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North America


Mohawk war chief, Joseph BrantMohawk war chief, Joseph BrantThe Iroquois are a Native American people whose homeland at the time of European arrival was southeastern Canada and northeastern United States. In around 1450, five Iroquois nations from present-day upstate New York—the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca—formed a confederation, called the Iroquois League or Five Nations. (It became the Six Nations when another nation, the Tuscarora, was adopted by the League in the 18th century.) Other Iroquoian peoples, including the Erie, Susquehannock and Huron, remained enemies of the Iroquois League, and warred against them. The Iroquois emerged as a powerful force during the 18th centuries, when the French and British fought over territory in North America.

Beaver peltBeaver pelt

Beaver Wars

In the mid-17th century, the Iroquois League, led by the powerful Seneca and Mohawk, competed fiercely for control of the fur trade—a great source of wealth, since beaver pelts had become much in demand in Europe. Having acquired arms from their Dutch trading partners, the League fought a series of wars against rival tribes, including their Algonquian and Iroquoian neighbours. These were known as the Beaver Wars.

The Iroquois League soon became dominant in the region to the south and west of the Great Lakes, driving some Siouan-speaking tribes from their homelands in Ohio Country west of the Mississippi River, or south into the Carolinas.

The Iroquois took over the newly emptied Ohio River valley lands as hunting grounds for themselves. They eventually sought peace with the French in the 1660s.

In October 1988, the US Congress passed a resolution to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy (an alliance of “states” rather than a single monarchy more typical of European countries historically) upon the US Constitution. However, many historians doubt whether the Iroquois had any influence on the system of government framed by the US Founding Fathers in the 1780s.

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