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TEACH: Native Peoples of the Region

4 | Settlements and warfare

Chief Black Hawk. Click for larger image.Seventeen tribes were well-established on the lands surrounding lakes Superior and Huron. Among these were the Chippewa, Cree, Monsoni, Ottawa, Huron, Assiniboin, Menominee, Winnebago, Potawatomi and Nipissing. Further north and west in present-day Minnesota was the Sioux tribe. Prominent tribes around Lake Michigan also included the Fox and Miami.

The Treaty of Prairie du Chien (the Fond du Lac agreement) made peace between the Sioux and the Chippewa and arranged for a boundary line between them to be run through parts of what we now know as Wisconsin and Minnesota. One significant clause read this way: "The Chippewa tribe grants to the government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country." This clause, of course, proved very bountiful for the European immigrants, as vast veins of copper and iron ore were later discovered in the northern hills of Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Flag of the Five Nations.The Huron and Iroquois tribes--typically allies--settled around Lake Ontario. The Huron tribe settled north of Lake Ontario. An allied tribe (Attawandaronk or Neutral) took possession of the region south and east of the Huron holdings. Long before the European invasion began in 1619, other Iroquois bands had moved southward. In history they became known as Onondaga, Mohawk and Oneida. It may have been about 1300 A.D. when they first crossed the St. Lawrence to seek new homes among the hills east of Lake Ontario.

The Iroquois Confederacy, or League, consisted of five tribes living in upper New York State: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. The Iroquois War (1642-53) was a territorial expansion carried out by these tribes to displace the Hurons, the Tabacco Indians, Neutral Nations, the Eries, Conestogas and Illinois. The Tuscarora tribe joined with the Confederacy in 1722 to become known as the Six Nations.

The Native Peoples around Lake Erie were among the tribes that fell victim to the Iroquois Confederacy. The neutral nations of the Niagaras, living north of Lake Erie, and the Eries, whose country was predominantly south of the lake, were completely destroyed before European explorers ever visited Lake Erie.

The Buffalo, N.Y., area (far east end of Lake Erie) was once dominated by Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga, all members of the Five Nations. Treaties were attempted among the various tribes in that area but usually ended violently. During the 1700s the Lake Erie frontier became known by many as a region of terror, with many violent confrontations between Native Peoples and European visitors.

Facts about the Iroquois

Cradleboards. Click for larger image.

Click for larger image!

  • Iroquoian peoples are best known for the homes they lived in, called the longhouse. Made entirely of wood, the longhouses got their name because they were longer than they were wide and had no windows.

  • Iroquois women were excellent farmers.

  • Respected for their wisdom, Old Iroquois women were active participants in the Grand Council of the Confederacy.

  • Iroquois villages were typically spaced 10-20 miles from Lake Ontario's shoreline on high ground with access to good canoeing water. Usually soil fertility and firewood were used up in about 10 years. Then a new village was built elsewhere.

  • Beginning in 1667 and enduring for more than a decade, a "peace" between the Iroquois and French allowed further European exploration of their territory.
See also: Iroquois Dreamwork and Spirituality
The Archaeology of an Iroquoian Longhouse


Graphics: Chief Black Hawk (Sauk), Minnesota Historical Society; Flag of the Five Nations, courtesy Karen Martin; Chippewa babies on cradleboards, Minnesota Historical Society; "Little Baby" song, courtesy Beth Brant, essay titled "Native Origin" from Sisters of the Earth, copyright 1991, Vintage Books.

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