Facts About the Iroquois


Iroquois Nation Flag - Photo by chelovek/iStock / Getty Images

1. Iroquois is actually a nation made up of six tribes. The original Iroquois Confederacy was made up of the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes. Later the Tuscarora joined.

2. The Iroquois Confederacy (also known as the Iroquois League) was one of the examples of representative democracy used as a model by America’s founding fathers. Each nation sent between eight and fourteen leaders to the council, where they made political decisions through discussions and voting. These “chiefs” were elected officials chosen by the Clan Mothers of each tribe.

3. The heart of the Iroquois homeland is located in what is now New York State. Many Iroquois still live there today and across the border in Canada in Ontario and Quebec. Others were forced to move west to Oklahoma or Wisconsin during the 1800’s.

4. Lacrosse was a popular sport among Iroquois boys and men. Originally called Le Crosse (The Stick) by French missionary Jean de Brébeuf who saw the natives playing the game in the 1600’s.  

5. Iroquois men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war. Iroquois women were in charge of farming, property, and family. Women ruled Iroquois, it was they who made all the land and resource decisions for each clan. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork, music, and traditional medicine.  

6. The Iroquois people lived in longhouses. Longhouses were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. The Iroquois of today live in modern houses and apartment buildings.

7. Iroquois women wore wraparound skirts with short leggings. The Men wore breechcloths with long leggings. They wore moccasins on their feet and heavy robes in the winter. They did not wear long headdresses like other tribes but the men wore a gustowech, which was a feathered cap with a different insignia for each tribe. For example, the Mohawk wore caps with three eagle feathers.

Woven Iroquois cloth

Corn growing

8. They used elm-bark or dugout canoes for fishing trips but usually preferred to travel by land. In the winter they used laced snowshoes and sleds to travel through the snow.

9. The Iroquois women farmed corn, beans, and squash. They harvested wild berries and herbs. Iroquois men hunted deer and elk and fished from the rivers. Iroquois dishes included corn breads, stews, and soups cooked on stone hearths. Iroquois men would often woo their women by playing beautiful flute music outside the longhouse.

10. The most important instruments were drums and flutes. The drums were often filled with water to give them a distinctive sound that was different from other tribes.