In the times before European contact and up until the 1800s, longhouses originally served as the living quarters of the Iroquoian people. Stretching between 40 and 200 feet long, longhouses were long rectangular structures that housed a number of families belonging to a particular matrilineal clan family. Along the inner walls were open compartments for each nuclear family with a long courtyard in the center, which connected the two entrances on each end of the building. Two adjacent families would share one fire hearth at each compartmental increment.

When the Peacemaker brought the Good Tidings of Peace and Power to the Iroquois, he used the concept of the Longhouse as the symbol of the political and spiritual union of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Kaianere'kó:wa, the Great Law of Peace, identifies specific geographically appropriate household roles for each of the Five Nations sheltered beneath the dormers of the symbolic Longhouse.

The Mohawks serve as the Keepers of the Eastern Door, the Senecas as Keepers of the Western Door, and the centrally placed Onondagas serve as the Firekeepers; where all Confederate business is transacted. Each nation had its own hearth which symbolized its own domestic government, while the rafters symbolized the laws of the League; that continues to extend with every resolution of the Grand Council of Chiefs.

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