JANE MT. PLEASANT: In this section, I'm going to give you some basic information about who the Iroquois are, some of the defining characteristics of this particular group of people. You might also know the Iroquois as either the Five Nations or Six Nations Confederacy.
Originally, at the formation of the Confederacy, there were only five nations. They started with the Mohawks at the eastern door. Then we move over to the Oneidas, to the Onondagas, who are the central fire keepers. Going further west, we hit the Cayugas and then finally the Senecas. The Tuscaroras didn't join the Confederacy until 1720.
The Confederacy is also known by the name Haudenosaunee. This means people of the longhouse. Haudenosaunee or Iroquois people have lived in the eastern woodlands in the Northeast probably for at least 1,000 years. It's thought that we migrated perhaps from the south, from Appalachia, or even from the west, from the Ohio Valley.
The Iroquois Confederacy was clearly one of the most powerful political and economic entities in eastern North America for several hundred years. Clearly from 1400 to 1800, the Confederacy was enormously powerful. It controlled a great deal of land and was one of the prime players in the political scene for several hundred years.
But probably-- what I'd like to talk with you about now are three characteristics of the Confederacy that are particularly important. The first is that we're known for having developed the first participatory and representative form of government on North America. The second thing is that we are a matriarchy, that women are very, very important, respected, and very powerful, both in contemporary times and in historical times. And then finally, that Iroquois agriculture has played a very, very large role in the political, the social, and cultural history. In fact, many people believe that it was the very productive and dynamic agricultural system that provided the foundation for the powerful Confederacy when it first formed.
I'd like to go into a little detail on each one of those aspects now. The Iroquois Confederacy was actually first started in probably the 1300s. It comes to us in the form of the Great Law. Iroquois people have had the Great Law. It's an oral text that has been recited in Iroquois communities at both formal and ceremonial events for probably close to 700 or 800 years. It details the governance of the Confederacy. It tells us how we are to rule and govern ourselves.
It came in a time when Iroquois communities were in great disruption. There was widespread warfare, all sorts of awful things taking place. And people were searching for a way that the different communities might live together in peace. The Confederacy was established using the Great Law as its template, telling us how we could appoint chiefs and how we might govern ourselves in ways that allowed people to have representation.
Today, we're sitting in the community room of Akwe:kon, which is in the program house, the American Indian Program House at Cornell University. Akwe:kon, the building itself, was opened in 1991. And it embodies, both in its structure and in its architectural details, many of the icons, the things that represent Iroquois philosophy, governance, and world view.
For example, one of the important wampum belts, of which there are six in the building, is the Hiawatha wampum belt. And you can see that directly behind me in the windows of the community room on the east wall. This particular wampum belt, the Hiawatha wampum belt, represents the formation of the Confederacy. Its five windows here are a representation of the original wampum belt, which was done in beads.
Each one of the windows represents one of the five original nations that formed the Confederacy, starting on the east with the Mohawks, working over to the Oneidas. The Onondagas have a particular and very special role in the Confederacy. And it's represented by the larger window. They are the central fire keepers.
Moving further west, then, we have the younger brother, the Cayugas, and then finally the elder brother and keeper of the western door, the Seneca Nation. And as I mentioned before, the Tuscaroras joined the Confederacy in 1720. But they weren't around when the Confederacy first formed.
The Confederacy still operates today. It is the political governance system. The central fire is still held at the Onondaga longhouse, just an hour north of the Cornell campus. So surely the Great Law, the governance structures, are all very important and one of the most defining aspects of the Iroquois people and their political institutions.
The other aspect is the matriarchy. Women are enormously important in Iroquois communities, both in the governance of the separate nations and in all of the social and cultural institutions. Although we have men who represent the chiefs, all of the chiefs, 50 of them, are appointed by clan mothers in each one of the individual nations. So women have not only the power of political appointment, but they also can depose chiefs who are not working in the best interest of the people.
Women have been important in Iroquois communities, not only because of their political and cultural and social power, but also because they have been the farmers in Iroquois communities since the very beginnings of agriculture. The very productive and dynamic agriculture that Iroquois people are famous for has been largely a result of the skill and expertise of Iroquois women.
In the next section, I'd like to give you a closer look at that agriculture.
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First Peoples, First Crops provides a new perspective on the fascinating and vitally important role that Iroquois people (Haudenosaunee) have played in the development of agriculture in northeast North America.
Native American woman, the region's first farmers, developed a dynamic cropping system, the Three Sisters, that had enormous impacts on the Iroquois Confederacy and continues to influence Native and non-Native peoples in the 21st Century.
In this room you will learn about the connections between corn growing and the development of the Iroquois Confederacy as well as the science behind the Three Sisters cropping system. You will learn about the origins of corn and its effects on human communities across the globe. The room also provides information on Cornell's American Indian Program and its current efforts to support Native American agriculture in the northeast.
This video is part 2 of 7 in the First Peoples, First Crops series.