Words To Remember

"The truth is this--genealogy is our living, and we are busy every minute, [and we] could use more hours." --Jane Wethy Foley, 1942

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Mohawks

The Mohawk were the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation. They called themselves Kanien'gehaga, people of the place of the flint. (Kanien'kehá:ka) Their territory ranged to present-day southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their traditional homeland stretched southward of the Mohawk River, eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont, westward to the border with the Oneida Nation traditional homeland territory, and northward to the St Lawrence River. 

As original members of the Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee, the Mohawk were known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door." For hundreds of years, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction by tribes from the New England and lower New York areas.

Life as a Mohawk

The Mohawk Indian male sometimes wore a hair style in which all their hair would be cut off except for a narrow strip down the middle of the scalp from the forehead to the nape, that was approximately three finger widths across. This style was only used by warriors going off to war.

The Mohawk Indians saw their hair as a connection to the Creator and therefore grew it long. The women wore their hair long often with traditional Bear Grease or tied back into a single braid. Their heads were often not covered by a covering or hat, often wearing nothing on their heads in winter.

Traditional dress styles of the Mohawk peoples consisted of women going topless in summer with a skirt of deerskin. In colder seasons, women wore a full woodland deerskin dress, leather tied underwear, long fashioned hair or a braid and bear grease. There was otherwise nothing on their head, except several ear piercings adorned by shell earrings, shell necklaces and also puckered seam ankle wrap moccasins.
Dressed for Winter

The traditional dress styles of the Mohawk men consisted solely of a breech cloth of deerskin in summer, deerskin leggings and a full-piece deerskin shirt in winter, several shell strand earrings, shell necklaces, long fashioned hair or a three finger width forehead-to-nape hair row which stood approximately three inches from the head, and puckered seamed wrap ankle moccasins. The men would also carry a quill and flint arrow hunting bag as well as arm and knee bands.

The Mohawks believed that winter was a time of death in which Mother Earth went into a long slumber, in which many plants died. But when spring arrived and nature began to flourish, she had woken up and given life once again. The Summer Initiation Festival was held at the beginning of May each year to celebrate the coming of summer and the life it brought. This has been a very respected and honored festival of the Mohawk people for several thousands of years. For five days, the Mohawks performed various rituals, such as planting new seeds that would flourish into plants over the summer that honored and celebrated the Mother Earth for the life she gave to the Earth.

Mohawk Nation wedding ceremonies were conducted by a chief, since the chief held the sanction to perform the greatest rituals before the Creator. In a marriage, the couple vowed their commitment before the Creator. The marrying man and woman then united in a lifelong relationship and there is not any custom for divorce. The Mohawk Nation people were a matrilineal society and held marriage as a great commitment which should be nurtured and respected. Much respect was given to the woman by her husband because the woman is the head of the household.

The traditional marriage ceremony included a day of celebration for the man and woman, a formal oration by the chief of the woman's nation and clan, community dancing and feast, and gifts of respect and honor by community members. Traditionally these gifts were practical, which the couple would use in their everyday religious and working lives.

For clothing, the man and woman wore white rabbit leathers and furs with personal adornments, usually made by their families, to stand apart from the rest of the community's traditional style of dress during the ceremony. The "Rabbit Dance Song" and other social dance songs were sung by the men, where they used gourd rattles and later cow-horn rattles. In the "Water Drum." other well-wishing couples participated in the dance with the couple. The meal then commenced after the ceremony and everyone who participated ate.
Interaction with European Settlers

In 1614, the Dutch opened a trading post at Fort Nassau, New Netherland, near present-day Albany, NY. The Dutch initially traded for furs with the local Mahican. In 1628, the Mohawk tribe defeated the Mahican, who retreated to Connecticut. The Mohawk gained a near-monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by not allowing the neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes to the north or east to trade with them. The Dutch established trading posts at present-day Schenectady and Schoharie, further west in the Mohawk Valley.

Trading at Albany

The Mohawk and Dutch became allies. Their relations were peaceful even during the periods of Kieft's War and the Esopus Wars, when the Dutch fought localized battles with other tribes. The Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawk to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwe, Huron-Wendat and Algonquin. In 1645, the Mohawk made peace with the French.

After the fall of New Netherland to England in 1664, the Mohawks in New York became English allies. During King Philip's War, Metacom, sachem of the warring Wampanoag Pokanoket, decided to winter with his warriors near Albany in 1675. Encouraged by the English, the Mohawks attacked and killed all but 40 of the 400 Pokanokets.

In 1666, the French attacked the Mohawk in the central New York area, burning all the Mohawk villages and their stored food supply. One of the conditions of the peace was that the Mohawks accept Jesuit missionaries. Beginning in 1669, missionaries attempted to convince many Mohawks from paganism to Christianity and relocate to two mission villages near Montreal.

These Mohawks became known as Kahnawake (also spelled Caughnawaga) and they became allies of the French. Many converted to Catholicism at Kahnawake, the village named after them.  One of the most famous Catholic Mohawks was Kateri Tekakwitha, who was later beatified.

From the 1690s, the Mohawks in the New York colony underwent a period of Christianization by Protestant missionaries. Many were baptized with English surnames, while others were given both first and surnames in English.

During the era of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War), Anglo-Mohawk partnership relations were maintained by men such as Sir William Johnson (for the British Crown), Conrad Weiser (on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania), and Hendrick Theyanoguin (for the Mohawks). The Albany Congress of 1754 was called in part to repair the damaged diplomatic relationship between the British and the Mohawks.

After the American victory in the Revolutionary War, a large group of Iroquois moved out of New York to a new home land at Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada, led by Joseph Brant, a prominent Mohawk war chief.

The Mohawk Indians fought against the United States in the War of 1812. The Mohawk Nation, as part of the Iroquois Confederacy, was recognized for some time by the British government and the Confederacy was a participant in the Congress of Vienna, having been allied with the British during the War of 1812.

Members of the Mohawk Indian tribes are now living in settlements throughout New York State and southeastern Canada.  Mohawks also form the majority on the mixed Iroquois reserve, Six Nations of the Grand River, in Ontario. There are also Mohawk Orange Lodges in Canada.
In addition to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (Catherine Tekawitha), other famous Mohawk Indians are Joseph Brant, his sister Molly Brant, Ots-Toch, wife of Dutch colonist Cornelius A. Van Slyck, August Schellenberg, actor, and Jay Silverheels, actor, best known for his role as Tonto on the television series, The Lone Ranger.
Jay Silverheels

Joseph Brant

August Shellenberger in native dress


http://www.indians-artifact.com/indians%20of%20north%20america/mohawk%20indian.php (Retrieved 24 June 2011).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohawk_people (Retrieved 24 June 2011).

http://www.native-net.org/tribes/mohawk-indians.html (Retrieved 24 June 2011).

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