top of page
Gallinago_stenura_-_Laem_Pak_Bia - Copy.jpg

Below please find my collection of historical sources and related essays mentioning something I found interesting concerning the Kanien'keháka and/or other Haudenosaunee. The translations are my own, unless otherwise indicated, though they may have been influenced or guided, or for that matter, hindered or thwarted, by other translations.


These sources ought to be treated with a skeptical eye. The perspective is usually that of the European. Nevertheless, I feel there is some value in the collection as it encourages research. Unattributed opinions are my own. 



"…no longer feed us [the Haudenosaunee] with Promises of Assistance, but now give us Men who are fitt to go wth: Us [to fight the French]…. Then we shall be thoroughly Convinced you have a Brotherly love for Us, as we have for you [the British colonists]."

Lucas (a Kanien’kehá:ka ‘Mohawk’ Pine Tree Chief)

Papers of William Johnson, Edited by James Sullivan (Albany: NYU, 1921) 903. The speaker is reminding the British of their promise to help them, the Haudenosaunee, fight the French. His words were translated and transcribed by Warraghiyagey ‘William Johnson’, who is therefore, as translators of undocumented words are, an unverifiable single source. The real (Kanien’kéha) name of Lucas is unknown, only the name the British called him, which may have been baptismal. Johnson was, like Lucas, a Kanien’kehá:ka Pine Tree Chief, i.e. a leader who owed his eminence to merit rather than noble descent. It may be hard to accept that a Hiberno-British Superintendant of Indian Affairs was “really” a Kanien’kehá:ka, but the Kanien’kehá:ka and other Haudenosaunee viewed adoptees like Johnson as indistinguishable from the native-born:

"You are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone…. You are one of us by an old strong law and custom."

James Smith, “Prisoner of the Caughnawagas” published in Captured by Indians (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1985)

What is more astounding is that [the Haudenosaunee] hold dominion for five hundred leagues around, though they are so few in number; of the Five Nations that compose the Haudenosaunee, [the Kanien’kehá:ka] cannot muster more than five hundred men bearing arms.


"Et ce qui est plus estonnant, c'est que de fait ils dominent à cinq cent lieuës à la ronde, estans neantmoins en fort petit nombre: car des cinq Nations dont l'Iroquois est composß, l'Agnieronnon ne compte pas plus de cinq cent hommes portans armes…"

Jérôme Lalemant, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1659 & 1660  ‘Relation of What Passed in New France in the Years 1659 and 1660’ (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1661) 206. <> March 29, 2012.

"Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another."

Canassatego (an Onöñda’gega ‘Onondaga’ leader)

Canassatego, A TREATY, Held at the Town of Lancafter, in PENNSYLVANIA, By the HONOURABLE the Lieutenant-Governor of the PROVINCE, And the HONOURABLE the Commifioners for the PROVINCES OF VIRGINIA and MARYLAND, WITH THE INDIANS OF THE SIX NATIONS, In JUNE, 1744 (Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by B. FRANKLIN, at the New-Printing-Office, near the Market, M,DCC,XLIV) 75. <> September 15, 2012

in Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen, “Examplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy” <> March 5, 2012.

Canassatego was a Haudenosaunee leader who was speaking at a 1744 conference of English and Indian leaders at Lancaster, PA. His words were translated by Tharachiawagon ‘Conrad Weiser’ and printed by Benjamin Franklin.

"It would be a very strange thing, if Six Nations of ignorant Savages [the Haudenosaunee] should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies…"

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to James Parker, Philadelphia, March 20, 1750.” <> August 10, 2011

in Grinde and Johansen.

"None of the greatest Roman Heroes have discovered a greater Love to their Country, or a greater Contempt of Death, than these people called Barbarians [the Haudenosaunee] have done, when Liberty came in Competition."


We [Haudenosaunee] are born free.


"Nous fommes nez libres."

Otréouate (an Onöñda'gega Pine Tree Chief)

Mr. le Baron de Lahontan, Nouveaux Voyages L'Amerique Septentrionale ‘New Voyages to North America’ (47). Google Books <> November 2, 2011.

Otréouate originally spoke in Onöñda'gega. Lahontan recorded the French translation he heard.

...each [Indian] is lord of himself...


"...che ognuno e fignore di fe..."

Amerigo Vespucci, The First Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci Reprinted in Facsimile and Translated From the rare original edition (Florence, 1505-6) (London: Bernard Quaritch 1893) 5.


Vespucci generalized about the range of Indians he either had or feigned slight acquaintance with.


"Are you not a free and independent People, and have you not a Right to live where you please on your own Land and trade with whom you please? Your Brethren, the English, always considered you as a Free Nation…the Friendship now subsisting between Us [Pennsylvania, the English colonists, and/or the United Kingdom], the Six Nations, Delawares, Shawonese, Owendatts, and you [the Twightwees ‘Miami'], may become as Strong as a great Mountain which the Winds constantly blow against but never overset."

Onas ‘William Hamilton, Governor of Pennsylvania’

“A Speech delivered to the Owendatts [the Wendat ‘Huron’ and Tionontate ‘Petun’ ‘tobacco people’], from [Onas ‘William Hamilton, Governor of Pennsylvania’] [translated] by George Croghan” from George Croghan, “A Treaty with the Indians of the Six Nations, Delawares, Shawonese, Owendatts and Twightwees,” Pennsylvania Colonial Records, Volume Five, 348-358.

"[Indians] enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments…"

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson “Letter to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787” Jefferson Papers, Volume 11, Julian P. Boyd, Editor (49) in Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen, “Sauce for the Goose: Demand and Definitions for ‘Proof’ Regarding the Iroquois and Democracy” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Volume 53, Number 3, “Indians and Others in Early America” (July 1996).

They would live very christianly, had they the Faith.

"…qui seroient pour vivre tres-chrestiennement, s'ils avoient la Foy."

Julien Garnier, Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1671 & 1672 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1673) 138. <> April 16, 2012.

The staples of eastern North America are called the Three Sisters (Áhsen Akhtsí:’a)  because they grow symbiotically: bean vines climb the cornstalks and supply the nitrogen corn requires through its nitrogen-fixing bacteria, while squash gourds fill the open spaces on the ground. Indian national territory typically balanced trisororal fields with larger hunting areas. While the oldest remains of domesticated squash in New York are around 1400 years old, and the earliest remains of corn are of a similar age, the oldest identified remains of domesticated beans in the state are only around 600-700 years old.


See Hart et. al, “Phytolith Evidence for Early Maize” American Antiquity, no. 4, 2003, 619-640.


“All of the [six food residue samples taken from early Iroquoian sites] suggested the presence of both maize and wild rice.” Like beans, rice also provides lycene and trytophane, the two amino acids missing from squash and corn. So Sister Bean may have replaced Sister Rice. Hart et al. have shown that [the theory that Indians consumed maize and beans together to provide a complete set of amino acids] must be rejected given that common bean does not become archaeologically visible across the northern Eastern Woodlands until the late thirteenth to fourteenth centuries…”


“The Age of the Common Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris L.) in the Northern Eastern Woodlands of North America,” Antiquity 76 : 377-85.


Their money is white and black [purple] Zeewant [‘kaión:ni’’ ‘wampum’] which they make themselves.


"Haer gelt is Wit en Swart Zee-want dat fo zij fefs maecken."


Adriaen van der Donck, Vertoogh van Nieu-Nederland’Account of New Netherland.’ <> November 16, 2011 (9).

Van der Donck generalizes about Indians the Dutch met in the Hudson valley, presumably mostly Lenape (a group of Algonquian-speaking nations who predominated in New Jersey, Delaware and the New York City area, sometimes known as the Delaware) and Kanien’kehá:ka.


'Kaión:ni’ ‘wampum’, though thought a kind of money by Europeans, did not in fact fulfill any of its three basic definitions (“a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value” <> September 19, 2012.>), at least until the Dutch began manufacturing it to speed the fur trade in the seventeenth century. 'Kaión:ni’ is Kanien'kéha, wampumpeag ‘wampum’ Algonquian. 


Analysis of the remains of four people buried in Ward’s Point in New York City around 1000 years ago indicated they were either eating a relatively large amount of marine food or that maize was not a major component of their diet.

Patricia Bridges, “Prehistoric Diet and Health in a Coastal New York Skeletal Sample,” Northeast Anthropology 48, (13-23).

Money kickstarts history, considering the first writing tracked who owed whom what. Put another way, the first time anyone wanted to write anything down badly enough to invent a writing system to do it, he or she eternalized a claim on someone else’s filthy.

It may be useful to point out that eternalizing debt tends to happen less between people who know and trust each other than between strangers. It seems a way to enable people who do not trust each other to avoid disputes—and/or, a way for the more powerful party to regularize his income at the expense of the less powerful.

In either case, Haudenosaunee society seems explicitly organized to make debt calculation unwelcome, bound as it is by family relationships. They lived in a world without money before the European invasion, a condition which many of us, I think, would find a great improvement (and which may yet be on its way back, if the profusion of pro bono work on the internet heralds a new age.)

People competing in generosity and selflessness, as the Haudenosaunee and other Indians did, certainly seem preferable to those competing for personal wealth. It’s fair, I think, to call the former characteristic of a heroic culture. Europeans whose ancestors had known a heroic era themselves called it the golden age. Those who called Indians noble mostly did so for retaining this earlier, less mendacious ethos.


But what, you may ask, does this analogy explain? I’ve used the phrases “heroic culture” and “golden age” to explain Indian cultures. But no one really has a clear idea of what those phrases mean. Both are, one might argue, works of fiction, referring to some semi-mythological past in Europe, which might or might not have had much basis in reality. To then apply them to non-European cultures, you might argue, merely adds to the muddle; either the nature of pre-invasion Indian societies or our modern understanding of them, or both, depending on your point of view, remain unclear or at least controversial. You might also object that their use in this context implies a unilineal progression of human social development in which Indian nations at the time of European contact were at an earlier and therefore more primitive stage. So, does the use of the two phrases really help?

Kinship terms are the usual mode of address and reference among Indians. They reflected status, so you would call someone of slightly greater age and status akhtsí:’a ‘my older sister’, a younger peer khekén:’a ‘my younger sister’ a superior mother, a leader grandmother, and so on. But the terms fluctuated both as status does and according to the effect desired by the speaker.

One calls me brother, another uncle, another cousin. I’ve never had so many relatives.


"L'vn me traitte de frere, l'autre d'oncle, l'autre de cousin, iamais ie n'eus vne parentß si nombreuse."

François Joseph le Mercier, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1654-1656 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1657) 98. <> April 18, 2012.

I should mention that le Mercier’s grasp of the idiom was imperfect or, more likely perhaps, he had no wish to bore us with the fact that neither Kanien’kéha nor any of the other Haudenosaunee languages distinguish uncle from father.

I should also mention that in this and other work collected and expertly translated as The Jesuit Relations (Ruben Gold Thwaites, editor) my sole functions in re-translating the original Latin and French are to modernize diction and introduce errors.

Schenectady is derived from Skonéhtati, the opening referred to in the name Skonéhtati Kahiónha ‘River of or beyond the Opening,’ now the Hudson River. From the Kanien’kehá:ka point of view, the Hudson was beyond the point where the Teukeka Kahiónha ‘Mohawk River’ opened into it; beyond Albany, in other words. In fact, the town the Kanien’kehá:ka called Skonéhtati was not Schenectady, but Albany. The portage between the two rivers runs from one to the other, and the name seems to have run along with it, due to misplacement, misunderstanding and/or mistranslation. The portage was necessary to bypass Káhao’se ‘Cohoes’ ‘Shipwrecked Canoe’ (now Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River) and efficient because it cut out the serpentine the Teukeka makes between the two towns. In any case, such mix-ups were commonplace in the Age of Genocidal Continent Stealing (aka the Age of Discovery). João Fernandes, returning home to Portugal from a northern voyage, announced with considerable fanfare that he had discovered a wondrous new land in the north, ‘Farmer’s Land’ (Tiera) Do Lavrador. Denmark, unenthused, replied, “That’s Greenland.” Undismayed, another Portuguese, Gaspar Corte Real, went on soon afterwards to land, not, tragically, in the present Labrador, but in Newfoundland. He called it ‘Greenland’ Tiera Verde.

Both European and Indians sources agree that Indians are, in general, far superior in a number of human virtues, certainly including hospitality and kindness towards visitors. For example:

It was my chance to be landed in the parts of New England where I found two sortes of people, the one Christians, the other Infidels. These [latter] I found most full of humanity…

Thomas Morton, New English Canaan ([originally published by] Charles Green, 1632). <> February 13, 2012.


And yet many European genocidistas seem to have received from Indian contacts various false reports of vast reservoirs of gold lying beyond the next body of water (for the first, see the passage from Columbus that opens our story). If the Europeans are to be believed, (not, famously, a good idea) it is difficult to square this circle, except, perhaps, to speculate that giving murderous and treacherous strangers reason to go elsewhere may have been viewed as a pardonable, or even praiseworthy, tactic. Conversely, seeing strangers so desperate for something, it may have seemed an act of kindness, or at least good manners, to give them hope it would soon be found. See for example Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971) 415 and 420.

The Kanien’kehá:ka, like other Haudenosaunee, divide themselves into some of eight possible matrilineal clans, tribes or gens: Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Deer, Snipe, Heron and Hawk. This arrangement, along with similar divisions in Algonquian and Siouan peoples, cross-cuts and ameliorates division into nations, and, along with the presence of common cultural traits including but not limited to the use of tobacco and sweat lodges as sacraments, a mixed economy, and similar religious beliefs and diplomatic and martial practices, may justify the designation of that portion of North America between the Rockies and the Atlantic, and between the Muskogean and the Inuit, as a single cultural entity. 

Clans are fictive rather than genealogical matrilineages, since they also include adoptees, who are often of entirely different ethnic backgrounds. I would argue that Indians, very much like the Romans (for whom adoption, also, was a central practice) and very much unlike the Greeks and Europeans, do not distinguish fundamentally by the popular fiction of race or ethnicity, only by the meaningful criteria of nation and clan. The Haudenosaunee had leaders who were Algonquian, French Jesuit and, Hiberno-British. 

…the Onöñda’gega ‘Onondaga’ now [1657] count more foreigners than naturals in their country. They have seven different nations who have come to establish themselves, and the Onondowahgah ‘Seneca’ have eleven or so…

"…qu'on y compte plus d'Estrangers que de naturels du pays. Onnontaghß à sept nations differentes qui s'y sont venuës establir, & il s'en trouue iusqu'à onze dans Sonnontoüan…"

Jean de Quen, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1656 & 1657 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1658) 264. <> March 14, 2012.

The fictive matrilineages of the clans anchor the carefully refined Haudenosaunee governmental system. There is an executive, the hereditary clan mother, who consults with the other senior clan women who form a kind of cabinet; a house of lords, male rotiiáne, selected from those of eligible descent by the senior clan women (who may also recall them); Pine Tree Chiefs (whom Europeans sometimes described with the Algonquian word sachem) recognized by merit, whose typical arena is war and diplomacy rather than public ceremony; a popular assembly which votes on major decisions and expects the senior clan women, rotiiáne and pine tree chiefs to serve their interests; and individuals, who reserve to themselves considerable rights and liberties—such as the decision to serve in the army.

Land belongs to the clans. Since women are always the clan leaders among Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples, land therefore belongs to women. The Haudenosaunee system features a far more equitable balance of power between the sexes than do contemporary western democracies, not only because the clan mother is the executive, but because women, as the owners of the land, effectively control domestic policy, while men, as war and diplomatic leaders, effectively control foreign.

Marriage is forbidden between clan members, and formerly between the members of every clan’s three sister clans, though the latter ban has disappeared over time. Wolf, Bear, Beaver and Turtle are sisters of each other, as are Deer, Snipe, Heron and Hawk. So, for example, a Turtle originally could only marry a Deer, Snipe, Heron or Hawk, but now can marry anyone who is not a Turtle. Tradition claims two Ur-clans, Bear and Deer, which sprung the others while preserving the original exogamy. Though exceptions occur, particularly in the cases of high ranking men, a general rule of uxorolocality tends strongly to make men outsiders in their own homes; guests of a foreign clan and recognized as such. So boys are mostly fated to be exiles.

Divorce is easy. Either the man chooses to return to his clan or the woman kicks him out. The woman’s clan owns the land and the house, which eliminates the possibility of disputes about property. And not only does the man have no rights to the children, he is not, by matriarchal reckoning (which feels, with obvious justice, that the child is the woman’s) even related to them. His possessions pass to his sister’s children and/or per stirpes matrilineals.

See Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Iroquois (Citadel Press: New York, 1962)

Kanien’kéha distinguishes between my older sister and my younger sister (akhtsí:’a and khe’kén:’a), and between other older and younger relatives. Akhtsí:’a literally means, she has me for a sister, while khe’kén:’a means I have her for a sister.

Indians struck early European genocidas as notably large and powerful:


…as they are grown so great of body and go nude, from a distance they appear to be giants.


"…i como fon tan crefcidos de cuerpo, i andan defnudos, defde lexos parefcen Gigantes."

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca ‘Shipwrecks of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’ (Chapter 7). Project Gutenberg EBook < > February 29, 2012.


De Vaca generalizes about the Indians he met along what became the Gulf Coast of the United States. Also:

‘They are taller than we are.’ Di statura sono piú alti di noi. (Verrazzano).

…one of these men pressed our captain between his arms and carried him to the land as lightly as if he were a five year old child, he was such a big and strong man.

... l’un d’iceulx hommes print nostre cappitaine entre ses bras, & le porta á terre aussy legierement que sy feust esté ung enfant de cing ans, tant estoit icelluy homme grand & fort.

Jacques Cartier, Voyage de J. Cartier au Canada (Lexington: Bibliobazaar, 2007) 56. Cartier describes Iroquoians living along the Saint Lawrence.

“Such great and well-proportioned men are seldom seen.”

Captain John Smith: A Select Edition of His Writings, Karen Ordahl Kupperman, editor (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988) 160. < > February 29, 2012. Smith describes the Susquehannock, Iroquoian relatives of the Kanien’kehá:ka.

Kanien’kéha may refer to female human beings as either akaónha, which is used exclusively for female human beings, or aónha, which refers to females of all species. While the latter’s bound form is customary in some usages, more so with older speakers, using it in a context where aka’ónha would normally be used translates well as ’bitch.’

‘Their [Indians’] weapons formerly were bows and arrows, which they knew how to wield wonderfully well.‘ Haar gheweer plach te fpn Pijl en Booghe daer fp haer wonder wel mede wisten te behelpen. (van der Donck 11)

Please note that while I tried to make out and correctly transcribe the Dutch manuscript, I’m sure I failed (though my translation doesn’t miss the mark too tragically, I think). As of 2/14/2012, the Dutch manuscript version is not available at its original link, nor have I found it anywhere else, so I was unable to compound my original transcription errors.

Indians used a wide variety of bows, with a great range in size, materials, composition and effectiveness, but the most popular type in North America may have been a composite flat bow made of so-called juniper or other juniper backed with deer sinew glued with fish paste. Because juniper resists compression well, it’s a good material for the belly or inward curving side of the bow. Since it holds tension poorly, Indians tended to use a composite material on the bow’s back or outward curve. Deer sinew glued with fish paste seems to have been particularly common. A bow is called flat, incidentally, because the blade is from the archer’s perspective, relatively wide (from left to right) and shallow (from front to back), as opposed to a longbow, which, in addition to being longer (six to seven feet, compared to a flat bow’s three and one half to five) is narrower (from left to right) and deeper (from front to back).

The words in italics before the footnote are a partial paraphrase of those below, in which Charlevoix describes Haudenosaunee reaction to a hopeless naval battle. 

The [Haudenosaunee] for their part, who would not doubt the battle would come, implored [their French commander] to board the largest of the enemy's vessels rather than surrender, as they preferred to die arms in hand and after pre-avenging their own deaths.

Les Sauvages de leur côté, qui ne doutèrent point qu'il ne fallût fe battre, prient cet Omcier que plutôt que de fe rendre, il abordât le plus grand des Vaiffeaux Ennemis, parce qu'ils aimoient mieux mourir les armes à la main, & après avoir vengé par avance leur mort.

Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France ‘History and General Description of New France’ (II : XVII : 247). Google Books <> February 9, 2012.

‘…everyone who travels by land or river or has any business takes [a pipe] with him.’ Quand ils veulent traverser la terre, pour aller à quelque riviere oú ils ont affaire, ils les portent avec eux.

Samuel de Champlain, Oeuvres de Champlain (L’ Université Laval: 1632) II : 10 : 74.

The smoke rising towards heaven is the means of two-way communication with Rawenní:io, its inventor and the Supreme Being, Great Spirit, or God, depending on your tastes in religion and/or Kanien’kéha/English translation. Because tobacco is his essence, Rawenní:io enters into smokers, while the breaths or spirits of the smokers enter their smoke and rise to him.

Rawenní:io is the son of Ataensic ‘Sky Woman’ and the twin brother of Hänegoategeh. Pictured by some Christians as analogs of God and Satan, the twins may originally have been at least somewhat closer to personifications of the yin yang duality; twin forces necessarily both linked and opposed. The Hindu classification of supernatural beings as deva and asura also comes to mind. While deva are nominally the (good) gods (though perhaps sharing a root with devil, as well as deity, Zeus and the Tiew in Tuesday), the asura, who oppose them, are in the earliest literature seen as so good and wise that deva trust them to foster their children. The good sense of asura is preserved in the Zoroastrian supreme God Ahura ‘asura’ Mazda. The Zoroastrians, in turn, saw the deva (Avestan daeuua) as evil.

“…in this cake [Radisson’s term for a bag or pouch Kanien’kehá:ka and other Indians carry] there is nothing but tobacco and roots to heale some wounds or sores…” (Radisson)

While it seems generally accepted that Radisson was adopted by Kanien’kehá:ka, pending further reading, I cannot be certain they were not Onöñda’gega. When asked his affiliation by his adopted mother, he responds: “Shee inquired [of] mee whether I was Asserony, a french. I answering no, saying I was Panugaga, that is, of their nation.”

The Jesuits (among whom Radisson lived; his English rendered them the “ghostly fathers”) called Kanien’kehá:ka Agneronon and Anniehronnon, not as close to “Panugaga” as their words for Onöñda’gega, which were Onontagué and Ondagega. Note also the similarity between Panugaga and the first syllables of Gana’dagwëni:io’geh (which could be rendered “ganadagwa,”) another name forOnöñda’gega. I think it’s possible that the family and/or clan who adopted him, though in an area in which Kanien’kehá:ka predominated, were actually Onöñda’gega.

Radisson’s national affiliation was, in succession, French, Kanien’kehá:ka, French, Kanien’kehá:ka, French, English, French and English, making Alcibiades and Benedict Arnold by comparison the most constant patriots (and accounting, incidentally, for his unique orthography). Influenced by anthropological thought, if that is not too strong a word, (thought, that is, not influence) I find him valuable for epitomizing that discipline’s beau ideal of traveling completely into another culture, and completely back again. The idea is that a person who has made this journey can best explain the former culture to the latter (and, for that matter, vice versa).

The best reasons in the world are not heard in this country if they are not accompanied by presents.

Les meilleures raifons du monde ne font pas écoutées en ce Pays-là, si ells ne font accompagnées de prefens.

Louis Hennepin, Nouvelle découverte d'un trés grand pays situé dans l'Amérique, entre le Nouveau Mexique, et la mer glaciale ‘New Discovery Of A Very Large Country Situated in America between New Mexico and The Glacial Sea’ (Autrecht: Guillaume Broedelet 1697) 85.
<> October 18, 2011. Hennepin generalizes about Indians in what are today the United States and Canada. His knowledge, if that is not too strong a word, would have been most extensive about some of the Iroquoians and Algonquians in northeastern North America.

The forest people use [calumets of peace, or peace pipes] for negotiations, for political affairs, and for all their voyages, for they travel in security when they have the calumet in hand…. [I]t has the effect that a flag of truce has with us; for the forest people believe it a great crime and a violation of the laws of nations, if the rights of this venerable pipe are violated.

Les Sauvages s’en fervent pour les Négociations, pour les affaires politiques, & fur tout dans les voyages, pouvant aller par tout en feureté des qu’on porte ce Calumet à la fait chez eux le même effet, que pavillon d’amitié fait chez nous ; car les Sauvages croiroîent avoir fait un grand crime, & même attirer le malheur fur leurs Nations, s'ils avoient violé les droits de cette vénérable pipe.

Mr. le Baron de Lahontan, Nouveaux Voyages L'Amerique Septentrionale ‘New Voyages to North America’ (47). Google Books <> November 2, 2011.

Some make capes or coats from raccoon hide, others from the pelts of bears, wildcats, wolves, dogs, weasels, squirrels, beavers and the like, and also from turkey feathers.

Of Elants-hupt om haer lijf fommige een Beeren hupt daerfe ooch Wambafen ban maechen andere weder rochen van Efpamten Cataloffen Wolben Honden Differs Cenhorens Bers of derghlijche ooch heenfe van kalchhoenfe Deeren gemaecht. (van der Donck 23)

[The Indians Champlain met between the Saint Lawrence near Lake Champlain, Algonquians and Iroquoians including Kanien’kehá:ka] slept on hides with their companions and their dogs with them.

Ils couchent sur des peaux, les uns parmy les autres, les chiens avec eux. (Champlain II : 10 : 74)

[Indians] get along with each other amazingly well. You’ll never see disputes, quarrels, enmity, or reproaches among them. Men tranquilly leave the management of their homes to women: they cut, they divide, they give as they please, without making their husbands angry.
Ils s'entraiment les vns les autres, & s'accordent admirablement bien; vous ne voyez point de disputes, de querelles, d'inimitiez, de reproches parmy eux, les hõmes laissent la disposition du mesnage aux femmes sans les inquieter; elles coupent, elles tranchent, elles donnent comme il leur plaist, sans que le mary s'en fasche. (le Jeune 232 & 234)

‘…at home they cultivate peace, diligently avoiding quarrels.’ …at domi colunt pacem, rixasque diligenter cavent. (Jouvency 274)
‘They cherish their children wonderfully…’ Liberos mira caritate complectuntur… (Jouvency 276)

Two of the most common words used by early English to describe Indians are “merry” and “grave.” William Penn, for instance, uses both (Penn 30 & 42) while for Champlain:

All these people [Indians] are of a joyful humour. They laugh often, but they are all a bit saturnine.

Tous ces peuples sont tous d'une humeur assez joyeuse; ils rient le plus souvent; toutes fois ils sont quelque peu saturniens. (Champlain II : 13 : 77)

At first you think one or the other of two conflicting propositions is incorrect (ignoring the third, perennially underrated possibility that both are). Then you realize Penn and Champlain are, unbeknownst to themselves, describing their own reflections.

Pierre Raffeix slightly illustrates the nature of Indian river battles below, here between a small group of Guyohkohnyoh ‘Cayuga’ and a larger group of (Iroqouian) Susquehannock.

These young [Susquehannock] victors, appraised that the brigade of [Guyohkohnyoh ‘Cayuga’] left in canoes, looked promptly to their own canoes, and pursued them with such diligence, that they caught up with them and defeated them. Eight of ours [Guyohkohnyoh] died in their canoes. Fifteen or sixteen returned pierced by arrows…

Ces jeunes victorieux ayant appris que la brigade des Goiogoüens estoit allße en canot, se mirent promptement sur des canots, & les poursuivirent avec tant de diligence, que les ayans joints, ils les ont battus, huit des nostres ont estß tuez dans leurs canots, quinze ou seize sont retournez tout percez de coups de fleches…

Pierre Raffeix, Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1671 & 1672 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1673) 56. <> April 19, 2012.

“[My Kanien’kehá:ka adopted family and I] went into a small river to kill salmons, as in deed we tooke great many with staves [spears]…” (Radisson)

‘...Kanien’kehá:ka, who are fiends (enemies) of the Mahicans.’ Mackwaes, de welcke vyanden syn van de Mahikans… (de Laet 88). Also:

…[an armed force,] of whom the greater part were Kanien’kehá:ka, went out to capture a village of certain forest people called Mahicans…

…dont la pluspart estoient Agniehronnons, estant allße pour enleuer vne Bourgade de certains Sauuages, qui s'appellent Mahingans…

Jérôme Lalemant, Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1663 & 1664 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1665) 138. <> April 16, 2012.

Other than tobacco and sunflowers, eastern North America’s contributions to the world’s crops are mostly berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cloudberries, whortleberries and cranberries. Hanundäyo ‘Strawberry Thanksgiving’ was one of a half dozen major Haudenosaunee holidays, preceded by Otädenonene No Wäta ‘Maple Thanksgiving’ and Ayentwätä ‘Planting Festival’, and followed by Ahdakewäo ’Feast’ ,‘Green Corn Festival’, Dayonunneoquä Na Deohako ‘Our Supporters’ Thanksgiving’ and Ononharóia ‘The Festival of Dreams’ ‘New Year’s Celebration.’

“…early Iroquoian vessels are made largely by ‘modelling’ in which the potter begins with a large lump of clay rather than thin coil and models this lump into the vessel shape.”

Ronald F. Williamson, “The Early Iroquoian Period of Southern Ontario,” The Archaeology of Southern Ontario to A.D. 1650 (London, Ontario: London Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society, 1990) 297-98.

[T]he old sitt in a half moon upon ye Ground, the middle aged in a like figure at a little distance behind them, & the young Fry in the same manner behind them.

William Penn, ”Letter to Robert Spencer,” July 28, 1683 (Penn 42). While Penn’s experiences were primarily with Lenape, the Haudenosaunee and other Indians may have also arranged themselves thus.

I almost believed in the past that the images of the Roman emperors represented the highest ideals of painters, not men who ever were, so strong and powerful are their heads, but I see on the shoulders of these people the heads of Julius Caesar, of Pompey, of Augustus, of Otho, and of the others which I saw in France, drawn on paper or stamped on medallions.

…I'ay quasi creu autrefois que les Images des Empereurs Romains representoient plustost l'idße des peintres, que des hommes qui eussent iamais estß, tant leurs testes sont grosses & puissates, mais ie voy icy sur les ßpaules de ce peuple les testes de Iules Cesar, de Pompße, d'Auguste, d'Othon, & des autres que i'ay veu en France, tirßes sur le papier, ou releußes en des medailles. (le Jeune 228)

Le Jeune’s experience was principally with Innu and secondarily with Wendat ‘Huron’, close linguistic relatives of the Haudenosaunee. According to Radisson, either a Wendat or an escaped Haudenosaunee captive “doubts that there is great difference of language between the Iroquoits [Haudenosaunee] and the Hurrons [Wendat].” 

The entire indented passage is a translation of the following:

Questa é la gente piú bella e di costumi piú miti che abbiamo trovato in tutto il viaggio...Il volto é affilato, i capelli sono lunghi e neri ed essi li curano moltissimo, gli occhi sono neri e guizzanti, l'aspetto é dolce e soave alla maniera degli antichi. (Imitando la compostezza delle statue classiche). Le loro donne sono altrettanto belle e ben formate, molto gentili, eleganti, di aspetto gradevole. (Verrazzano)

This first review of New Yorkers by a European is a rave, interestingly enough. Chances are excellent these people were Munsee Lenape, and may well have been Canarsie.

‘…another [Onöñda’gega] took hemlock because she couldn’t bear her spouse abandoning her to marry a rival…’…vne autre a pris de La Cicue ne pouuant se voir abandonnße de son mary qui ßpouse sa riuale.

Jean de Lamberville, Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1672 & 1673 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1674) 164. <> April 16, 2012 .

A brief history of human economy: For more than 95% of our existence, people hunted and gathered. The occupation has the advantages of providing both a varied and healthy diet and plenty of exercise. On the other hand, it leaves its practitioners vulnerable to starvation by allowing little food storage. Furthermore, when a group outgrows its resources, they denude their environment, creating demographic busts in which the population falls to considerably lower numbers than the area would naturally support.

Of course, there is an alternative, frequently taken: organized armed robbery and murder. War, in this case, as has been observed, is the perfect provider: always able to provide enough death for the losers, and enough of their resources to sate the winners. Nevertheless, near-starvation pressure over the millennia forced people to begin eating grasses like proto-wheat and -rice. They improved these, at first unconsciously, then semi-consciously. From this spark, settled agriculture spread. It is a peculiarly bad way of life, except perhaps in its latest stage of development, featuring very hard work and a malnourishing diet.

On the other hand, the relatively great reserves of food it creates enabled significant numbers to spend the lion’s share of their time on tasks other than food acquisition. So settled agriculture enabled a greater degree of both social stratification and technological development, the latter via a newly possible artisanal class. It looks a lot like the apple in the hunter-gatherers’ Garden of Eden.

It’s interesting to note how much of what we believe to be our humanity is now bound up with surplus labor. It is our technology which makes us us to us. Consciousness, contemplation, fellowship and human interaction in general have become rather barbarous stopgaps for the temporarily technology-deprived. Put another way, we believe that we shine in our technology’s reflected glory, and that those who are not in such close proximity are very benighted indeed. Considering the distance between most people and significant technological achievement of any kind, I would call it a very faint glow, but what do I know?

With the aid of technology, some of us, at least, now eat well. Our far more efficient exploitation of the earth and the population explosion it viciously cycles with denude the earth of its resources at an amazing rate, and will lead, unchecked, to a really massive die-off. A secondary problem is that modern life promotes a sedentary lifestyle. So Europeans 500 years ago (as well as Mexicans, Quechuans and many others) suffered from too little nutrition, while we as a group today suffer from too little activity. The Haudenosaunee, along with other North American Indians seemed to have had, for the most part, enough of both.

Their sensible system, featuring a mix of about half agriculture and half hunting and gathering, enabled a healthy diet and lifestyle, ecological sustainability and considerable food storage. It may have been for them, as it probably was for other groups, a transitional state. Corn was only introduced in what became the northern United States about 1000 to 2000 years before the European invasion, the literature now claims. Certainly, Mexicans, who had eaten corn millennia earlier, were more determined agriculturalists than Europeans—and at least as malnourished. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that the North American Indians could not have continued their lifestyle indefinitely. The main obstacle would seem to have been population growth—but it’s unclear why and how population growth takes place. For the great majority of our existence, it has been insignificant. Cultures, for example, in which wars occur at a sufficiently frequent and deadly rate will, obviously, maintain their equilibrium with the environment, and Algonquian-Iroqouian-Siouan North America seems to have been as martial an area as most.

The Haudenosaunee make a thanksgiving address before meetings or other great or important events. On the centrality of thanksgiving to the Haudenosaunee:

…Ohenten Kariwatekwen or “words that come before all else,”…known as the Thanksgiving Address…. We [Kanien’kehá:ka] use words of thanksgiving to thank the Creator for all elements of Creation from the People to the Skyworld to the Creator. These words are used before every meeting, ceremony, or gathering of people. We say that it assists us to reach consensus or “one mind.” (Benedict)


…from the Narraganset Mohowaùuck, 'they eat (animate) things,' hence 'man-eaters'…

<> October 27, 2011.

I have no particular interest in entering into any debates on the presence or absence of various practices you might find appalling. Why should I? What’s in it for me? Close description of extreme cruelty, I think, will do nothing but overshadow our story. Perhaps it’s best to mention in passing that Indians and vikings were at times appallingly cruel (putting them in the exclusive company of everybody else). For example, the putative first European in North America was allegedly so barbaric as to have been a perfect fit for 21st century Fatherland (Or is it Homeland? I get so confused) security work:


‘Leif tortured three of Freydís’ men. He found they told one story.’ Þá tók Leifr þrjá menn af liði þeira Freydísar ok píndi þá til sagna um þenna atburð allan jafnsaman, ok var með einu móti sögn þeira.

Of course, supposedly higher modern standards have not in fact precluded relatively modern people from doing things far worse than either the vikings or the Indians ever did. Neither group ever killed millions because they belonged to an ethnic group or an economic class, or enslaved millions because of the color of their skin. Perhaps best to say ancient artisans of sadism rivalled ours, perhaps, in retail ghastliness, while their modern counterparts, thanks to superior technology, are far more generous in providing wholesale death, torture and cruelty. Human inhumanity, in any case, never knows a dry season. The one way Indians were unique in the history of cruelty is that, by all accounts, they didn’t rape. “I have been always assured, that there is not one Instance, of their offering the least Violence to the Chastity of any Woman that was their Captive.” (Colden)

Or Invisible Aids, including all the beneficial lesser deities from Heno, the Thunderer, down to the spirit of the strawberry and to those of individual trees. The class reminds me of the Zoroastrian Amesha Spenta ‘immortals bounteous’ ‘good spirits’, a similarly inclusive category (in one of its two uses). In any case, all religions of all peoples seem to have sprung from one root, to judge from their thematic congruencies, best outlined, as far as I know, in Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice ‘The Nature and Function of Sacrifice’, by Hubert and Mauss. In a nutshell, all are based on the idea of another world, the world of the dead, from which and to which the sacrificed communicate. 
I’ve encountered strong criticism of Morgan from contemporary writers. No doubt sentences, paragraphs and even pages taken out of context reveal, it seems, varieties of paternalism and even racism. I would argue nevertheless that Morgan deserves to be taken as a whole, and also that it is unwise and in some sense unfair to expect those who wrote more than a century ago to meet the byzantine requirements of modern political correctness. I doubt many of us will pass such a test.

Morgan certainly had a number of close friendships with Haudenosaunee, and seems to have been highly thought of by them, and understandably enough, I think. He relied heavily, in particular, on Ely S. Parker.

It remains for the author to acknowledge his obligations to Ely S. Parker, Ha-sa-no-an–da…to whom this volume is inscribed. He is indebted to him for invaluable assistance during the whole progress of the research, and for a share of the materials. His intelligence, and accurate knowledge of the institutions of his forefathers, have made his friendly services a peculiar privilege.

I have trouble believing that Parker, a Seneca leader and brigadier general in the US Army, was Morgan’s fool, or anyone else’s. I think he was an excellent judge of character and of human enterprise, as well as a Seneca patriot. He evidently believed Parker’s work a considerable service to his people. I also have trouble believing anyone who has read Morgan’s book in its entirety could disagree.

Consider also the following, if in doubt about Morgan’s sympathies:

…the darkest frauds, the basest bribery, and the most execrable intrigues which soulless avarice could suggest, have been practiced, in open day, upon this defenceless and much-injured people [the Seneca]. The natural feelings of man, and the sense of public justice, are violated and appalled at the narration of their proceedings. It is no small crime against humanity to seize the fire sides and the property of a whole community, without an equivalent, and against their will; and then to drive them, beggared and outraged, into a wild and inhospitable wilderness. And yet this is the exact scheme of the Ogden Land Company; the one in which they have long been engaged, and the one which they still continue to prosecute. The Georgia treaty with the Cherokees, so justly held up to execration, is a white page, compared with the treaties of 1838 and 1842, which were forced upon the Senecas. This project has already, however, in part, been defeated, by the load of iniquity which hung upon the skirts of these treaties; and it is to be hoped, for the credit of humanity, that the cause of the Indian will yet triumph.

…all harmonizing marvelously well, in a fashion resembling our plainsong.

…tous s’accordans merueilleufement bien, fe mirent à chanter d’vne façon femblable en quelqe façon à noftre plain-chant.

Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1655 & 1656 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1657) 40. <> March 14, 2012.

‘Ears bear rings of every type in the oriental style.’ Alle orecchie portano pendenti di ogni tipo, alla maniera orientale. (Verrazzano) While it’s certainly possible that the copper goods reported by Verrazzano and de Laet in the Hudson area spread from early Europeans, I would guess they were mainly or exclusively of Indian origin, as copper goods had been widespread in northeastern North America for thousands of years.
Copper was central to five major ritual manifestations in Eastern North America, dubbed by scholars: the Old Copper Culture; the Adena, Hopewell and Copena peoples; and the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The Old Copper Culture was a Middle to Late Archaic development that lasted from about 3000-1000 B.C. and was focused primarily in the upper Great Lakes region.

Amelia M. Trevelyan, Miskwabik, metal of ritual: metallurgy in prectontact Eastern North America (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004)

Rather like collars, which are descended from pieces of armor designed to protect clavicles, which are peculiarly vulnerable to downward strikes.

Why a breechclout (a kind of fore and aft loincloth) and leggings? Why not pants? The great advantage is that movement is relatively unrestricted. The much greater speed and agility of Indians owed a lot to early and frequent training, but something as well to Europeans’ typically tight, restrictive pants and hobbling shoes. “The ffrench…weare…incapable to follow the wildmen who went with all the speed possible…” (Radisson)

Shoes, incidentally, may have regressed over the last 4,000 years. Ötzi, the formerly pre-copper age man found frozen in the Alps, wore warm, extremely comfortable boots with deerskin uppers and bearskin soles, fitted with nettings and padded with grass for insulation and comfort. Unlike our shoes, they didn’t deform the feet. Since his discovery, the copper age has grown to encompass him and his 99.7% pure copper axe blade. Some now believe his boots were attached to snowshoes. <> September 9, 2012.

Haudenosaunee suitors left a deer at the residence of their intended. If the prospective bride and her mother approved, her mother would then leave firewood at the residence of the suitor’s mother. If she also approved, she would then present a loaf of cornbread to the prospective bride’s mother. The husband ate dinner with the bride and her mother and stayed with them to complete the ceremony. Note that the groom, the bride and their mothers had given each other the key elements of the dinner: venison, cornbread and fire.
Radisson found himself ravishing thanks to his Kanien’kehá:ka makeover.

they cutt off my hair in the front and upon the crowne of the head, and turning up the locks of the haire they dab'd mee with some thicke grease. So done, they brought me a looking-glasse. I viewing myself…smir'd with redde and black, covered with such a cappe, and locks tyed up with a peece of leather…I could not but fall in love with myselfe, if not that I had better instructions to shun the sin of pride. (Radisson)
Whatever calamities occur, [Indians] never lose their patient tranquility of spirit, which they believe defines happiness.

Quaecumque calamitas ingruat, nunquam se dimoveri de animi tranquillitate patiuntur, qua felicitatem potissimum definiunt. (Jouvency 275)


A Kanien’kéha greeting, Skennenkówa ken?, transliterates: “Do you have great peace?”

‘Friends never quarrel or expostulate with friends, wives with husbands, or husbands with wives.’ Nihil unquam amicus cum amico, uxor cum viro, cum uxore vir, queritur & expostulat. (Jouvency 276)

Rather than appear impolite by contradicting anything said at [Haudenosaunee] council, even the greatest absurdity in the world, they will respond to everything with Niaoüa; that is to say, you’re right, my brother…

Cependant on pafferoit pour mal-honnefte homme parmi eux, fi on contredifoit aux chofes, quife difent dans leur Confeil, & fi on ne convenoit de tout, quand même on diroit les plus grandes abfurditez du monde. Ils répondent donc toujours à tous, Niaoüa, c’eft a dire, tu as raifon, mon Frere... (Hennepin 89)

Niaoüa, as Hennepin rendered the Onoñda’gega’, is niáwen in Kanien’kéha. It is commonly translated as ‘thank you’ and understandable in Hennepin’s sense as ‘thank you for your wise contribution.’ It’s not far from the ritual “Thanks, Paul,” after a presentation at a business meeting.
While they are closely related, Kanien’kéha and Onoñda’ge are different languages, farther apart than Italian and Spanish, but closer than English and German. In addition to this difference, and the vagaries of transcription, spelling conventions, or the lack of them, further cloud the picture. I hope to be able to convert mine more or less correctly to the Kanien’kéha Standardization Project.


See and These are two of the longest texts available in both English and Kanien’kéha. 

‘From the same love of concord comes their [habitual] assent…’ Ex eodem concordiae studio fit ut assentiantur ultro… (Jouvency 275)

’[i]f the sentiment for war continues to prevail… bad news for the ambassadors! The people’s law does not guarantee a point of respect for their [ambassadorial] character…’ [s]i le fentiment de continuer la Guerre prévaut…alors malheur aux Ambafadeurs; le droit des Gens ne les garantit point : on n'a de refpect pour leur caractère… (Lafitau 313)

Of the historical treatment of Kanien’kehá:ka ambassadors by Mahicans:

…fifty or sixty Mahicans…were waiting in ambush for them by the lake to capture these [Onöñda’gega and Kanien’kehá:ka] ambassadors, with whom they were at war…

…cinquante à soixante Mahingans…estoient en embuscade dans le Lac, pour se ietter sur ces Ambassadeurs Iroquois, contre lesquels ils sont en guerre…

François Joseph le Mercier, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1666 & 1667 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1668) 82. <> April 17, 2012.

A Calumet [peace pipe] such as I have described serves as assurance [of safe conduct] to all the allies of those that provided it.

Un Calumet, tel que je viens de le reprefenter, fert d’affurance à tous ceux, qui vont chez les Alliez de ceux, qui l’ont donné. (Hennepin 150-151)

Meaning presumably also that those who are not allies will not grant safe conduct.


Few scholarly debates have been so neatly summed up by one title as the question of pre-Columbian North American population and the book Numbers from Nowhere. Speculations on the subject have had, as a firm rule, no useful data to work with.

I will however introduce my own number from nowhere: considering that the largest city in North America before European contact was Cahokia, and that its population has been estimated (more or less reliably [!]) at 20,000, and considering also that the largest city in North America today is New York, with a population of around 8,000,000, I might propose that since that proportion is 400:1, the proportion for what is now the US might be around the same, giving the pre-European US area a population of around 7.5 million people. I mention this idea not only because my ignorant guess may be as good as any, but also because I once made an earlier estimate, which, as it happened was (to quote myself from memory) “2.5 – 5 million in the Southeastern US, and another 2.5 – 5 million in the rest of the US and Canada put together”—giving a mean number, also, of 7.5 million (though this one included Canada). This number from nowhere was based on two factors (I might add for a laugh): 1. Seems about right (!) & 2. Population should be considerably higher in well-watered areas without severe winters. Accounts of Indians in the north and southwest frequently return to the theme of seasonal dearth.

Women were the principal and typically sole farmers among the Haudenosaunee and most other Indians. Put another way, men’s work was limited to hunting, fishing, war and occasional heavy lifting. Women worked harder, as a general rule, but also had more control of their households than they do now.

The men calmly leave the disposition of the menage to the women…[the women] work incessantly, searching for firewood, building the houses, dressing the skins, and occupying themselves with other arduous work. Each sweetly manages her own small affairs nearly uncontested.

…les hõmes laissent la disposition du mesnage aux femmes sans les inquieter…qu'elles trauailloient incessamment, allans querir le bois pour le chauffage: faisants les Cabanes, passans les peaux, & s'occupans en d'autres oeuures assez penibles, chacun fait son petit affaire doucement, & paisiblement sans dispute. (le Jeune 234)

In testing, the best Indian bows cast a little more than 200 yards, while many failed to reach 150. The best English longbows cast 250 yards or a little more. (Pope) So full-time artillers with the best in iron age technology and an archive to draw on, unsurprisingly, make better bows than part-time bowyers lacking both. More surprising, perhaps, is that the difference in quality between the best Indian and the best European bows was not very great. The testers themselves noted another essential difference. While they with their bows were considerably better at the two tests they valued, namely distance and static target shooting, the Indian they knew best was far superior, in their opinion, in the very different skill of bow hunting (Hardy 164-5). The best historical bows, incidentally, were Turkish and Mongol horn and tendon composites, which cast arrows nearly one hundred yards farther than the best European bows—surely one of the less appreciated and more consequential facts in the history of technology. The Turks’ greater cast sped their conquest of Constantinople, which led, in turn, to the search for an alternate route to Asia.


The Haudenosaunee twisted two feathers around the nocks of their arrows to create rifling (spinning which keeps the projectile flying straight towards a target). Morgan believes this inspired the rifling of guns. (Morgan 305)

Wikipedia disagrees, claiming “True rifling dates from the mid-15th century.” But it also cites twisted feathering on arrows as the inspiration. And since the previous quote currently precedes the phrase “citation needed”, I would not yet rule out Morgan’s theory. <> September 20, 2012.

‘…he loves us…we’ll defend him or die at his feet.’ …il nous aime…l faut le défendre , ou mourir à fes pieds. (Charlevoix II : XX : 366) The speaker is a Wendat ‘Huron’.

Also, on the topic of devotion to younger relatives:

…you French people love only your own children, but we love all the children of our nation catholically…

…vous autres François vous n'aimez que vos propres enfans, mais nous, nous cherissons vniuersellement tous les enfans de nostre nation… (le Jeune 254)

Le Jeune’s speaker is Innu, but his sentiment seems to be common to Indians.

‘…in some parts the women use these bows…’ …in alcuna parte ufana quefti archi le donne... (Vespucci 5)

On the topic of Indian women taking part in battles:

’the [Kanien’kehá:ka] women…armed themselves with knives and defensive weapons…’ les femmes…s'armer de cousteaux & d'armes deffensives…
François Joseph le Mercier, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1669 & 1670 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1671) 136. <> April 9, 2012.

Le Mercier describes Kanien’kehá:ka women arming themselves during a siege, probably implying both that most of them did not normally serve as soldiers, and that they were tough and experienced enough to serve usefully when they did. I will hazard that as a general rule, Indian women did not fight in planned military actions, but that most could and did in a pinch, and a few fought as regularly and as well as men. 

Scattered bones were a shorthand for the devastation of war. So retrieving and burying bones scattered by war was a metaphor for peacemaking:
Unkle your great men that have died in the war and others where whose bones lye Scattered and above ground we now gether together all in one place and bury them, because we would not have the bones of your great men lye scattered on the earth.

“Speech Of Stockbridge Indians to The Mohawks” Papers of William Johnson 126.

Gáoh is the god of winds, portrayed as the master of a house with four doors facing the cardinal points. A bear, panther, moose and fawn tend the north, west, east and south winds, respectively.

The Haudenosaunee said that we [the French] were of the Otkon ‘Otgon’, which is to say in their language piercing spirits.

[The Haudenosaunee] difoient, que nous étions des Otkon [Otgon], c’eft á dire dans leur langage des éfprits perçans. (Hennepin 100)

While Hennepin may have missed the Haudenosaunee implication that the French were sorcerers, and even black magicians, his exact words for possessors of Otgon, éfprits perçans ‘piercing spirits’, strikes me as not bad at all, especially as it connotes the yang, masculine force.

Not spirits as such, [Orenda and Otgon] can assume the force of sentient spirits under some circumstances. Orenda and Otgon are the invisible Power, spiritual and/or magickal force which permeates all being. They can be collected and enhanced, but they exist and flow through everything. Orenda is good energy, Otgon is evil energy. (A Haudenosaunee Pantheon)

As in the case of the twin sons of Ataensic, Rawenní:io and Hänegoategeh, I believe good and evil may be less descriptive of the Orenda-Otgon duality (which the twins personify) than yin and yang, respectively. Otgon, Radissonized as dodcon I believe, is a term of high praise in the following passage:
As we came neare the village, a multitude of [Kanien’kehá:ka] people came to meete us with great exclamations, and for the most part for my sake, biding me to be cheerfull & qualifying me dodcon [Otgon], that is, devil, being of great veneration in that country to those that shew any vallour. (Radisson)
Another rough correspondent of Otgon which Star Wars has popularized is the Norse siðr, which the god Óðinn ‘Odin’ ‘Wotan’ (and the Wedn in Wednesday) demonstrated and augmented by sacrificing himself to himself in order to increase his own power.

Ataensic ‘Sky Woman’, the Haudenosaunee first mother, fell from the sky to the water world. Brother Eagle glided her safely down, and Brother Turtle raised his back to meet her, forming the earth, or Turtle Island.

‘[Indians in the Saint Lawrence area] pass one, two and three days without eating, while continuing to row, hunt and work to their utmost.’ Ils passerõt vn iour, deux & trois iours sans manger, ne laissans pas de ramer, chasser, & se peiner tant qu'ils peuuent. (le Jeune 238 & 240)

There are a great many conflicting statements by Europeans about Indians promiscuity or lack of it. Since this is equally true of Europeans talking about Europeans, we could do worse than guess the two groups were not so very different in chastity and fidelity. Different Indian nations undoubtedly varied tremendously, however. I’d guess most Haudenosaunee would seem conservative by modern standards, though tolerant of those who were not. For what it’s worth, I find Garnier’s words, below, ring truer than most.

I know more than 200 families among [the Onondowahgah ‘Seneca’] whose marriages are firm and stable. They raise their children to have good morals and prevent their daughters from being too conversant with the outside world, so that they do not fall into the disorders of impurity…. [They] would live most Christianly, had they the Faith.

Je connois pres de deux cent familles, entr'autres, dans des mariages fermes & stables, qui eslevent moralement bien leurs enfans, qui empechent que leurs filles ne conversent trop au dehors, & qu'elles ne se jettent dans les desordres de l'impuretß…& qui seroient pour vivre tres-chrestiennement, s'ils avoient la Foy.

Julien Garnier, Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1671 & 1672 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1673)


138. <> April 16, 2012.

‘[The town of Onöñda’gega] is a kind of parliament of the entire [Haudenosaunee] nation.’ Onontaghß estant comme le Parlement de tout le pays.
Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années1656 & 1657 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1658) 40. <> March 14, 2012.

By de Quen’s time, 650 years after our story takes place, the town which was the eponymous capital of the Onöñda’gega had become the capital of all five Haudenosaunee nations. It is where Syracuse, New York, is now. Also:

[Onöñda’gega], the great village, which is the center of all the Haudenosaunee nations and in which every year they hold a kind of Estates-General…

…Onnontaß, grande Bourgade, qui est le centre de toutes les Nations Iroquoises, & où se tiennent tous les ans comme les Estats generaux…

François Joseph le Mercier, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1666 & 1667 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1668) 174. <> April 9, 2012.

‘[Indians in the Saint Lawrence area] have only to dream of a thing to go on a long voyage in quest of it.’ Il ne leur faut que resuer à vne chose pour leur faire entreprendre de grands voyages à sa recherche.

Jean de Quen, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années1656 & 1657 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1658) 133. <> April 23, 2012.

‘…[the dream] is nearly the only divinity of the [Haudenosaunee] country, and the people glory in committing a thousand extravagances to obey it…’…c'est presque l'vnique diuinitß du païs, & l'on fait gloire de mille extrauagances pour obeïr à ce…

Jérôme Lalemant, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1647 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1648) 46. <> March 29, 2012.

Iroquoian katkowa or Algonquian wampumpeag ‘wampum’ had religious, diplomatic and communicative meaning (a perpetual name of one of the Onöñda’gega rotiiáne ‘nobles’ ‘officers of the state’, was Honowenáto ‘Keeper of the Wampum’, who “was required to be versed in its interpretation”). (Morgan) For more on the meaning of katkowa, see

Richard Hill “Regenerating Identity: Repatriation and the Indian Frame of Mind,” The Future of the Past: Archaeologists, Native Americans, and Repatriation (New York : Garland 2001).

It would be cruelty, even a kind of murder [the Haudenosaunee, Wendat and others believe], not to give a man what he dreamed of, for a refusal is capable of killing him...

Ce seroit vne cruautß, & vne espece de meurtre, de ne pas donner à vn homme ce qu'il a songß: car ce refus seroit capable de le faire mourir…

Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1655 & 1656 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1657) 164. <> March 14, 2012.

During the celebration of the Festival of Dreams [Ononharóia, an Onöñda’gega] repeatedly refused to give his well-worked tobacco pouch to a dreamer, shaming him with the refusal. Refusing a request like this is very rare. The deference towards dreams is so great that ordinarily people give dreamers all they have dreamed of.

Pendant que l'on solennisait ici la fête des songes, il a refusß constamment de donner son sac à pßtun, assez bien travaillß, à un songeur qui, ainsi, a eu la honte d'être refusß, ce qui se fait rarement; car l'on a tant de dßfßrence pour les songes que l'on accorde ordinairement tout ce que demande celui qui a songß. (Lamberville 208)

…if you refuse them something, their reproach is to say, Khisakhitan Sakhita ‘You love this? Love it as much as you want!’

…si vous leur refusez quelque chose, voicy leur reproche, comme ie remarquay l'an passß, Khisakhitan SaKhita, tu aime cela, aime le tant que tu voudras… (le Jeune 238)

While le Jeune spoke specifically of the Innu, the tendency of the Haudenosaunee to give and share, and to expect giving and sharing, is well remarked. I quoted these words for their piquancy.

Early 11th century Kanien’kehá:ka, like other Indians and early 21st century computing types, were silicologists. Instead of creating microchips from silicon, however, they created projectile points from silicates, especially, in the case of the Haudenosaunee, Onöñda’gega Escarpment flint. Pure silicon is glass. Flint, which is silicon plus other elements, is glassy in the sense that it fractures cleanly, creating smooth, sharp cutting edges. Creating a projectile point involves hitting a hammer stone against a core, or unworked piece of flint, so that the bulbs of concussion caused by the impact fracture the flint into the desired shape. It’s a multi-stage process, beginning with roughing out the shape, and ending with so-called pressure flaking to hone the edges.

As technologically hopeless as we might find Indians, consider how technologically hopeless they would find us. If parachuted into an ancient North American forest without any of the accoutrements of our culture, what could most of us do but freeze and starve? All our technology is too complex for a single individual to build from scratch. Haudenosaunee technology was what a man and a woman could craft from scratch out of a temperate forest. Adeptness required, I would guess, every bit as much skill and training then as now.

They also say that all animals of every species have an elder brother, who is, as it were, the first and original of all the individuals, and that this brother has marvelously great power.

Ils difent en outre, que tous les animaux de châque efpece ont vn frere aifné, qui eft cõme le principe & cõme l’origine de tous les indiuidus, & ce frer aifné eft merueilleufement grand puiffãt. (le Jeune 46)

I thank you in return in [the Haudenosaunee’s] name, for bringing into their lands the calumet of peace…and I applaud your wisdom in leaving the war axe buried that is so much reddened with French blood.

Je te remercie in leur nom, d'avoir raporté fur leurs Terres ce Calumet de Paix... Je te felîcit même tems d'avoir laiffé fous la ter che meurtriére qui a rougi tantd fang de tes François. (de Lahontan 52)

We are astounded at your boldness, or should I say your temerity. You shame us to our faces, you imply we are frauds.

Nous nous estonnons de vostre hardiesse, ou plustost de vostre temeritß, vous nous iettez la honte sur le visage, vous nous faites passer pour des fourbes.

Jérôme Lalemant, Relation de ce qvi s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1645 & 1646 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1647) 284. <> April 6, 2002. The speaker is Kanien’kehá:ka.

…[Indians] inviolably observe this law: that whoever…accepts a present will execute what its giver demands…

…ils gardent inuiolablement cette loy, que quiconque…accepte le present qu'on luy fait, doit executer ce qu'on luy demande par ce present…

Barthelemy Vimont, Relation de ce qvi s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1642 & 1643 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1644) 52.

<> April 5, 2002. Vimont’s experiences were mainly with the Haudenosaunee.

For example: “I gave them [the people of present-day Shenango, Pennsylvania, of mixed Shawnee, Mohican and Haudenosaunee nationality] a String of Wampum to enforce my request.”

Tharachiawagon ‘Conrad Weiser,’ “Journal of a Tour of the Ohio, August 11 – October 2, 1748” Pennsylvania Colonial Records, Volume Five. Conrad Weiser was adopted by the Kanien’kehá:ka.

This is why, if [an Indian] does not wish to grant the desire, he will return the present.


…c'est pourquoy quand ils ne veulent pas accorder ce qu'on desire, ils renuoyent les presens… (Vimont 52)

George Groghan describes such an event below, when “one of the Chiefs of the Six Nations” refuses a French demand that the Haudenosaunee steer clear of the English.

“FATHERS: I mean you that call yourselves our Fathers…[y]ou desire we may turn our Brothers the English away…I now tell you from our Hearts we will not…as long as there is one of us alive…”…and then he returned the [katkowa] Belt [that Joncaire, the French representative, had given him].

George Groghan, “Proceedings of Croghan and Andrew Mountour at [the] Ohio; May 18-28, 1751, Pennsylvania Colonial Records, Volume Five.

Regarding Indian underwater swimming skill, one Indian of uncertain nationality astonished Radisson by catching a beaver underwater. 

That wildman no sooner saw him but throwes himself out into the watter and downe to the bottom, without so much time as to give notice to any, and before many knewed of anything, he brings up the castor [beaver] in his armes as a child. (Radisson)

‘…a [n Indian] woman thinks nothing of running a league or two…’ …nó tiene in conto na donna correre una legha, ó due… (Vespucci 5)

Shields consist of hewn wood, predominantly juniper, curving slightly at the edges. They are light, very long and wide, so that they protect the whole body. [Indians of the Saint Lawrence area] sew the shields together on the inside with leather cords, which interlace most of the shield, so that arrows and axes don’t split them. They aren’t suspended by the left arm, but hang from a cord around the right shoulder, so they protect the left side of the body. After Indians shoot an arrow…they retract their right sides, to present their shielded left sides to the enemy.

Clypeos conficiunt è ligno dolato, plerumque cedrino; paulum ad oras incurvos: leves, praelongos & peramplos, ita ut totum corpus protegant. Jam, ne jaculis aut securibus perrumpantur omnino ac dissiliant, eos intus consuunt restibus ex animalium corio contextis, quae totam clypei molem continent connectuntque. Non gestant è brachio suspensos, sed funem ex quo pendent, rejiciunt in humerum dextrum: adeo ut latus corporis sinistrum clypeo protegatur; mox ubi jaculum emiserunt…paulum retrahunt dextrum latus, ac sinistrum clypeo tectum obvertunt hosti. (Jouvency 269-70)

The shields Jouvency describes resemble Roman shields closely, though there seem few other striking resemblances between Roman and Indian warmaking. The method of hanging the shield from the shoulder, on the other hand, Philip pioneered for his phalanx. It was an important innovation for leaving both hands free, which could therefore wield the sarissa, which was much longer than the spears used in Hellas proper.

On Indian determination to endure pain stoically:

Even the pains of childbirth, however acute, are so dissimulated and overcome by the women that they do not even groan; and if anyone did let a tear or a groan escape, she would suffer eternal ignominy…

Inediam multorum dierum, morbos, & aerumnas lenissime & constantissimè perferunt. Ipsos partus dolores, licet acerbissimos, ita dissimulant feminae vel superant, ut ne ingemiscant quidem: ac si cui lacryma vel gemitus excideret, aeterna flagraret ignominia… (Jouvency 276)

Shee was in travell ‘labor’ and immediately delivered. I awaked all astonished to see her drying her child by the fire side. Having done, [she] lapt the child in her bosome and went to bed as if that had ben nothing, without moan or cry, as doe our Europian women. (Radisson)

While Radisson is traveling with Kanien’kehá:ka while this incident takes place, the woman is one of their hosts. Her national affiliation is unclear, though it appears likely she is Haudenosaunee. I ought to mention that stories of women enduring labor without an outward sign of discomfort are a stock-in-trade of Europeans describing those they consider less civilized. Their readers would have been disappointed not to find them, just as in an earlier time they would have felt a traveler had not really gone anywhere if he had not run into unipeds, the vikings’ einfætingr.

‘…sell our lives dearly.’ …vendons cher notre vie. (Charlevoix II : XX : 378 ) The speaker is an Abenaki explaining his plan for an impending battle at impossible odds.

[The Indians of the Saint Lawrence area] often speak so persuasively and appropriately ex tempore as to earn the admiration of the finest speakers.

…sunt tam appositè ad persuadendum perorare, idque ex tempore, ut admirationem exercitatissimis in dicendi palaestra moverent. (Jouvency 276)

The most vivid scarlet, the happiest green, and the purest yellow and orange of Europe yield the palm to the different colors Indians make from their roots.

L'ßcarlate la plus viue, le vert le plus riant, & le jaune & l'oranger le plus naturel de l'Europe, cedent aux couleurs diuerses que nos Sauuages tirent des racines.

Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1656 & 1657 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1658) 258. <> March 14, 2012.

Genocidas extolling local virtues, including dyes and perhaps precious metals, may be doing so to drum up settlers and/or investment. The grandaddy of all these scammers (as far as I know!) is Eirík the Red.

[Eirík] called the land he found Greenland, because he said men would be eager to go to a land if it was attractively named.

Hann kallaði land þat, er hann hafði fundit, Grænland, því at hann kvað þat mundu fýsa menn þangat, ef landit héti vel. (Grænlendinga saga)

She would then dip her hands into cold water, spoon some of the batter into her hands, and shape the hot batter into round, thick, flat, shaped corn bread. She put it in boiling water, and when it came to the surface it was cooked.

Ohnekanohsne ia’tonionnihsnónhsohwe’. Eniontokwatsherotsenhte’ iehsonhsa:ke eier:ren’ tenietakwenhtenhste’ tanon’ teniehwe’non:ni tetiohnekontie’s ieniaketa’. No:nen enwata:kerahwe, né ken:ton’ tsi o:nen wá’ka:ri’. 

Both Kanien'kehá:ka and English taken from

< > February 9, 2012 by Warisó:se Kaierithon ‘Josephine Horne’.

You would do well…not to shorten my life, because it would give you more time to learn to die like a man.

Tu aurois bien dû…ne pas abreger ma vie, tu aurois eu plus de tems pour aprendre à mourir en Homme. (Charlevoix III : 16 : 173)

The speaker is an ancient Onöñda’gega who has been captured by his enemies, a group which includes the French. He speaks while he is being tortured to death.

…asked our captain to lay out his arms for them to be kissed and caressed, which is their mode of welcome in that land [Quebec].

...pria nostre cappitaine luy bailler ses bras pour les baiser & accoller qui est leur mode de faire chere en ladicte terre. (Cartier 48)

The people described are Iroquoian, possibly Haudenosaunee. “…the Iroquoits ‘Haudenosaunee’ dwelling was where Quebecq is situated…” (Radisson)
“…the Iroquoits did sing, expecting death…” “Some sang their fatall song, albeit without any wounds.” “…for to shew their courage [the Haudenosaunee wounded] sung'd lowder then those that weare well.” (Radisson) The Haudenosaunee and other Indians believe singing while dying is pretty cool.
‘The forests [near Lake Onondaga in 1657] are composed almost entirely of chestnuts and walnuts.’ Les forests sont presque toutes composßes de chasteigners & de noyers.
Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années1656 & 1657 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1658) 256. <> March 14, 2012.

"Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another."

Canassatego (an Onöñda’gega ‘Onondaga’ leader),


A TREATY, Held at the Town of Lancafter, in PENNSYLVANIA...WITH THE INDIANS OF THE SIX NATIONS, In JUNE, 1744 (Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by BENJAMIN. FRANKLIN, at the New-Printing-Office, near the Market, M,DCC,XLIV) 75.


"It would be a very strange thing, if [the Haudenosaunee] should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies."        Benjamin Franklin (author of the Albany Plan of Union, 1754, the first blueprint for the United States)



It appears from various sources that Indians practiced arboreal horticulture, cultivating nation-wide gardens of the trees whose nuts and fruits they preferred.

“The peculiarity of [the Gasowäono ‘Fish Dance’] was the opportunity which it afforded the Indian maiden to select whoever she preferred as partner…. In the midst of the dance, the females present themselves in pairs between any set they may select, thus giving to each a partner.” (Morgan 286) It is one of 32 Haudenosaunee dances, including the Ostowehgowa ‘Great Feather Dance’ which marks the end of Ononharóia ‘The Festival of Dreams’ ‘New Year’s Celebration’.

On the second day the Great Feather Dance was performed by a select band of Onondaga and Seneca dancers. The author then first had occasion to realize the magical influence which these dances have upon the Indian. It was impossible even for the spectator to resist the general enthusiasm. It was remarked to Da-at -ga-dose (Abraham La Fort), an educated Onondaga sachem, that they would be Indians forever, if they held to these dances. He replied, that he knew it, and for that reason he would be the last to give them up. (Morgan 251-252)

‘…commonly the men hardly have beards, which some pluck out…’ …ghemeenlijch hebben de Mans gheen Baert of heel wepnich fommige plochense ooch uit… (van der Donck 9)

In the deer button game, a kind of Haudenosaunee craps, each player throws eight pieces of elkhorn carved into buttons and burned on one side. Six buttons that turn up either burned or white win two beans (which serve as chips), seven four and eight twenty. One player continues until rolling four of each, or five of one and three of another, which loses his turn. (Morgan 302-303)

Perhaps the most controversial issue among Indian nations today is the question of gambling. Since the US has always recognized their sovereignty (though, today, incompletely: nations are unable to issue passports or conduct foreign policy), they have the right to make their own laws about gambling (as well as cigarette and gasoline taxes). As a result, some have built casinos on their land, some of which are extraordinarily successful.

Traditionalists view casinos as wrong for various reasons, and understandably enough. I’m struck by the delicious irony of nations funding the fight to recover stolen lands, rights and sovereignty by marketing a vice to non-Indians. In any case, partly through gambling money and partly through other means, Indian nations have pursued legal suits which have resulted in the last few decades in significant territorial gains.

“…the Indians are marvellous fond and affectionate towards their Children.”

Increase Mather, A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England (Boston, 1676).

<> September 6, 2011. He therefore found killing them particularly delightful.

Haudenosaunee burial customs balanced fear of the power of the dead with a desire to keep the bones of relatives from being scattered or falling into the hands of enemies. Their characteristic pre-genocide burial pattern, therefore, seems to have been small cemetaries at a certain distance from the village—as, for that matter, is ours. Those killed in battle would probably have been transported back home if practicable. See “Patterns of Iroquois Burial” <>

Thou knowest how matters stand—that I am a great lover of tobacco. Though I know not when I may get any more, I now make a present of the last I have unto thee, as a free burnt offering. Therefore I expect thou wilt hear and grant these requests, and I, thy servant, will return thee thanks and love thee for thy gifts. (Smith 58)

…it’s time to wipe away the tears which you have shed in abundance for the death of those you have lost in war. Here is a handkerchief to that effect.

…il est temps d'essuyer les larmes, que vous versez en abondance, pour la mort de ceux que la guerre vous a enleuez. Voila vn mouchoir pour cßt effet.

Jean de Quen,Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, les années 1655 & 1656 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1657) 50. <> March 14, 2012.

De Quen’s speaker is an Onöñda’gega.

It is the custom of the people of these countries [the Haudenosaunee] that when a considerable person dies, they wipe away the tears of their relatives with some present.

C'est la coustume des peuples de ces contrßes, quand quelque personne de consideration parmy eux, est morte, d'essuyer les larmes de leurs parens par quelque present.

Jérôme Lalemant, Relation de ce qvi s’est passé en la Novvelle France, les années 1645 & 1646 (Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1647) 292. <> April 6, 2002.

Accepting katkowa is the equivalent in Haudenosaunee usage of reaching an agreement. Note below the French ambassador imitating Haudenosaunee custom.
With these words, he laid five katkowa belts at the feat of the ambassador. Father Bruyas picked them up, which is the same thing as accepting [the proposals].
En achevant ces mots il mit aux pieds des Ambafladeurs cinq Colliers. Le P. Bruyas les releva, ce qui eft la même chofe, que les accepter. (Charlevoix II: 17 : 247)
Katkowa belts served as contracts or treaties because the Haudenosaunee used katkowa belts to record, and so contain, contractual points.

…after long deliberation on proposals public and secret, [the rotiiáne ‘Anciens’ ‘Sachems’ ‘Chiefs’] use the katkowa belts to record what they said…each one to record one sense, or point, so they don’t forget anything…

…après avoir long-temps délibéré sur les propositions publiques & secrètes qu'ils dolvent faire, on a foin de les bien recorder fur ce qu'ils ont à dire; on leur fait la leçon comme par écrit fur leurs colliers…et qui ont divers fens, afin que d'une part, ils n'oublient rien… (Lafitau 311)

All of these national compacts were " talked into " strings of wampum, to use the Indian expression, after which these were delivered into the custody of Ho-no-we-na-to, the Onondaga sachem, who was made hereditary keeper of the Wampum, at the institution of the League ; and from him and his successors, was to be sought their interpretation from generation to generation. Hence the expression "This belt preserves my words," so frequently met with at the close of Indian speeches, on the presentation of a belt. Indian nations, after treating, always exchanged belts, which were not only the ratification, but the memorandum of the compact. (Morgan 82-83)

‘My older brother, you are resurrected.’ Mon frère aifné vous êtes réfufcité.

Pierre Millet, Lettre a Quelques Missionnaires du Canada; Onneiŏt, July 6, 1691 ‘Letter to Certain Missionaries of Canada; Onayotekaono, July 6, 1691.’ <> March 23, 2012.

The speaker is Gannassatiron, an Onayotekaono ‘Oneida,’ who is telling the author that his death sentence has been commuted. He calls Millet his elder brother because he has been adopted to take the place of an Onayotekaono rotiiáne, whose name he will take. Millet includes both his rendering of the Onayotekaono, Satonnheton fzakli, and the French, which I’ve translated above into English and Kanien’kéha. In Kanien’kéha I believe it would be (as above) sonhéton rakhtsí:’a’ [s (bound second person singular pronoun) + onhéton ‘give life’ ‘resurrect’ + ‘rakhtsí:’a’ ‘he has me as a brother’ ‘my older brother’]. It’s interesting to note the similarity between onhéton ‘to resurrect’ and onéhta ‘pine.’ If this is not a false friend, it indicates the Haudenosaunee connected evergreens with resurrection, as does a Christmas tree, presumably for the same reason, that the foliage does not die.


Rev. James Bruyas S. J. Radical Words of the Mohawk Language with their Derivates (New York: Cramoisy 1862) 13. Google Books <> March 28, 2012.

Père Bruyas, as it happens, entered our story a couple of footnotes ago in the act of accepting five katkowa belts. His words, I reflect idly, have survived a long and perilous journey from Kanien’kéha through both Latin and French into English—if translation did not kill them. See also Deering & Delisle.

…you think rightly. It’s true that you can take my life; but you give it to me to save your own. The glory that I have gained for my nation by my victories does not make me so inconsiderable in the minds of my compatriots that I lack the strength to assure you and your clan of life. If they rise to attack you, my body will block them. I would rather suffer to be burned me over a slow fire than to be so inglorious as not to reward your good faith, and my return, by your deliverance.

…tes pensßes sont droites. Il est vray, que tu me peux oster la vie: mais donne la moy, pour te la conseruer. La gloire que i'ay acquise à ma Nation, par mes victoires, ne me rend pas si peu cõsiderable, das l'esprit de mes Compatriotes, que ie ne puisse t'asseurer de la vie, toy & tes gens. Si les miens te veulent attaquer, mon corps te seruira de bouclier. Ie souffrirois plustost, qu'ils me brûlassent à petit feu, que de me rendre mßprisable iusques à ce point, de ne pas honorer vostre bien-fait, & mon retour, par vostre deliurance. (Ibid.)

On the willingness of Kanien’kehá:ka to befriend those who have harmed them:

In the same Cabban that I was, there has bin a wild man wounded with a small shott. I thought I have seen him the day of my taking, which made me feare least I was the one that wounded him. He knowing it to be so had shewed me as much charity as a Christian might have given. Another of his fellowes (I also wounded) came to me att my first coming there, whom I thought to have come for reveng, contrarywise shewed me a cheerfull countenance; he gave mee a box full of red paintings, calling me his brother. (Radisson)

There are two great fallacies about other people. The first is that they are like us. The second is that they are different. I tend to view the second error as more pernicious because it is antipathetic.

Indians and Indo-Europeans only separated one thousand generations or so ago, some Indo-Europeans guesstimate. If this is true, human history is scaled to a year, and the first unique human ancestor appeared January 1st, the two groups went their separate ways sometime around noon on December 31st, and renewed acquaintances (if the sagas are to be trusted, and they aren’t), when Freydís’s brother Leif arrived in North America around 11:15 pm that same day. So perhaps the difference between the peoples is not so very great.

Most Indians, I should add, reject the Indo-European theory that human beings arrived in North America via the Bering Strait. Doug George-Kanentiio, for example, finds the idea that “within an astonishingly short period [10-15,000 years] [North America Indians] developed 500 languages” risible, along with a number of the theory’s other implications. (George-Kanentiio)

I agree. They would have had little time for anything besides making themselves mutually unintelligible. I also agree that peoples own their cultural traditions; and that consequently their histories have an integrity which pseudo-scientific speculations lack.

However peoples distributed themselves, the fact we are all one species nevertheless indicate our genetic differences are trivial.

To know anything useful about the Haudenosaunee, if you are not a specialist, dates you—as devastating an indictment of the US educational system as most (not that they are particularly thin in the field), analogous to Italians knowing nothing about the Roman Empire. My grandmother and my mother knew what the Three Sisters were and who Molly Brandt was, but my contemporaries don’t. It’s true that the burgeoning United States defrauded, betrayed, robbed and committed genocide on the Haudenosaunee. It’s also true that the United States is to a very considerable degree their legacy, the fruit of their victories and blood. 


The question was often asked in Britain why the colonists were so aggressive about matters pertaining to liberty, when they were by most standards freer than almost anyone in Europe. The answer the colonists gave was that they suffered the peculiar burden of taxation without representation, which was true enough. What was also true was that they were not nearly as free as the Haudenosaunee next door and that freedom, like material wealth, tends to be judged by comparison to one’s neighbors.


The inability of the colonists to influence, let alone dictate, key aspects of their own government contrasted strikingly with the near total control over their own affairs exercised by the Haudenosaunee next door. This point would have been driven home continually in the negotiations between the two groups. Colonists often explained that they could not do this or that because they were largely powerless to do so. The Indians might well have responded by intentionally or unintentionally turning the knife. “Why not fix that problem?” they were likely to have asked, or implied, since it is in the interest of all diplomats to deal with potent representatives.


It is not at all farfetched to believe that the liberty of their Indian neighbors played a role in inspiring the colonists fight for liberty—though it is impossible to quantify how important this role was.


Of course, civil liberty had a long European history involving Greeks, Romans, the magna carta and Swiss cantons. But more or less unlimited monarchy was generally accepted in 1500, while three hundred years later, the most influential and populous European country, and a rising power in North America, could be called democratic republics. I might sum up what happened by saying that the comparatively free Indians seemed more natural to Europeans than they did to themselves; that the natural was or became the fashion; that North American Indians in general and the Haudenosaunee in particular were the ultimate models of people living “naturally”; that this natural-libertarian vogue swept Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (immediately after news of Indians swept through); and that the entire process may have had as much to do with fashion as it did with reason, as the more interesting and influential Europeans of the sixteenth and seventeenth century found Indians, as well as freedom and liberty, highly fashionable as much as they found them rationally appealing


We may wish to consider, also, that the Haudenosaunee, as Britain's main Indian allies, enabled their triumph in the French and Indian War, being the principal actors in key victories such as Lake George and Fort Duquesne (consequently known as Pittsburgh) among many others. When the war began, there were a number of British leaders like Braddock, who believed the British did not need Indian help and could triumph on their own. There was one fewer after Braddock was surrounded and killed by a predominantly Indian force perhaps half his size. The British rebounded from the disaster thanks to leaders like Johnson and Washington, who assiduously cultivated Indian allies in general and Iroquoians in particular.


“I am glad the [Iroquoian] Cherokees have determined to come to our assistance,” Washington wrote. “They will be of particular service—more than twice their number of white men.”


George Washington, “Letter to Governor Dinwiddie, September 8, 1756,” The Writings of George Washington (Volume I, p. 342).  Google Books <> October 27, 2011.


So were it not, it seems, for Iroquoian arms and diplomacy, the English would not have won the French and Indian war and our government would therefore be très différent--so one aspect of the United States of America resulting from Iroquoian influence would seem to be its existence. 


Finally, while the founding fathers may be essentially mute as to their Indian influences, on one key occasion they chose to advertise them spectacularly. The Founding Fathers performed their signature act of rebellion against the English monarchy while pretending to be Kanien’kehá:ka. The dual identity of the Boston tea partiers seems a felicitous metaphor for the nascent United States.


But perhaps these paragraphs rely too much on rhetorical tricks. Is it better, I wonder, in the end, to say that the river which is the United States of America was at first attended exclusively by Indians, and that therefore Indians should be considered, honored and cherished as its grandmothers and grandfathers—and that this river’s headwaters were in Indian national territory, and its course still is?

"[The Haudenosaunee] have manfully fought our Battles for us [the British colonists, against the French]."
Cadwallader Colden

Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada (London: T. Osborne, 1747). Project Gutenberg EBook <> August 24, 2012.


…the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee], more to be feared by themselves, despite their small number, then the English without them.


"…les Iroquois, plus à craindre eux feuls, malgré leur petit nombre, que les Anglois fans eux."

Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France ‘History and General Description of New France’ (II : XVII : 247). Google Books <> February 9, 2012.


bottom of page