North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World
Sovereign People: Ancestry in the Land
From the sixteenth century on, six nations have allied themselves
to form the Iroquois Confederacy.
Originally, they lived in the Eastern Woodlands,
in an area that extended from the land south of Lake Ontario, along the
Mohawk River, and westward to the Finger Lakes and Genessee River, in
what is now New York State.
Though known as the Iroquois, they call themselves Haudenosaunee,
the People of the Longhouse. The Mohawk nation has historically stood guard at
the easternmost door of a symbolic loghouse. The Seneca watch over
the western door, while the other nations, the Oneida, Onondaga,
Cayuga, and the Tuscarora, are spread in between.
Skilled in warfare and gifted in peace, the six nations established a
peace treaty which led to the formation
of one of the world's earliest
democracies. This society gave rise to great orators, like the
Onondaga, Hiawatha, and noble leaders, such as the Seneca,
Cornplanter, who was rewarded with a tract of land along
Pennsylvania's Allegheny River for his diplomatic efforts with the
fledgling government of the American Colonies.
Image: Elm Bark Trays
(Left) George Key, Canada, Wolf clan, Seneca, pre-1910
(Right) Seneca, pre-1910
In the spring and early summer, when the sap was up, bark was peeled from elm
trees and bent to make trays and bowls. These items served every conceivable
culinary purpose. They held cooking ingredients and prepared foods, and made
good mixing bowls and dishpans. On occasion, Iroquois women even added hot stones
to bring the liquid in larger bowls to a boil, or they carefully placed the vessels
over the fire to heat water.