The Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse", are the peoples indigenous to the northeastern United States and Canada. They are synonymous with the Iroquois League, or the "League of Peace and Power", consisting of six nations by the time of the American Revolutionary War.
- Council members
- Kanien'kehá:ka: The "People of the Flint", and the eastern-most nation. The Kanien'kehá:ka sided with the British Army during the Revolutionary War, though at least one village remained neutral.
- Onondaga: The "People of the Hills", they were at the center of the League. The Onondaga favored no sides during the Revolutionary War, until General John Sullivan attacked them in 1779.
- Seneca: The "People of the Big Hill", the Seneca were located on the western side of the League and sided with the British.
- Cayuga: "The People of the Swamp", the Cayuga and the Oneida are considered the Younger Brothers in the Haudenosaunee Grand Council.
- Oneida: Known as the "People of the Standing Stone", the Oneida sided with the Continental Army.
- Tuscarora: The "Hemp Gatherers" who migrated from North Carolina and joined the League in 1722. They also sided with the Continental Army.
Other Iroquoian-speaking peoples who were not part of the League include:
Iroquois surnames are matrilineal, where clan names are passed from mother to child. Iroquois clan names include Turtle, Wolf, Beaver, Hawk, Eel, Deer, and Bear. Clan Mothers, or Iakotiiá:ner – like Oiá:ner – lead the clans, while selecting a male Chief (Roiá:ner) to represent them in the 50-strong Haudenosaunee Grand Council.
To deliberate decisions, the first party, made up of Seneca and Kanien'kehá:ka Chiefs, present an issue to the second party (consisting of Oneida, Cayuga and Tuscarora Chiefs), who reach a resolution for the first party to consider. On reaching a consensus, the Onondaga Chiefs will either approve the decision or offer a counter-proposal.
Their economic system was based around cultivating the "Three Sisters" of corn, beans and squash, and were supplemented by hunting and fishing. Beads made from shells known as wampum were popular symbolic decorations. When going to war, the Iroquois used tomahawks, clubs and bows.
Around 1000 CE, the original five nations were at war until a man, known as the Great Peacemaker called for an end to the conflict. In place of violence, he conceived a path of unity and strength for the Iroquois known as Kaianere'kó:wa – the Great Law of Peace, providing the foundations of a stable, if complex democracy. He encouraged the peoples to see themselves as members of a single longhouse, with the Kanien'kehá:ka as Keepers of the Eastern Door, the Seneca as Keepers of the Western Door, and the Onondaga as the Firekeepers.
The Iroquois sided with the British during the French and Indian War. After their victory, King George III rewarded them by establishing a boundary line against colonists who would settle on their land. But five years later, disputes continued and the Iroquois met with Sir William Johnson to establish a new boundary line. The controversial Treaty of Fort Stanwix left the British with even more land than before, even causing the Board of Trade to ask Johnson to reconsider, but he refused.
The Kanien'kehá:ka village of Kanatahséton remained neutral due to their duties of protecting a sacred site of theirs: but having been attacked by the British, Ratonhnhaké:ton was sent to join the Colonial Assassins to protect them. When Johnson, a Templar, attempted to buy his village's land, he assassinated him, but this ironically deprived the natives of someone who would protect their interests during the American Revolutionary War.
The Iroquois primarily sided with the British, while Ratonhnhaké:ton sided with the Patriots, hoping the Loyalists would come to realize they were victims. Kanatahséton remained neutral until Kanen'tó:kon grew restless and was convinced by Charles Lee that his friend had turned on them, so he and his fellow warriors dragged the village into the war.
In 1779, George Washington ordered John Sullivan to lead a counterattack on Iroquois forces led by the likes of Joseph Brant, who had massacred civilians as well as soldiers. The Sullivan Expedition responded by burning 40 villages and salting their land, earning Washington the title of Ranatakáriias (Town Destroyer). The Expedition failed to stop Iroquois raids, which continued throughout the war.