North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

The Iroquois of the Northeast

Corn Washing BasketThe Eastern Woodlands, in the area that is presently New York State, gave rise to a confederation of six nations allied together in peace. Known as the Iroquois Confederacy, they call themselves Haudenosaunee, the People of the Longhouse.

The Iroquois occupied the land around the Great Lakes from southern Canada through much of present-day New York State; yet through trade, hunting, and warfare, their influence spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. At the end of the seventeenth century, there were perhaps 15,000 Iroquois living on one million square miles of territory.

The Eastern Woodlands includes dense woods, mountains, hills as well as rivers, lakes, and streams. This area has four seasons and plentiful rainfall and snow. The bounty of the land supports a wide variety of trees and other plants, mammals, birds, and fish.

The Iroquois people skillfully managed the natural bounty of the region by living in accordance with the seasons of the year. They hunted and fished, gathered nuts, berries, and other wild foods when these resources were available, and they cultivated productive crops, particularly corn, beans, and squash. Nature provided well for the Iroquois, and the Iroquois patterned their lives according to its cycles.

Image: Corn-Washing Basket
Cecilia Sunday (1919- ), St. Regis, Quebec, Mohawk, 1993
Among the Iroquois, the most common way to prepare corn is to make hominy. First the kernels are boiled in water mixed with hardwood ashes to loosen the hulls. Then they are dunked up and down in water in a special washing basket until the loosened hulls and ashes finally float free. The sieve-like base and tightly woven sides allow the water to drain from the bottom while the corn remains in the basket.
Black ash (Fraxinus nigra); L 31.0 x W 28.3 x H 25.7 cm); 35654-1

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