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The Iroquois were the dominant tribe in the northeastern United States. The Iroquois Confederacy (the Six Nations) was formed in 1570 when the five tribes (Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Seneca) were brought together by Deganawida (a Huron prophet) and Hiawatha (a Mohawk medicine man). The Tuscarora were the last to join in the early 1700's, after they migrated from the Carolinas to New York.
The Iroquois had a strong connection with nature and believed the woodland animals to be their kindred spirits. Their clans were named after animals and included the Beaver Clan, Deer Clan, Wolf Clan, Bear Clan, Turtle Clan, Hawk Clan, Heron Clan, Snipe Clan, and Eel Clan. Two people from the same clan were forbidden to marry. The resident Clan Mother headed each clan. The Iroquois made use out of many animals, especially the deer. Deerskins were used to fashion shirts, skirts, leggings, breechcloths, and moccasins. Beaver fur was used to make robes and mittens and porcupine quills (a form of wampum) were used as decorations, money, and to record treaties with the American government. The Iroquois also used shells, beads, and rocks as wampum. To the Iroquois, wampum was used to record events and to make records. Colonists used wampum as money.
Many Iroquois festivals revolved around the planting and harvesting of corn. The Corn-Planting Festival, the Green Corn Festival, and the Corn-Gathering Festival were among the most important of Iroquois celebrations. They also held a Maple-Sugar Festival and a Strawberry Festival.
Spirits and the False Face Society
The Iroquois were a very spiritual people who believed in the Great Spirit, the creator of all living things. They also believed in a Good Spirit and an Evil Spirit, who were in charge of good things and bad things that happened on the Earth. The Iroquois believed their souls would join the Good Spirit in the afterlife provided they had done a good enough job of honoring it. A minion of the Evil Spirit was known as the Flying Head, who lived in the forest and spread disease. The Iroquois formed the False Face Society, a healing group that helped scare the Flying Head and other evil spirits with carved masks, feasts, rattles, and chants. The masks were thought to become the homes of good spirits who would replace the evil spirits after the ceremony. Iroquois society was matrilineal, meaning that property and descent passed through the female line. Women had a lot of power in Iroquois society and owned the property and chose the sachems.
The Iroquois, like other tribes of the Eastern Woodlands, practiced a game somewhat like modern-day lacrosse. The Iroquois version, however, was much more violent, and participants often suffered serious injuries and broken bones. Often times, rival tribes bet on which team would win. The Iroquois also played a game called Snowsnake in which players would see how far they could slide a javelin along a trench dug in the snow.