Iroquois - Orientation

Identification. The League of the Iroquois was originally a confederacy of five North American Indian tribes: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. A sixth tribe, the Tuscarora, joined the League in 1722 after migrating north from the region of the Roanoke River in response to hostilities with White colonists. In the 1980s members of the six Iroquoian tribes lived in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, and New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma in the United States.

Location. On the eve of European contact the Iroquois territory extended from Lake Champlain and Lake George west to the Genesee River and Lake Ontario and from the St. Lawrence River south to the Susquehanna River. Within these boundaries each of the original five tribes occupied a north-south oblong strip of territory; from east to west, they were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The region was primarily lake and hill country dissected by numerous rivers. Deciduous forests of birch, beech, maple, and elm dominated the region, giving way to fir and spruce forests in the north and in the higher elevations of the Adirondack Mountains. In aboriginal times fish and animal species were diverse and abundant.

Demography. In 1600 the population of the Five Nations is estimated to have been about fifty-five hundred and that of the Tuscarora about five thousand. By 1904 the six Iroquois tribes numbered at least sixteen thousand, not including several thousand persons of mixed blood. In the 1980s the total population of the six tribes was estimated to be over twenty thousand.

linguistic Affiliation. The languages of the six tribes are classified in the Northern Iroquoian branch of the Iroquoian language family. The languages of all six tribes are still spoken.


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