The Iroquois/Hadenosaunee -"People of the Longhouse"
by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska


Longhouse photo taken by Maggie Sypniewski
in London, Ontario, Canada.

The word "Iroquois" cames from the Algonquian word "Iriakoiw," which means "red adders." This most likely is how the Algonquians saw the Iroquois, since they often were their enemy. The French made it into "Iroquois", but we call ourselves "Hodenosaunee" or "People of the Longhouses."

The origins of the Hodenosaunee is somewhat clouded in mystery. Many authors have written about their origins. In the book Iroquois Culture and Commentary by Doug George-Kanentio, he states that he was told by the elders of the Mohawk Nation that originally we were a people from the desert area of the American Southwest. They were cousins of the Hopi. The ancestors of the Iroquois, in New York, were a successful corn growing people called the Owasco. The Owasco lived in upper New York state between 100-1300 A.D. Other legends tells us that the Hodenosaunee first lived in the West, on the great plains near the Missisippi River. They lived near the Pawnee (Wolf Nation) who were their friends and allies. If legends hold true then the Iroquois moved from the Southwest to the East over a long period of time. In their journey they canoed up the St. Lawrence River and in Three Rivers, Quebec (Canada), they were enslaved by the Algonquins. The Iroquois called them the Adirondacks. Which meant "bark eaters." They had a habit of flavoring their food with shredded bark. When the Iroquois escaped from the bark eaters, they traveled by canoe to Lake Ontario and the Otsego River. This is the place where the Adirondacks attacked and drowned many of our people. Those men, women, and children that escaped the bark people ended up on the Mohawk River and became the people of the flint (Kaiienkehaka) or as they are called by the white man, the Mohawks. To the West of the Mohawks were the Oneidas, the Onondaga, the swamp-dwelling Cayugas, and along the Genessee River, lived the Seneca.

They were a hunting, fishing, and agricultural people. They grew into the Tobacco, Neutral, Huron, Wenro, and Erie Nations. One group went to the southeast and became the Cherokee. Others went to central Pennsylvania and were known as the Susquehannas or Conestoga Nation.

After the formation of the League (1570), the villages were enclosed by single or double rows of palisades to protect them from raiding tribes. Often there was a maze to keep raiders from paying surprise visits. Going the wrong way could trap the enemy.

The longhouse (gononh'sees) was the typical dwelling of the Iroquois. They were designed to house five, ten, or twenty families. The average longhouse was 60 feet in length, 18 feet wide, and 18 feet high. The longhouse had no windows. Light came from the high, wide doors at each end, and from above. The ceiling had holes to allow the fireplace smoke to escape.

My great-grandmother was a member of the Iroquois Confederacy. She was 1/2 Mohawk and 1/2 Oneida. She married my great-grandfather Dickerson in New York, after her first husband died. Her first husband was a Native American. A second great-grandmother was an Onondaga healer from Schoharie, New York. She married an Austrian-German by the surname of Crysler. Many members of the Crysler family had Native American wives, as the Germans were less prejudicial than the English. Adam Crysler, the famous loyalist soldier was a cousin of my great-grandfather. They were acquainted with Joseph Brant, Mohawk chief. Many of my cousins still live on the Six Nations Reserves in Ohsweken, while yet another branch lives on the reserve between Montreal and Quebec, where the Crysler memorial is displayed.

See the 1790 Census of the Town of Caughnawaga
NOTE: Adam Crysler is on this roll, along with Simeon Cresser [sic], Cornelius Cuyler [sic], and James Wood.

The Journal of Adam Crysler
The Crysler Family


Onondaga was the Confederacy capital, because of its central location. All tribes would travel the same distance to reach their meeting place.

    The nations were represented by their sachems:

  1. The Onondaga Nation had fourteen sachemships.
  2. The Cayuga had ten sachemships
  3. The Mohawk and Oneida had nine sachemships each
  4. The Seneca had eight.

Iroquois Links:

Iroquois Flag| Iroquois History}Iroquois False Face Masks| Iroqrafts(Ohsweken, Canada)| Iroquois| Six Nations Reserve (Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada)| Six Nations District Councillors| Woodland Cultural Centre, Ontario, Canada| Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois| Iroquois Dreamwork and Spirituality| Six Nations - New Credit| The Iroquois Confederacy] The Iroquois Constitution|


Another account states that the Bear and Deer were the original clans/tribes and that the residue were subdivisions.

    There were eight tribes with two divisions:

  1. Wolf, Bear, Beaver, and Turtle
  2. Deer, Snipe, Heron, and Hawk.

The Beaver, Heron, Hawk, and the Eel clans were incorporated in the Iroquois clans as other tribes were adopted into Iroquois Society, after their own numbers were depleted by disease and warfare.

Iroquois Clan System[Iroquois Museum - Howe Caverns]

The Clans of the Mohawk Tribe Are Bear, Turtle, and Wolf:

The Mohawk Nation was divided into two sections, or moieties. A moiety (from the French word for half) is a grouping of clans. The Wolf and Turtle Clan form one moiety, and the Bear Clan was the other.

Ahkwesahsne (Ogdensburg) Mohawks now have a large number of Snipe Clan, Deer Clan, and a few Eel Clan families. since they allied themselves with Onondaga, Onieda, and Cayuga after various wars and removals.

The earliest settlements in Ogdensburg date back to 1749, when the celebrated Sulspician Missionary Father Picquet founded his mission on the banks of the St. Lawrence at the mouth of the Oswegatchie River. He built Fort LaPresentation upon the site of an old Indian village named Swa-gatch. The Fort's purpose was to serve as a mission to convert the natives to Christianity. The area was the northern terminus of an original Indian trail that ran from the Mohawk Valley to the St. Lawrence. There were approximately 3,000 natives from several different tribes that made their home here in the 1750's. The city developed into an important port of entry and railroad center during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with extensive trade in lumber and grains.

Today there is also a group in Hogansburg, as the link below suggests:

Akwesasane Boys and Girls Club
37 Rooseveltown Road
Hogansburg, NY 13655



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