How the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy Was Formed

Iroquois Confederacy

According to the tribal history, the Iroquois Confederacy was first suggested in about 1570 (possibly earlier), when inter tribal warfare threatened to destroy the Iroquois. A holy man name Dekanawideh had a vision in which the five warring nations were united under a symbolic Tree of Great Peace. He saw tribes who lived in harmony under a government of law and put the future welfare of their people ahead of any other desire. A Mohawk named Hiawatha heard of the holy man's vision and was greatly moved.

Hiawatha traveled from one tribe to another over the Iroquois territory, spreading the message of a confederation united in peace and under one government. One by one, the tribes accepted this astounding idea. First to join were the Mohawk, who became keepers of the Eastern Door. Then the Oneida, the Cayuga, and the Onondaga, who were the Firekeepers, joined the league. Finally the most warlike tribe, the Seneca, entered the confederacy and became keepers of its Western Door. This was the League of Five Nations; later, when the Tuscarora joined, it was called the League of Six Nations.

The six agreed to stop fighting among themselves and to cooperate for a common defense. Each tribe kept control of its own affairs, but united in matters concerning other tribes and foreign countries.

Modern Six Nations people prefer to be called Haudenosaunee instead of by their French name, Iroquois. Haudenosaunee (pronounced Ho-deh-no-shaw-nee) means "People Building a Long House."

Found in the 2013 printing of the Indian Lore Merit Badge Pamphlet