Myths and truths about the 'Iroquois':
Pre-Iroquois and Iroquois evolution in Southern Ontario
Prologue: Apologies and invitations
I write this blog/article accompanied by my sincere apologies to my many Haudenosaunee* ('Iroquois') friends of the Six Nations, for some of its tone is very hurtful to them and even savage. It is, unfortunately, in part the harsh truths about the myths taught to and learned by generations of Canadian schoolchildren and indeed all of the people of Southern Ontario and Canada for over two centuries now. It is time the myths were exposed, and the truths were told, and this article attempts to do so in a way that can be understood by students and the general public across Ontario and Canada.
In this first draft, there may well be some errors in fact, some references missing, etc., and I respectfully invite readers to inform me of these via blog comments or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will seek to verify and correct for accuracy and provide appropriate sources, from both documentary ('European')and oral (Indigenous/Aboriginal) traditions, as new or more accurate information becomes available to me.
In this first draft also, I hope only to provide enough of a re-orientation of perspective on the 'Iroquois' to generate such discussion, even public controversy, to begin the process of public re-education in Ontario and Canada - 'doing a 180'(degree shift) as I have experienced it myself over the past four years of association with the intelligent, strong and kind people of the Six Nations. Though I am an educational researcher myself (M.A.Sc. Psychology, UW 1982, retired 2007), I do not claim to be an 'objective' source because good scientists and researchers know that no human being ever is. Those who claim to be 'entirely objective' are attempting to deceive you. Good researchers lay out their biases upfront, allowing readers to include that in their consideration. I am sharing what I have read, heard, seen and experienced and the conclusions I have come to myself. I openly admit that in doing so my motivation to persuade people to see what I believe is the truth, so that readers also experience 'a 180' degree shift in perspective.
Background: Global myths about the 'Indians' of Canada
1)We own Canada because we beat the 'Indians' in war
There were no 'Indian' wars in Canada/British North America.
The Indigenous/Aboriginal Nations were never conquered by us - neither by the French nor by the British. We did not "win" the rights to the lands of Canada.
Indigenous Nations were mostly our allies in battle, and still are to this day.
We - France/Britain/British North America - made peace treaties with Indigenous Nations* in
Canada, beginning with the Two Row Wampum Treaty of Alliance*.
In becoming a nation, Canada assumed full legal responsibility for those peace treaties.
The treaties stand as law in Canada to this day, repeatedly upheld and clarified by the Supreme Court of Canada, and forming the basis for current 'land claims' negotiations among other issues.
The harsh truth about the myths
As a child of the '60's I recall, as do most former school children in Southern Ontario throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, being taught that the 'Iroquois' were a fierce, aggressive, frightening and murderous people in the history of Southern Ontario. We were told that their 'real' home is in the (implied aggressive) United States in New York, and that they first came to British North America/Canada from New York only because the British brought some of them here in 1784 after the 'American Revolution' (War of Independence). While Britain/Canada had needed and used their fighting prowess, the tone of the teaching and learning of Southern Ontario schoolchildren for the two centuries following that time has always been that it was somewhat to be regretted that the British/Canadians had found it necessary to ally themselves to such savage people, and entirely regrettable that they ever arrived in 'Canada'.
The reason for the negative tone toward them was ostensibly because in Canada they stood out as being strong ("aggressive"), continuing their 'savage' ways by making war on peaceful aboriginal nations, whose 'real' home was Southern Ontario, most notably that they 'destroyed' the Huron (Wendat/Ouendat/Wyandotte) community entirely by slaughtering them to extinction, and by burning associated Catholic priests ("Martyrs") at the stake.
First of all, the people called the 'Iroquois' are in fact the Haudenosaunee people of the Five/Six Nations - the 'people of the long house', Hau-de-no-sau-nee. 'Iroquois'
1) Let's start at the myth of 1784 as the date of 'arrival' of the Haudenosaunee people of the Six Nations.
Iroquoians become recognizable in the archaeological record of southern Ontario about A.D. 500, with the appearance of Princess Point sites and maize agriculture in the lower Grand River valley. After A.D. 1000, Iroquoians lived in longhouse villages situated in the interior, north of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. This synthesis of the Iroquoian occupation of southern Ontario prior to European contact focuses on origins, settlement patterns, demography, subsistence, and sociopolitical organization. It highlights the significant contributions to Iroquoian archaeology that have been made by government and private consulting archaeologists over the last two decades.
(Bold and underline emphases added.)
The first humans, the Clovis people, arrived in Niagara Region almost 12,000 years ago, around the time of the birth of the Falls, when the land was tundra with spruce forests. These nomadic hunters camped along the old Lake Erie shoreline, in small dwellings, and left little behind except chipped stones, likely used to hunt caribou, mastodons, moose and elk.
By 9,500 years ago deciduous forest covered southernmost Ontario, supporting wildlife like deer, moose, fish and plants, enabling small groups to hunt in the winter, coming together into larger groups during the summer, to fish at shorelines and at the mouths of rivers.
About 2,000 years ago, the Woodland Period brought Iroquois culture in southern Ontario. These peoples began agriculture based on crops of corn, bean and squash, which supported a boom in population and a rich culture with small palisaded villages in which extended families occupied individual longhouses. They developed ceramics technology and forged strong inter-village alliances.
By the time the European explorers and missionaries arrived in the early 1600s, the Iroquoian villages had elected chiefs and were allied within powerful tribal confederacies. The Neutral Indians were the leaders of a group of ten tribes of the Iroquois Nation. Other tribes included the Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Huron, Petun, Erie and the Susquehannock. The French explorers , gave this Indian tribe the name "Neutrals", because of their position and status as peace keepers between the warring Hurons and Iroquois. Unfortunately, inter-tribal warfare was made worse by the intrusion of the Europeans.
The traditional society of the Rotinonshón:ni (Iroquois), "The People of the Longhouse," was a densely settled, matrilineal, communal, and extensively horticultural society. The Rotinonshón:ni formed a confederacy of five nations.Generations before historical contact with Europeans, these nations united through the Kaianere'kó:wa* into the same polity and ended blood feuding without economic exploitation, stratification, or the formation of a centralized state.
A work in progress ... to be continued ...
* I encourage readers to find additional resources of their own. However, I caution you that accounts written by our U.S. friends will refer only to the 'Iroquois' within their boundaries, indicating that the Five/Six Nations resided below the Great Lakes. Canadian resources are, thus, preferred for information about the locations of the Haudenosaunee people within the boundaries of present day Canada. Also, today's legal realities are somewhat different above and below the border. U.S. resources are, however, just as valuable as Canadian ones for information about laws, customs, etc. Readers are encouraged to apply critical thinking skills and to 'consider the source' as well as the content.
For comparison and consideration, two (of several possible) maps of the location of the Five Nations:
* Haudenosaunee is also written Rotinonshón:ni. Such differences are attributable to the task of translating an oral language (Mohawk) to a written phonetic one. For example, the beginning sound in their language is somewhere between our 'r' and 'h' sounds. Likewise, other sounds are somewhere between 't' and 'd', 'k' and 'g', etc., leading to some identification confusion for non-Mohawk speakers.
* I personally use the terms "Indigenous" (natural, of this land)) and "Nations" respectfully. Canada uses 'Aboriginal' (meaning out of or from the original people) and still refers to them as 'Indian' in some law and policy documents, so those terms appear here too in certain contexts, but they are not preferred. In Canada we do not tend to call them 'tribes' as in the U.S. Prior to European contact, they were various Nations of people, with local, inter-local and global trading practices and laws, treaties, religions, villages, homes, families, leadership and legal organizations, etc. There is nothing in Indigenous nor Canadian law that has changed that legally to this day: Canada's 'Indian' Act that sought to do so is widely recognized to be not legal, and is proposed for massive changes or extinction* itself. It has not yet been tested in the Supreme Court of Canada. The Canadian government would suggest that 'negotiations' are necessary.
Clearly, I am taking a political position on this issue, but one based soundly on past decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. granny
* Two Row Wampum
* Also Gayanashagowa The Great Law of Peace that joined the five nations - Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca - into one Confederacy as the Haudenosaunee:
Historians once thought the Iroquois Confederacy started in the 1500s, but a more recent estimate dates the confederacy and its constitution to between 1090 and 1150 CE. These estimates were based on the records of the confederacy leadership and astronomical dating related to a total solar eclipse that coincided with the founding of the Confederacy.