canada. Additionally, “The Seneca are also the only nation to own a U.S. city. The Seneca own the city of Salamanca located on the Allegany Indian reservation.”


The Tuscarora Nation currently is along the United States-Canada border, just north of Buffalo, New York. There is very little information about the Tuscarora tribe the migrated to New York, but there is a federally-recognized Tuscarora Nation that remains in North Carolina.


-Jessica Mild, Marist '23