Five Nations: ~1100-1779 AD

The people of the Five Nations have been historically referred to as the Iroquois. However, they refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee (which means “People of the Longhouse”).  The precise time period that the Iroquois Confederacy was formed is a hotly debated topic.  Some historians believe the evidence points to sometime after the formation of the Huron Confederacy in the 1400s; however, there are some experts that have traced aspects of the “Great Law” (Iroquoian Constitution) to as early as the 1100s.

The term Haudenosaunee is said to have been introduced by The Great Peacemaker at the time of the formation of the Confederacy.  The word implies that the nations of the Confederacy should live together as families in the same longhouse.  Symbolically, the Seneca were the guardians of the western door of the "tribal longhouse" and the Mohawk were the guardians of the eastern door.  The Onondagas, whose homeland was in the center of Haudenosaunee territory, were keepers of the Confederacy's (both literal and figurative) central flame.

The original five members of the Confederacy were the Mohawk (Mowak), Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.  In the 1700s, a sixth nation (Tuscarora) was adopted.  In fact, the Iroquois in the 18th Century made it a point to adopt the peoples they had conquered, i.e. They reputedly adopted as many as 7,000 Huron.  The adoption strategy was intended to help them replenish their numbers which had taken such a blow due to disease and incessant warfare.  In the end, the adoption strategy in respects served to weaken the unity of the confederacy as the Iroquois themselves became a minority within it.

During the French-Indian War, the Iroquois fought on the side of the British.  This alliance bore fruit as England rewarded the Six Nations by keeping their lands free from white settlement.  However, by the beginning of the American Revolution (1776) the Iroquois Confederacy existed only in name.  Two of the Six Nations remained neutral, one (Tuscarora) actively supported the United States), while the others sided with Britain against the Americans; it was a fateful decision.  In 1779, the Americans invaded and destroyed the Iroquois.

In the United States, much of the Iroquois homeland was surrendered to New York land speculators in a series of treaties following the Revolutionary War.  Despite this, most Seneca, Tuscarora, and Onondaga avoided removal during the 1830s and have remained in New York.  There are also sizeable groups of Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, and Caughnawaga still in the state.  Most of the Oneida, however, relocated in 1838 to a reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The Cayuga sold their New York lands in 1807 and moved west to join the Mingo relatives (Seneca of Sandusky) in Ohio.  In 1831 this combined group ceded their Ohio reserve to the United States and relocated to the Indian Territory.  A few New York Seneca moved to Kansas at this time but, after the Civil War, joined the others in northeast Oklahoma to become the modern Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. The majority of Mohawk currently reside in both Ontario and Quebec, Canada.