Early American History
Indians of North America
Cayuga Tribe
Eastern Woodlands
Great Council
Key Concepts

The Eastern Woodlands region covered the east coast of what is today the United States. It stretched from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Mississippi River. It also included parts of southern Canada. The Eastern Woodlands was a huge region of different environments. It had snow covered mountains in the north and hot, wet swamps in the south.

The Iroquois tribes lived in the Eastern Woodlands region. They were expert farmers and lived on the resources of the woods. The Iroquois were not one tribe, but a group of five tribes. The five tribes lived near each other and spoke similar languages. The five Iroquois tribes were the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk.

For many years, the Iroquois tribes fought with each other and their neighbors, the Algonkins. In the beginning, they fought over land for hunting. Then later, the Iroquois fought for revenge. The Iroquois believed that if one person was wronged, the whole clan was wronged.

An Iroquois legend says that a holy man named Dekanawida spoke out against the fighting between the Iroquois tribes. Dekanawida said the Iroquois tribes must come together and "hold hands to form a circle." He said that the bond of the circle must be so strong that it would not break even if a tree fell on the circle. Hiawatha, was an Onondaga chief. He was able to convince the other tribes to make a peace.

In 1570, the five tribes formed the Iroquois League. The Iroquois League
was a confederation of tribal governments. Each tribe made their own
laws, except for matters like trading, that were important to all the tribes. The Great Iroquois Council made decisions that effected all the tribes. Decisions were made through discussion and compromise.

The Iroquois called themselves "people of the longhouse" because of the kind of their kind of houses. Longhouses were wooden framed buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. They had large doors at each end, with no windows.
The Iroquois
Iroquois League
long house
Mississippi River
Mohawk Tribe
Oneida Tribe
Onondaga Tribe
Seneca Tribe
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Additional Information

Algonkins - The Native Americans in the Eastern Woodlands were one of two major groups: the Iroquois and the Algonkins. The Algonkins lived in the forests of the Woodlands and along the coastal lands. There were many Algonkin languages. The Iroquois were the enemy of the Algonkin people. The Algonkins called the Iroquois names like the "terrible people," the "frightening people," or the "rattlesnake people."

confederation - A loosely united group of governments. In this case a united group of tribes.

Deganwidah - Deganwidah was a Huron Indian who believed he had been born to bring peace to all the Iroquois. Deganwidah was a stutterer and had difficulty talking. His people would not listen to him, so he went to the Iroquois.

Eastern Woodlands - The Eastern Woodlands were thick with trees. The forests were so thick that a squirrel could travel from tree top to tree top from the Atlantic ocean to the Ohio River. Some of the trees measured 30 feet around. The trees were used for building homes and canoes. The woodlands were home to beaver, deer, raccoon, possum, and bear. The lakes and rivers were full of fish. Wild rice grew in the Great Lakes area. Along the coastal plains and river valleys was excellent farming soil.

farmers -Women did most of the farming. They grew 15 types of corn and over 60 different kinds of beans. Iroquois men hunted forest animals for meat. The Iroquois gathered maple syrup, nuts, roots, vegetables, oils, fruits, berries, teas and herbs.

Great Iroquois Council - Fifty male sachems, or chiefs sat on the council. The sachems were chosen by the women who headed the family clans. All council decisions had to be made unanimously.

Hiawatha - Hiawatha was an Iroquois Indian of the Onondaga Nation. He wanted the killing and fighting to stop. But he was opposed by another Iroquois by the name of Tadodaho. When Hiawatha preached peace, Tadodaho became angry. One by one Tadodaho had Hiawatha's three daughters killed. Deganwidah and Hiawatha joined together and went from tribe to tribe. They convinced each tribe about the importance of peace and unity. They convinced the five tribes to form the Indian confederation called the Iroquois League. When the Europeans arrived, the Iroquois were a strong nation.

Iroquois League - The purpose of the League was to unite the Indian nations and end the fighting between them. The original five nations included the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, and the Onondaga. A sixth nation, the
Tuscarora, joined in 1722. The leaders of the League were expected to serve the people. Since each nation kept its own laws, except in matters of war, the League was called a confederation. In matters of war, the Iroquois Council made the decisions.

Longhouses - Longhouses were often 200 feet long. One Iroquois house was reported to be 334 feet long. There was an aisle down the center of the house with cooking fires. Many families lived in a long house. Each family had its own space. Goods were stored in the spaces above the living area. The Iroquois lived with the mother's clan. The grandmother was head of the clan. All of her children and their families lived with her.

Mississippi River - The Native Americans named this river. Its name means "Big River." Some tribes called it the "Father of Waters." It is the largest river in North America. The Mississippi River has two huge branches. One branch is the Missouri River, and it flows from the west. The other branch is the Ohio River and it flows from the east.